Tata Group | N Chandrasekaran: Chef Tata N Chandrasekaran’s desert safari looks at new strategic alliances

Thoughts swirled in Natarajan Chandrasekaran’s mind as his charter began to descend at Al Bateen Executive Airport last fall.

September temperatures in Abu Dhabi can reach 40 degrees. Covid had just blown after taking its toll; commercial flights are still unreliable and Chandra, as she is popularly known, has held several high profile powwows across the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the space of a few months with men, who together control trillions of petrodollars in search of high-growth investment opportunities.

But when it comes to grand plans, even the most thoughtful efforts are often torpedoed by the details. And the Tata team has been well acquainted with such an eventuality.

Take Project Fern, for example. A top-secret plan by Ratan Tata, which in 2015 sought to place production of JLR’s top-end vehicles in the Middle East for the first time, an important market for the UK-based automaker. The plant was to be set up next to the world’s largest aluminum smelter in Ras al-Khair on the Gulf Coast, but was later moved across the country to King Abdullah Economic City, on the Red Sea. The idea was novel and would have potentially given JLR the option of using aluminum produced in Saudi Arabia in its lightweight cars. But among the multiple socio-economic factors that bombarded everything were fine particles of sand flying through the highly controlled assembly lines.

By all means, the September stay was a success, Tata Group officials said – meetings with senior officials from the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), ADQ, New Emirates investment holding company, Abu Dhabi Investment Authority as well as top brass in Mubadala.

Over the past few months, ADQ and Mubadala have opened their purse strings to support Tata Motors’ electric vehicle project as well as India’s most trusted conglomerate’s renewable initiatives.

“Tata Power is one of India’s largest integrated power companies and is well placed to support the country’s energy independence and transition,” said Khaled Abdulla Al Qubaisi, CEO, Real Estate & Infrastructure Investments at Mubadala.

The Tata Group spokesperson declined to comment.


The truth is that Petro dollars have been pouring into India – from Reliance Industries to Adani Enterprises to Aditya Birla Group or new ventures Renew Power or Greenko, renowned business groups have been rapidly forging partnerships with the region. Even India’s quasi-SWF, NIIF, used ADIA as its first major sponsor or limited partner. But Chandrasekaran was unwavering in his overreach.

After Abu Dhabi, his next pit stop across the border in Riyadh, to meet senior officials from the Ministry of Investment or NEOM – the future high-tech city, the brainchild of Mohammad bin Salman ( MBS) as well as members of Public Investment Fund (PIF), Ministry of Tourism and also of Culture. Even a trip to Qatar, with reserves for the world’s largest liquefied natural gas and the venue for the next soccer World Cup, was bundled with meetings hosted by senior brass at Qatar Airways, its investment authority. and even Qatar Diar Real Estate Investment Company.

“The honeymoon will last until the Tatas perform,” warned a managing director of a business group with strong ties to the Gulf. “Whoever took them for granted suffered.”

For years, the patriarch of the Ratan Tata group has wanted to associate and progress with the Gulf countries. A closed Saudi kingdom wary of the region’s geopolitics has been slow to reciprocate a grand Asian alliance. Even in 2013, Tata joined Virgin Group founder Richard Branson as a jury of the Zayed Future Energy Prize, the world’s most prestigious award for innovation in renewable energy and sustainability.

But now a reformist MBS crown prince has been keen to change the narrative and is too eager to commit. On the contrary, the UAE has been a strategic ally for longer, although, as a former diplomat said on condition of anonymity, “several of its key companies, Etisalat or Etihad, got the raw deal during of the previous UPA waiver in New Delhi,” earlier in March. , India and the United Arab Emirates have signed a free trade agreement. India is the UAE’s second largest trading partner

“It reflects mutual trust and respect,” said Sanjay Sudhir, India’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. “For a long time the relationship was based on the large Indian workforce in the region, but now it’s much more strategic. In 88 days, India and the UAE finalized the comprehensive strategic agreement, which shows the commitment of both parties. First Reliance, then Adani and now Tatas are attracting big investment from the UAE and the region. From this month, even the FTA enters into force. There is a straight line of investors who are serious about deploying serious capital commitments in Jammu and Kashmir as well.

Members of the diplomatic circle also say that Arab leaders have recently worked closely with London-based NRI investment banker Anshuman Mishra as a confidant for the India investment strategy. Mishra was unavailable for comment.

Present for more than half a century, the Gulf is for the Tatas a rich natural market of the Indian diaspora. From Tanishq to TCS and Taj and beyond, a deeper connection is made by Chandrasekaran. 23 companies in the group operate in the region in eight sectors in more than 30 countries which even include pockets of North Africa with a combined turnover of 3 billion dollars.

Taj, for example, is expanding in Dubai – Taj Dubai, Jumeirah Lake Towers and the latest Exotic, the Palm, which launched in March. Two more are planned in Abu Dhabi and Bur Dubai, according to hotel industry executives.

During the recent visit of Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed, a 35-year-old brain trust of Prince MBS, to establish and lead his country’s first Ministry of Culture, an important stopover was to meet Chandrasekaran at the headquarters of the group called Bombay House even as the Bentley Regale blocked traffic on the entire narrow street, much to the amusement of locals. “But it was not a social call,” said a Tata Group official. “Travel and tourism were at the top of the list.” In business parlance, this translates to likely outposts of the Taj in Mecca (possibly by 2024), possibly even Diriyahgate Development Authority and AlUla – a steep desert area in the northeast. west of the country, best known for its Petra-like rock tombs that MBS is keen to promote. as a major tourist and cultural destination. The Saudi establishment is keen for Air India and Vistara to increase their flights and frequencies to even include Jeddah and Al-Ula and Makkah, especially during the Haj season, were also part of their discussions.

“Even during Covid, we have not stopped growing and have opened 2 properties in Dubai alone and plan to have 1000 keys in the only city among 4 properties, said Puneet Chhatwal. MD&CEO, Indian Hotels which manages the Taj brand.”The Taj brand will be at the forefront as we seek to expand across the region, from the Kingdom to Bahrain, Qatar and even Abu Dhabi.

The crown jewel of Tata in the region is the TCS All Women Center and Innovation Lab in Riyadh, which provides a platform for young software graduates. The Center has been a permanent feature of any visit by world dignitaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

For the flagship of the group, the Middle East and Africa grew by 7.3%, ahead of Asia-Pacific during the financial year 22 mid-April. To celebrate the highest ever incremental revenue addition and a record backlog, the entire management team flew to the palm trees of Dubai for an off-site celebration where even Tata – fresh off its visa gold – made an appearance to toast.

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