From one of many merchant families active in the cotton and opium trades across the Indian Ocean, the Tata business group ascended to the commanding heights of the Indian national economy by the time of independence in 1947, with a diverse industrial portfolio in textiles, chemicals, and steel. How and why did this transformation happen? This talk will highlight the origins of the Tata family fortune in military supply commissions in the Persian Gulf and East Africa, and the transnational financial connections that made possible the group's expansion. In particular, it will focus on two little-known affiliated trading companies, R.D. Tata & Co. in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Kobe, and Tata Limited in London, which played a crucial intermediary role in securing financing and market access for the parent firm in Bombay while simultaneously increasing its exposure to the effects of global crises. Tata’s ultimately dominant position in a protected national economy was due to the contingent failure of these companies rather than a foregone conclusion.
Mircea Raianu is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA, specialising in global capitalism and modern South Asia. He is the author of Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2021). He has also published journal articles in Comparative Studies in Society and History and Business History Review. Raianu holds a PhD from Harvard University (2017) and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley (2009)