Rustomji Hormusji (Russi) Mody, fondly called “the grand old man of steel”, prided himself on being a people’s person. Corporate folklore has it that he knew every one of Tata Steel’s 80,000 workers by name.
This is probably a wild exaggeration but it cannot be denied that the diminutive, five-foot-nothing ex-chairman of Tata Iron & Steel Company (or Tisco, as Tata Steel was earlier called) had a common touch that endeared him to his workforce.
Son of Sir Homi Mody and Lady Jerbhai, Mody had a privileged upbringing, attending Harrow School in England and Christ Church College, Oxford, after which he joined Tisco and married his cousin Siloo.
A protégé of the late JRD Tata, he was marked out as a rising star early in his career and became a director at Tisco at the age of 35.
Till well into his 50s, Mody, an enthusiastic cook, would make himself 16-egg omelete for breakfast and often saunter into the Tisco workers’ canteen for lunch, mostly dressed in bright, multi-coloured Hawaii shirts. A gifted pianist, he once accompanied Albert Einstein (who played the violin) at a big gathering in New York.
Mody became managing director of Tisco in 1972 and succeeded JRD as chairman a decade later, becoming one of the semi-independent “Tata satraps”.
In the early ‘90s, he came into conflict with JRD’s successor Ratan Tata. His ouster from Tisco after a bitter fight made big news at the time, but he subsequently made peace with Ratan Tata. Mody, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1989, tried to build a global trading house, Mobar, after quitting Tisco and was, for a few years, appointed chairman of Air India and Indian Airlines, but couldn’t repeat his success at Tisco.
“Russi Mody was an institution at Tata Steel. Under his leadership Tata Steel grew significantly and he instituted many human resource initiatives.
He lived a full and energetic life and will always be remembered by his friends,” Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus, Tata Son, said in a statement.