Ratan Tata signalled on Monday that merit – not the community of birth – would be the top consideration as the Tata Group hunts for a successor to replace him after his planned retirement in 2012.
As speculation and debate hots up on the future of the salt-to-software industrial empire nurtured for more than a century by entrepreneurs from the Parsi community, the Tata Sons chairman said he was confident that the 5-member panel set up to name the person to fill his shoes would take all views into consideration.
Thus far, the 141-year-old Tata Group has been dominated by leaders bearing the same surname. Ratan Tata, speaking to sharedholders at the annual general meeting of Tata Chemicals said the group was Indian and not Parsi. That showed a clear emphasis that family considerations may not necessarily overpower other factors.
"The Tata Group is an Indian Group and we should not be looking (at it) as a Parsi group. The successor should be the right person and not anti-Parsi or pro-Parsi," Tata said, adding he had set the idea of a panel to choose his successor 10 years ago.
"The committee will make a decision based on everyone's view. There is no reason to have prejudice till the committee has a candidate. How can you imply that this is not the fair way to do things?" he said.
"The committee is formulating criteria for identifying a suitable candidate who fits into the global nature and complexity of the group's diversified businesses and would consider people from both within the group and professionals within and outside India," Tata Sons, the group’s holding company, had said last week.
It announced last Wednesday a five-member committee that includes three members of the board of Tata Sons including Cyrus Mistry, the brother-in-law of the frontrunner—Noel Tata, who happens to be Ratan's half-brother.
Noel Tata is widely seen to be groomed for the top slot. He was first appointed as the chairman of Tata Investment Corporation in June and later named managing director of Tata International while exiting as MD from retail firm Trent Ltd.
While the selection of the chairman is likely to be completed by March 2011, the new chairman will takeover from Ratan Tata in December 2012 when he is due to retire.