Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tatas gift US$ 50 million to Harvard Business School

India's Tata Group has announced a US$ 50 million (Rs. 2.2 billion) gift to Harvard Business School (HBS), the largest donation from an international donor in the school's history. Besides cementing an already significant relationship between India and the world's premier business school, the grant also sends out a strong message of Indian academic and economic involvement in the U.S. ahead of the visit to India of President Obama, who is also a Harvard (law school) alumnus.

The gift, disclosed in Boston on Thursday by Chairman Ratan Tata, will fund a new academic and residential building on the HBS campus for participants in the School's broad portfolio of Executive Education programs. The School hopes to break ground for the building, which will be named Tata Hall, next spring.

Incidentally, Ratan Tata attended the School's Advanced Management Program -- one of three comprehensive leadership programs offered by HBS Executive Education -- in 1975. He received the School's highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, in 1995. On top of this, Harvard Business School's current (and 10th) Dean is Rajasthan-born Nitin Nohria.

Clearly, the gift is not without some political undertones, coming on the eve of the visit to India of President Obama, who has lately railed about the flight of American jobs to India. Boston's Democratic Mayor Thomas Menino, who joined Tata and Dean Nohria for the announcement on the HBS campus, said the Indian company's generosity would have both a local and global impact. "Mr. Tata's gift will create jobs right here in Boston, and the executives who study at HBS will go out into the world as ambassadors of our truly world-class city," he said.

In fact, President Obama himself is expected to stay at the Tata Group's flagship property, the Taj Hotel, site of the deadly 9/11 terrorist strike by Pakistan, during his visit to Mumbai next month, also as a gesture of solidarity with the Indian group which lost several employees in the attack. Ahead of the presidential visit, Larry Summers, one of his key economic advisors, who is also a past president of Harvard University, is already in Mumbai.

All these factors appeared to have played a role in the big Tata gift, although there has been criticism in some quarters regarding Indian business lavishing grants on American schools that are already wealthy beyond compare. Harvard University has an endowment of over US$ 25 billion, the world's largest, and HBS' endowments alone top US$ 2 billion. Last week, India's Mahindra Group announced a US$ 10 million gift to support Harvard's Humanities Center.

But the hoary university, which has many distinguished Indian alumni including two cabinet ministers (P. Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal), and several business leaders (Rahul Bajaj, Y.C. Deveshwar besides Tata and Mahindra among them), evidently has a special place in Indian hearts and minds. "The Harvard Business School is the pre-eminent place to be exposed to the world's best thinking on management and leadership, and we are pleased that this gift will support the School's educational mission to mold the next generation of global business leaders," Ratan Tata said, in explaining the gift.

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria expressed deep appreciation for the Tata Group's "extraordinary generosity" saying, "This is an historic gift from a renowned organization revered for its significant economic, civic, and philanthropic impact." Nohria, who is an alumnus of IIT Mumbai, reminded Americans that Tata Group is widely respected for integrity and innovation, not just in India -- where it produced both the first indigenous car and the $2,000 Tata Nano automobile -- but in a variety of business lines across several continents, from cars to hotels and from tea to information technology.

Tatas own three premier hotel properties in the U.S. in New York (The Pierre), Boston (Ritz) and San Francisco (Campton). Together with its IT operations, its enterprises have created thousands of jobs in recession hit U.S., a fact that is seldom recognized in America.

Source: The Times of India, October 16, 2010
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