Business Today ran a cover story on the Tata Group's leadership succession headlined "The Other Tata: Has Noel Tata Done Enough To Step Into Ratan Tata's Shoes?" in its November 1, 2009 issue. Reporters at the magazine spent several months trying to interview Noel Tata , Managing Director of Trent Ltd. The cover story followed two separate interviews with Mr Tata, on September 4 and October 7, 2009.
Niira Radia's conversation with Noel Tata was recorded on June 18, 2009. The same month, Business Today had sent a list of possible questions to a representative of Radia's Vaishnavi Corporate Communications Ltd for Mr Tata on his retailing strategy for Trent. Radia tells Tata in the conversation that she "shifted" the interview to Business Today from another magazine because she "got the questions I wanted… and not the questions they wanted". Vaishnavi had stipulated that no question on succession should be addressed to Mr Tata.
"They (BT) couldn't resist the succession issue. They said we have to discuss even it is off-record…I said no sorry…not on-record or off-record that will not happen," Radia is heard telling Tata.
Former Business Today editor Rohit Saran told Mail Today, which is also part of the India Today Group: "In the e-mail questionnaire we didn't mention questions on succession." He added: "But we did ask questions on succession when we met Tata in person. The proof is in the cover story. So at the time of the tapped phone conversation (before the BT issue hit the stands) Radia must have thought BT is going to ask only those questions that she wants. However, she realised that wasn't the case when our story came out." BT Managing Editor Brian Carvalho says Tata insisted that any discussion on succession was off the record.
The succession was the focus of one of the stories BT ran as part of the cover package.
In the story, Carvalho and Associate Editor Suman Layak write: "Those who ask Noel whether he considers himself an heir to RNT are inevitably greeted with a standard reply: 'That's not for me to decide.' He is unwilling to be drawn into a discussion regarding his chances of getting the top job at Tata Sons."
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