Dr David Landsman OBE, director of Tata UK, talks to Jane Gray about coordinating the interests of Britain’s biggest foreign investor.
A swift skim of Dr David Landsman’s CV (below) is likely to raise images of towering pyramids of Ferrero Rocher and fraught negotiations for peace in Europe.
What is unlikely, is that less than a year ago, you would have predicted the career move which has him sitting where he does today; at the hub of Britain’s largest industrial employer, co-ordinating the interests of manufacturing and engineering firms in diverse sectors including beverages, steel, automotive and chemicals – not to mention Tata’s myriad of other business interests in the UK.
But in fact, says Dr Landsman, the transfer from diplomacy to diversified business leadership made a great deal of sense.
“The large part of what a British diplomat does these days, especially when they are working overseas, is to support British business. This involves getting your mind around the essence of the challenges being faced by diverse sectors in a particular geography or business environment and identifying how you can help.”
With this in mind, Landsman was immediately intrigued when he saw the availability of the Tata UK directorship, “It appealed to my experience of diversity and globalness in my work,” he says.
Additionally, Landsman says his interest was clinched by Tata’s strong corporate values and its deep entrenchment in the UK – “Tata has a long history here and is very keen to become part of the economic furniture – not to be an outsider,” he asserts.
Tata and Britain
TM’s lead article for its February issue investigates the relationship between the UK and its biggest industrial employer.
Occupying a space
As we sit in his wood panelled office in central London, trying to maintain a sense of business despite lounging in a sumptuous set of club-style Chesterfield’s, it has to be admitted that Tata is certainly wearing the quintessential British look with confidence.
But Landsman says he is not yet satisfied with its assimilation and, increasingly, his role as director involves representing the corporate face of Tata in the UK, raising general awareness of its contributions and commitment to the British economy, jobs and wider community.
“Personally it is my ambition while in this role to see Tata fully occupy its space in British industry,” continues Landsman.
This involves taking every opportunity to emphasize Tata’s commitment to long term investment in the UK. Landsman wants Tata to be seen as a key player in debate over the development of the British business environment and how to improve its competitiveness.
“To be seen as an obvious and natural part of this debate would be a real sign of success,” comments Landsman – though he admits that Tata Group is instinctively cautious about engaging with the political sphere for influence over the business environment in any nation where it operates.
“The political scene in the UK is very different to what it is India,” he says, referring to the concern of the Group to remain unsullied by accusations of corruption in any of its geographies.
“But of course we do speak to the UK government – as the UK’s largest manufacturing employer it would be deeply remiss of us not to voice our aspirations and concerns about the conditions for doing business here.”
And of course UK government would be deeply remiss not to listen when Tata voices these concerns.
Not only is the firm largely responsible for Britain’s great automotive turnaround story via its acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover, it is the UK’s biggest source of foreign investment overall.
Its tea manufacturing facility at Tetley, Eaglescliffe is an award-winning site and a testament to the power of automation in making UK manufacture of commodities a competitive proposition. And Tata Chemicals and Tata Steel have both sunk significant amounts of money into UK facilities since Tata Group acquired Brummer Mond Group and Corus in 2005 and 2008 respectively.
But, it doesn’t take much awareness of industrial news to note that these latter two businesses have also faced significant challenges since they joined the Tata family. Both have made big job cuts in the UK – most recently, in December 2012 Tata Chemicals confirmed 220 job losses from its Winnington site in Cheshire.
The energy question
The driving force behind these cuts has been the debilitating cost of energy in the UK – and there are many who are deeply concerned about the future of Tata Chemicals’ and Tata Steel’s
UK sites, and the staff they employ for this reason. Landsman acknowledges these fears, but stands firm on Tata’s commitment to its UK operations. “Energy is at the top of my agenda when it comes to improving our business prospects in the UK,” he says.
“But Tata is fundamentally about investment for the long term. This partly comes down to mind set and its commitment to create value for all stakeholders – not just shareholders.
“It is also supported by its governance – in Tata’s entire history it has only had six chairmen.”
“We are we are keen for ideas to bring more Indian Tata companies into the European market.”
