Deja Vu for Tata Steel

But for the company itself, the most perilous years were those that followed the first world war. These years form the most interesting part of Keenan’s memoir, especially in light of Tata Steel’s current predicament. If the current glut of cheap Chinese steel has Tata haemorrhaging losses of £1m a day, in 1922, the company was brought to the brink of ruin by the flood of “cheap Continental steel smelted out of scrap from the French and Flemish battlefields”. At one point it seemed that they were not going to weather “the boatloads of Belgian steel raffled off and dumped in Calcutta and Bombay for next to nothing”. The situation became so bleak that someone suggested the colonial government be asked to take over. But the son of J. N. Tata—he had died in 1904—“pounded angrily on the table and shouted that day would never come as long as he lived”. 

Fortunately, there was a plan beyond the theatrics. The company approached the government with figures to prove that it was impossible to survive against tariff-free continental steel. The government acted decisively and set up a Tariff Board to create a protective Act. It saved the day. Soon the company was back to paying shareholders a handsome dividend. All this, acknowledges Keenan, “largely because of the staying hand of a much-maligned Government.”-from Economist

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