A dozen years ago, many thought India's Tata Group, the country's oldest and largest conglomerate, was a bloated behemoth that would go under.
Instead, it has become a powerhouse, focusing on core businesses like steel and automobiles and seizing opportunities, including the hugely profitable outsourcing business, that came with India's economic transformation.
A slew of recent acquisitions, including for Britain's Tetley Tea and Boston's Ritz Carlton Hotel, have thrust the Tata conglomerate, which comprises 98 companies and was largely unknown outside India, into the global spotlight.
"We have been thinking bigger than we have done in the past," chairman Ratan Tata, 70, said in a rare interview at Bombay House, headquarters since 1926. "We have been bolder … and we have been more aggressive in the marketplace."
In five years through March 2007, annual group sales more than doubled to $29-billion, while market capitalization of its 27 listed companies increased six-fold, to $78-billion. The numbers do not include Corus, whose sales totaled $19-billion in 2006.
While recent rapid earnings growth at Tata Steel and Tata Motors has slowed, net profit at Tata Consultancy, India's biggest outsourcing company, climbed 21 percent in the October-December quarter.
The resurgence of the 140-year-old Tata brand is as much a story of the country's economic rise as it is about the success of the chairman, whose ascent to the top job in 1991 coincided with the beginning of India's shift from a socialist-style state to a market economy.
When Ratan took over from his gregarious uncle, J.R.D. Tata, India's economy was starting to open, but the Tata group was almost falling apart. Sales were sluggish and government controls had limited new investments.
Unlike his uncle, Ratan took charge from the start. At Tata Steel, tens of thousands of jobs were cut. Tata Consultancy Services meanwhile hired thousands to become a global power in outsourcing, doing back office work and software engineering for Western firms.
Just as the group's fortunes were reviving the Indian economy hit a slump That's when it became compelling for Tata to look overseas.
The big change came five years ago at a company annual meeting, where the chairman "exhorted us to go treat the world as the market," recalls R. Gopalakrishnan, an executive director at Tata Sons, the group's holding company.
What followed was a huge push to acquire businesses abroad. Nearly 30 overseas buyouts have since helped the group's international revenues grow fourfold to $11-billion and contributed more than a third to its sales last year.