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N Chandrasekaran's multiple challenges

N Chandrasekaran's promotion to the top job at the $103 billion group appeared a formality when he was among the earliest appointees to the board of Tata Sons after the board unceremoniously ousted Cyrus Mistry as chairman on October 24.

twitter-logo Rajeev Dubey   New Delhi     Last Updated: February 7, 2017  | 17:49 IST
N Chandrasekaran's multiple challenges
N Chandrasekaran

When the announcement finally came after a hurriedly organised board meeting of Tata Sons on January 12, it was far from a surprise.

Natarajan Chandrasekaran, 53, it will be, to take over as the 7th chairman of the 148 year old Tata group on February 21, 3 days before the February 24 deadline to appoint the successor to Cyrus Mistry.

His promotion to the top job at the $103 billion group appeared a formality when he was among the earliest appointees to the board of Tata Sons after the board unceremoniously ousted Cyrus Mistry as chairman on October 24.

The board appointed a 5-member panel (comprising of Ratan Tata, TVS Chairman Venu Srinivasan, Bain Capital's Amit Chandra, diplomat Ronen Sen and Kumar Bhattacharyya from Warwick University) to shortlist the candidates for the top job and set a short 3-month deadline to announce the new chairman.

While Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralph Speth was also appointed on the board of Tata Sons along with Chandrasekaran, however, for months Tata executives have been confiding that the job would go to an 'insider'. Interim chairman Ratan Tata's half-brother Noel Naval Tata was believed to be the other contender.

Chandrasekaran, however, takes charge at one of the most critical moments for the Tata group.

It is embroiled in what appears to be a long drawn legal battle with the group's second largest shareholder Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry group over the ouster of Cyrus as chairman.

Only one of Tata group's two large investments--Corus and Jaguar Land Rover--in recent times has borne fruit. JLR rode the success of its China subsidiary which rode out the global economic recovery very well. The other, Corus, is close to wiping out the nearly $10 billion investment.

Despite owning the country's largest IT services firm TCS, the group appears to have missed the Internet/e-commerce revolution in the country.

Interestingly, Ratan Tata's personal investment vehicle RNT Associates has a formidable portfolio of his own investments in several start-ups, including Snapdeal, Ola, Lenskart, Cashkaro, Tracxn, paytm, Urban Ladder, among others. The group has made a re-entry into the e-commerce space with Tata CliQ which is showing early traction.

For years the group has struggled to make  a success of Ratan Tata's pet project--the Tata Nano car. Tata Motors, once a pride of the group, is now relegated to a small  and marginal player in the passenger car market with a string of failed product launches, having failed to face the onslaught of Japanese and Korean small car makers.

Also, Tata Steel has just commissioned a part of its Kalinganagar steel plant after significant project delays.

The group's telecom venture Tata Teleservices is not just bleeding with massive accumulated losses but is also embroiled in a protracted legal battle with joint venture partner DoCoMo over the valuation for DoCoMo's exit from the venture.

Importantly, the group's cash cow Tata Consultancy Services, so far headed by Chandrasekaran, is showing signs of slow growth after a decade of formidable performance under his leadership.

So while being an 'insider' Chandrasekaran may be spared the group's internal pulls and pressures that took down Cyrus, Chandrasekaran is not short of challenges in running the nearly 100 company group that is in the midst of making a transition from the old economy to the new.

 

 

 

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