Architect who built a business empire

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The Independent Online

When the Indian conglomerate Tata snapped up British stalwart Tetley Tea for £271m in 2000, it was then the largest deal ever made by an Indian company. The acquisition proved a watershed in the company's history and was the culmination of Ratan Tata's vision, a move he looks set to repeat in the steel sector via a takeover of Corus.

Mr Tata took the helm of the 138-year-old company that bears his name in 1991, replacing his uncle JRD Tata who had led the group through a period of economic stagnation. Ratan Tata introduced a more growth-oriented culture to the company: as other Indian companies struggled to cope with sweeping economic reforms in the early Nineties, Tata thrived and has invested in high-growth sectors such as IT and spread its wings outside the sub-continent.

Since the Tetley takeover, Tata has completed a further 27 deals under its chairman's leadership, including South Korea's Daewoo Commercial Vehicles and The Pierre hotel in New York's Central Park.

Ratan Tata studied at Cornell University and qualified as an architect and is also a qualified pilot.

He designed India's first mass-market car, which is expected to sell one million units a year after it is launched in 2008.

Mr Tata's private life is just that - private. The 68-year old's style is in contrast to that of Lakshmi Mittal, a fellow Indian who is also a steel magnate. While London-based Mr Mittal is driven around in a top-line limousine by a chauffeur, Mr Tata is well known for eschewing the glamorous lifestyle. He is more likely to be spotted walking his German shepherds, Tito and Tango, around the local park in Mumbai.

At the press conference to unveil its Corus bid, Mr Tata dismissed the notion that he was going head to head with his more flamboyant steel rival. "I do not think our sights are set on equalling or bettering Lakshmi Mittal," he said.

The £4.3bn takeover of Corus could prove to be the defining moment in his long career.

Mr Tata said: "For us in India, this is a very important moment in time."

Yet despite the formality of the event, Mr Tata managed to get a big laugh when answering a question about UK tax benefits. "I am totally ignorant of the UK tax regime," he admitted.