It’s a challenge to maintain this philosophy when you have to look after the business of the day Landsman admits, “We are not different from any other firm in having to worry
about doing good business today,” he explains. “But for us, doing good business today is about enabling good business in the long term. This isn’t a boast. It’s just the way it is.”
Returning specifically to the challenge which energy represents to competitiveness in the present, Landsman says, “In my experience governments in many countries think companies are bluffing somewhat when they say a particular aspect of the environment is making business untenable for them. They look at an outwardly successful firm and think to themselves ‘it can’t be that bad’.
“This is foolish and risky, because thresholds can be crossed.”
Quickly clarifying Tata’s approach however, Landsman emphatically states, “We are committed to the UK. You don’t invest as Tata Steel has done in recent years, in a difficult environment and in a business that has had historical problems, if you are not seriously committed.”
And so, Tata has tied its colours to the cause of seeking solutions to the quandaries of energy intensive users in the UK – often via industry bodies like the Energy Intensive Users Group, but also independently.
The biggest challenge in moving this cause forward says Landsman is altering a broad underlying assumption that it is right and proper that heavy engineering should move to China or other emerging economies – that it is not part of the advanced manufacturing revolution of political rhetoric.
“This is not true,” says Landsman. “It is simply the case that an energy intensive business in the UK must make the right choices about how to function in that environment.
“Tata Steel has very deliberately become a part of the high value landscape. It develops specialist products for specialist applications. This kind of business works in the UK.
“It is not an inevitability that steel manufacturing will move to China.”
Youth and ambition
Having stated clearly that Tata is committed to staying in the UK, our conversation turns to plans for further development here.
“The group of companies that now comprise the Tata family in the UK – and increasingly Europe – is relatively young, despite the fact that some of those companies have brands with significant heritage,” observes Landsman.
While Tata is keenly sensitive about preserving the independence of every business within its expansive family, especially those with strong independent brands, a central ambition to be seen today as a truly global firm – not Indian – is driving an exploration of opportunities for collaboration and growth.
Biography: Dr David Landsman OBE
Education: MPhil and PhD in Linguistics, Cambridge University; MA in Classics, Oxford University
1989 Joined the Foreign & Commonwealth Office
1991-2000 Various diplomatic positions in Greece, Serbia, Bosnia, and Hungary
2000 Appointed Charges d’Affaires in Belgrade
2001 Appointed ambassador to Albania and received OBE
2003 Took a secondment to industry as international affairs advisor at De la Rue Identity Systems
2008 Rejoined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as director for the Balkans region
2009 Appointed ambassador to Greece
2013 Joined Tata Group as director of Tata UK Ltd
Dr Landsman has a keen interest in music – especially choral and Eastern European – and is also fond of swimming and travelling. He has a particular interest in European culture and history and is an accomplished linguist.
“There is a definite intention both in specific regions – like Europe – and across the group as a whole, to seek out more synergies and opportunities for collaboration between Tata companies,” explains Landsman.
In terms of sharing best practice, the Tata Quality Management System has already facilitated knowledge sharing across the group on a global scale.
But Landsman’s concerns are more strategic.
“All the CEOs of the European businesses meet three or four times and year – as do functional directors,” he elucidates. “It’s exciting now to start seeking out more synergies, to share knowledge among such a diverse group.”
On a global scale, TM learned during a trip to Tata Group’s headquarters in Mumbai, India, that there are plans to introduce structure pan-Group data sharing through the implementation of a central CRM system.
But Landsman says his own focus is on exploring economies of scale and collaboration within verticals to promote innovation. Tata’s investment in the National Automotive Innovation Campus at WMG is an example.
Tata Motors and Jaguar Land Rover have both poured money into the facility and other companies such as Tata Technologies and Tata Automation have also weighed in with expertise to help drive the automotive industry into a new low-carbon era.
Landsman is keen to emphasize that, while more opportunities like this will emerge, independence of Tata Group companies will always be preserved. “We’re a federal kind of family,” he says. “We don’t want to establish group uniformity, but it is exciting to see this family growing up and finding synergies.”
And, as is the way with families, from time to time you can expect more new arrivals. “We are we are keen for ideas to bring more Indian Tata companies into the European market.
“Not much news on that yet,” Landsman qualifies. “But it’s an exciting prospect that I’m looking forward to being a part of.”