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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tata Steel: Values Stronger than Steel

I was delighted to know that Dr. J J Irani, the poster boy of Quality in India was recently recognized by the American Society for Quality by inviting him to be the keynote speaker for their annual conference.  An honor, a bit belated, but richly deserved.  His presence at this world stage is indicative of the respect the Tata Group has acquired across the world, the growing importance of Indian industry, and a growing realization at ASQ that there is a world outside America!

Paul Borwaski, CEO of ASQ, interviewed Dr. Irani during the world conference on quality and improvement and the interview is a gem.  You can watch it here.   Paul has asked some very compelling questions and Dr. Irani has responded with his characteristic candor and maturity.

Tata Steel, Dr. J J Irani, and an Amazing Quality Story
I have a slight advantage as I write about Dr. Irani.  I have met him a few times and each time came back impressed with his depth or understanding ability to convey his message in terms that all can grasp.  No easy task.  I have also been an Assessor for a MBNQA based assessment at Tata Steel.  In my career I have worked with several quality professionals who honed their skills at Tata Steel.  Even after years of leaving Tata Steel these professionals were grateful to the time they invested at Tata Steel.  Many professionals in India consider Tata Steel the Mecca of Quality.

Tata Steel was not always like this.  In late 1980s Dr. Irani reluctantly recalls, Tata Steel’s marketing department was more a rationing department than a marketing department.  Dr. Irani has often also said that if a customer would dare complain about our quality in those days, we would punish him by denying any supplies for several months till the customer would return and beg.  Such were the days when the vision of Rusi Mody (Dr. Irani’s boss at that time) and Dr. Irani decided to walk the quality path.  I have always considered this decision as a turning point in India’s quality journey.  Dr. Irani raised his voice for quality that day, just as ASQ is doing globally.

The story thereafter is long but simple.  Dr. Irani and team worked initially with Suresh Lulla, my mentor and often called the Juran of India, to deploy Dr. J M Juran’s quality improvement methodology at Tata Steel. This work formed the bedrock of quality improvement at Tata Steel. In mid 1990s Tata Steel and other group companies embraced the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria and established the JRD Quality Values Award in honor of the group’s founder.  Dr. Irani’s decisions to adopt Juran’s methodology and then the Baldrige program were masterstrokes and revitalized a lazy giant into a rockstar company.

Lessons from the Journey and Raising our Voice for Quality
What can we learn from Dr. Irani and Tata Steel’s journey. Plenty.  Some key lessons are:

- Make wise judicious choices about what you are going to deploy
- Once decided, support your quality program – don’t sit at the edge
- Be a role model yourself.

Paul Borwaski, has asked how can we raise the voice of Dr. Irani and other enlightened leaders to put quality in its rightful place in every organization and in our communities. We can do this if we:

- Tell Tata Steel’s and Dr. Irani’s story over and over again (just like we used Jack Welch’s story)
- Not tolerate poor quality – just as Dr. Irani refused to do once he had tasted quality
- Focus on the society around and offer selfless service.

The Real Impact of Tata Steel
Tata Steel is not the revered name it is only because it makes the best steel.  It is the work with the society around which it works that makes Tata Steel special. I have first hand seen the work and its impact on rural regions of Jharkhand and I had tears in my eyes.  Tata’s run perhaps India’s only privately managed city – Jamshedpur.  I have seen a balanced scorecard for societal work and it being reviewed as rigorously as the business scorecards are.  The passion that Tata Steel’s employees show can only be believed if seen. 

The villages around Tata Steel in Jamshedpur are forever grateful.  And all this in an area which affected by violence from the tribals around it. No Tata employee is touched by this violence as a gesture of gratefulness. TO me this is amazing proof of the power of service.  Several governments could learn from Tata Steel.

Tata Steel is currently running a series of TV Adverts with a new tag line – Values Stronger Than Steel.  For those who know Tata Steel’s commitment to quality, society, and values couldn’t agree more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Anushman,
Good review.
I had pleasure of working in TISCO during this Quality journey. I was heading Mines Division's TQM department for more than 3 years and was associated with TQM activities for more than 10 years from 1991.I was a member for 1 year (special invitee as I was selected as Best Quality Coordinator in 2000) in Apex Quality Council of TISCO which was Chaired by Dr JJ Irani.
One correction in your review is :
TISCO started JN Tata Quality Award in 1993 for divisions/ departments within TISCO and Tata Group started JRD QV Award in 1994.