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Tata Sons will not be bogged down by slowdown: N Chandrasekaran

Shobhana Subramanian

Natarajan Chandrasekaran refuses to be hobbled by the slowdown. The chairman of Tata Sons believes that while looking for ways to combat the downturn, one must also keep an eye out for opportunities and work to cash in on them. Chandrasekaran says the Tata Group will not hesitate to invest, whether it is in the existing businesses or in focus areas such as digital, consumer and retail. Excerpts from an interview with Shobhana Subramanian:

What is the group's strategy for the next five years in the context of the current slowdown in the economy?

As I have been saying, we need to take the slowdown in our stride, we cannot afford to be bogged down by it. We are guided by the long-term opportunity, whether at home or overseas, and must work towards that. Right now, we need to see how best we can operate in the current environment. We will certainly grow and we will most certainly continue to invest wherever we feel there is a need to do so. In a nutshell, we need to become more efficient. And as we go along, we will also explore new business opportunities.

In particular, what will be the approach to the automobile business?

The commercial vehicles business is sound and we need to wait for the market to recover. In the passenger vehicles space, we will start looking at a range of electric vehicles (EVs). That is not so say we will phase out IC cars, both will co-exist. If we want to be a meaningful EV player with market share, it can't be done with one or two models, we will need to roll out several. We will continue to invest in JLR and grow the business. The auto industry globally is facing a number of headwinds like China, Dieselgate, Brexit, etc. We need to tackle these external challenges by focusing on what we can do.

Could you give us a sense of the areas where the group believes there is potential?

We can't give away too much at this point because we have just started the work. What I can tell you is that we are very excited about the digital space and have created a new company to explore this opportunity - Tata Digital. This should not be a very capital-intensive business and we will leverage our in-house strengths. We are working on several platforms in both the B2C and B2B spaces.

How much is the group looking to invest in the next few years?

It's hard to put a number at this point, we will invest whatever is necessary. As a keen follower of technology, how are you reading the evolution of fintech?

So, the payments segment is moving quickly while the lending side is not as fast. That is understandable since this is a new area and lenders need to be comfortable with the process. Also, there needs to be a strong connect between the physical and digital infrastructure. Over time, I suppose, lenders will become less risk averse.