Be your own man, Ratan Tata has advised Cyrus Mistry, who will succeed him at the helm of the $100 billion Tata group two weeks from now.
"I don't think it is right to have a ghost to shadow over somebody," says Tata, dismissing any notion that his larger-than-life persona would linger even after he retires on December 28 when he turns 75.
The Tata patriarch has told Mistry, 31 years younger, "you should be your own person, you should take your own call and you should decide what you want to".
Tata spoke about his 50 years with the group, 21 as its chairman, the highs and lows of his tenure, his equation with Mistry and his post-retirement plans during an expansive interview to PTI in his office at "Bombay House", the group headquarters.
Mistry, currently Vice Chairman of the conglomerate that spans automobiles, IT, hotels, tea and steel across 80 countries, has been working closely with Tata to prepare for the transition.
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Have you passed on a success mantra to Mistry? the outgoing chairman was asked.
"No, I told him the same things that I told myself when JRD handed over the mantle to me. The first reaction of anybody is to be Mr JRD Tata because you are filling his shoes. I instantly told myself, 'I can never do that'. I will never be him much as I try to imitate him. So I took a decision to be myself and to do what I thought was the right thing. I told Cyrus the same thing," he said.
During the transition, Mistry had asked him from time to time, 'is this ok, that ok'. He had responded by telling him that he should look at things as "if I were not there because you should be your own person".
He had told Mistry, "if you want my inputs I will give it to you but be your own man and be yourself and just be driven by the fact that every act you do and every move you make has to stand the test of public scrutiny".
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That, he said, was the test he had given himself. "If it stands the test of public scrutiny, do it....if it doesn't stand the test of public scrutiny then don't do it."
Asked if his counsel would be available to his successor, Tata replied, "Yes, certainly. He knows where to reach me and, we in fact, would talk business and stay in touch after I leave."
He then disclosed that the two of them would have lunch every couple of weeks "over something and we will talk about whatever he wants to talk about".
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Tata, who will remain Chairman of the various Tata trusts, which hold 66 per cent shares of Tata Sons, was asked as to whether this would not give him a large influence over the group.
He replied, "I don't want to say I will have a large influence over the group. I think I would have to wear a different hat of being the major shareholder. The same kind of view that a shareholder might have, not a Chairman's view of the company."