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Cyrus Mistry's Exit: A Look at His Life at the Helm of Tata Group

It is one of the most unexpected twists in the history of corporate India. Less than four-years-old Chairman of the $100-billion Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry, has been removed from the top post.

twitter-logo Nevin John        Last Updated: October 25, 2016  | 11:24 IST
Cyrus Mistry's Exit: A Look at His Life at the Helm of Tata Group
Former Tata Sons Chairman Cyrus Mistry

It is one of the most unexpected twists in the history of corporate India. Less than four-years-old Chairman of the $100-billion Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry, has been removed from the top post. There were many favourable factors on his side during his celebrated tenure - his family firm Shapoorji Pallonji Group holds 18 per cent stake in the holding company, Tata Sons; Ratan Tata's half brother Noel is married to his sister Aloo Mistry; and most of the old guards of Tata group have passed the retirement age. So, how it did it happen?

Mistry made a lot of changes in the group. One of his first moves after becoming the chairman in December 2012 was surprising. He quashed the two empowered bodies of old-guards - Group Executive Office (GEO) and Group Corporate Centre (GCC). In place of two satraps-packed bodies, Tata Sons deputed a council of middle-aged executives by forming Group Executive Council (GEC). The GEC, headed by 47-year-old Mistry, got former Ernst & Young partner N.S. Rajan, former Bombay Stock Exchange CEO Madhu Kannan, and London Business School professor Nirmalya Kumar from outside. Tata Administrative Service (TAS) officer Mukund Govind Rajan, younger brother of former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, and Harish Bhat from Tata Global Beverages, were taken to GEC from inside the group.

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When Ratan Tata had taken charge as chairman in 1991, he had 3-4 years of tough battle with the then power centres - Russi Mody, Darbari Seth and Ajit Kerkar - to get his team in place. But Mistry had no visible opposition from group companies or executives, because of Tata's presence as head of Tata Trusts, which hold majority stake in holding companies of Tata Group. What fell in favour of Mistry to bring in his team fast is the retirement of Tata's men. Tata Sons directors J.J. Irani and N.A. Soonawala and R.K. Krishna Kumar retired.

Arunkumar Gandhi, the Tata Group's chief dealmaker who played a pivotal role in the group's multi-billion dollar acquisitions of Corus and Jaguar-Land Rover in the heady days of 2007/08, stepped down in 2013. Kishor Chaukar and R Gopalakrishnan retired. Ishaat Hussain is one of the old timers left on Tata Sons board. Mistry was also reported to be in search of a group chief financial officer (CFO) in place of Hussain. At the company level, three vice chairmen retired at the age of 70 - Tata Motors' Ravi Kant, Tata Steel's B. Muthuraman and TCS's S. Ramadorai. The exit of Raymond Bickson from Indian Hotels was another noticed change during Mistry's time. Bickson was close to Tata and the former executed Tata's globalisation plan.

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Tata Group is too big for a fresher. But Mistry held on well with his decisions like the sale plan of the UK assets of Tata Steel, e-commerce venture Tata CLiQ, launch of at least two passenger vehicles a year and sale of non-core assets. He had a plan for expanding the defence business and formed a joint platform of group companies. Amidst the preparations for a new business strategy, the group had scrapped the $1.2-billion bid for Bermuda-based luxury hotel chain Orient-Express, which has 45 properties across 22 countries. The company was scouting for the asset for the past six years. The urea business of Tata Chemicals was sold. While selling assets at one side, there were acquisitions as well, such as the nearly Rs 10,000 crore worth solar power assets of Welspun by Tata Power. The airline joint ventures - with Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Air Asia - were born during the time of Mistry, but it was according to the interests of Tata. It was Mistry who took the decision to withdraw from the race for a banking licence.

Retail, financial services, infrastructure, defence and aerospace were the focus areas for Mistry. The companies in construction - Tata Housing, Tata Realty & Infrastruture and Tata Projects - alone planned projects worth Rs 70,000 crore in the next five years. A civil engineer by profession, Mistry intended to create an infrastructure and real estate company in Tata Group.

The sudden turn of events has led to the reappointment of Ratan Tata as the chairman - interim term of four months. Tata Sons' board has constituted a selection committee to find a new Chairman in four months. Unlike in the past, Ratan Tata himself will head the search for the new chairman. TVS chief Venu Srinivasan, Amit Chandra (MD, Bain Capital), Ronen Sen (India's former ambassador to the US) and Indian British engineer Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya are in the selection committee.

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