How the Mistry was solved
Chairman of the Tata Group Ratan Tata, left, attends a ceremony to unveil a Nano car made of gold in Mumbai September 19. About 80 kg of 22 karat gold, approximately 15 kg of silver and gemstones were used to decorate the car
The month of June in New York is warm and a great time to visit the Big Apple. But the five brain trusts of the Tata
Group had no time to enjoy a summer vacation. The clock was ticking. They had to finalize Ratan Tata’s successor by the year end and
they had already cast their net wide.
Sources aware of the selection process said,
by then potential candidates from within the
$83 billion conglomerate were already short-
listed along with global leaders, many of whom
incidentally also had a strong ‘India connect.’
Among them were Anshu Jain, the poster
boy of investment banking from Deutche
Bank, Vodafone’s former boss-turned-PE
investor Arun Sarin and American John
Thaine, the last chairman and chief executive
officer of Merrill Lynch.
‘Indra Nooyi’s name was never there,’ said a
Internal candidates like Ishaat Hussain, the
Group’s chief financial officer, and B
Muthuraman, Tata Steel’s former boss, were
also seriously considered and their interviews taken.
But by then, it was becoming increasingly clear that two
factors would be critical for the final selection for the top
job at Bombay House. More than succession, it had to
be ‘legacy planning.’ It was as much about competence
as it was about continuity. And that’s when the panel
realized that the suitable boy could well be a 43-year
old man who has been with them for the last 10
‘Around that New York meeting, Cyrus (Mistry) was
sounded out and he dropped out of the selection committee and became a candidate himself,’ said a source.
He thought about it, consulted his family and father,
who is the largest shareholder of Tata Sons, and came
back to face the same rigorous exercise that the other
candidates had to go through.
What perhaps worked for Mistry as opposed to some
of the others were a handful of very important factors.
He was already in the Tata Sons board for over five
years. As a young blood, he has always been vocal
about the strategic path the group should undertake in
the coming years. Even during the interview process,
he repeatedly articulated that big picture, what the
group should do or strive for in the next few years.
His past and present colleagues from the Tata Sons
board say he has always been a supporter of young
managers getting nurtured and a senior management
pool to infuse fresh thinking. So in him there was continuity of a thought process, one that gelled well with
Ratan Tata himself.
Moreover, at 43, he has age on his side and
close to at least 25 years ahead of him to chart
out his own leadership course.
Mistry’s passion for finance and engineering
background also helped.
Even though during big ticket acquisitions
like Corus or JLR, the lead role was always
played by the operating companies, Mistry is
believed to have given strategic inputs as the
youngest member of the board of Tata Sons —
the group’s apex decision making body.
Many Tata Group watchers say it is believed
that Ratan Tata has always kept a close eye on
Mistry, ever since the various holding structures in Shapoorji Pallonji companies like
ACC were resolved post the Tata branding
So, when Ratan Tata actually mentioned
Noel Tata lacked experience, the rumblings
had already begun. It would have been tough
for Noel, who was not even inducted in the
Tata Sons board. Eighteen meetings later, the
selection committee chose one of its own.
‘It was a smooth and seamless transition,
and no acrimony involved,’ said a person in the know.
DANISH SIDDIQUI /REU TERS
‘There has always been a strong chemistry between the
two,’ says J J Irani, former Tata Sons director. ‘In board
meetings, Mr Tata would often seek out his advice.’
By arrangement with Business Standard
; R K Krishna Kumar is a director on the Tata Sons
Board. He is also chairman in several other firms, including Tata Coffee, Infiniti Retail (Croma), Tata Realty and
Infrastructure, Tata Housing and Development Company
and vice chairman of Tata Tea and of Indian Hotels. He is
a trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the Sir Ratan Tata
Trust and some allied Tata trusts.
; N A Soonawala, number two on the Tata Sons board
till his retirement, is one of Ratan Tata’s most trusted lieutenants. He is a member and trustee of several trusts.
; Lord Sushanta Kumar Bhattacharya is founder of the
Warwick Manufacturing Group, an industrial consultancy
and part of Warwick University. A close friend of Ratan
Tata’s, he has been instrumental in the group’s expansion
in the UK.
; Shirin Bharucha’s association with the group dates
back to the 1960s. She has advised about 80 companies of
the group. She is also involved with a number of trusts.
Clockwise from top, R K Krishna Kumar, N A Soonawala, Lord
Sushanta Kumar Bhattacharya, Shirin Bharucha
‘I think Tata and Mistry have
many things in common, especially their nature and how they interact with people. Both are shy, prefer to be low-key and very focused,’
said a person who has known
Mistry from his early days.
Sugail Sheth, a close observer of
the group, said it was a triumph of
competence and continuity and
youth, adding, “He has worked
with the Tata Sons board and all its direc-
tors and surely would have a long innings
ahead. Also, I am glad it is a Parsi who is
at the helm of affairs, as no one under-
stands philantrophy like them.”
But, Mistry has a tough act to follow.
When Tata took over from his uncle, J R
D, in 1991, the group was an unwieldy
sprawl of 300 companies. He sold a num-
ber of unprofitable businesses and kicked
the rest into shape.