Review: Tata vs Mistry by Deepali Gupta
Deepali Gupta’s book on the battle for Bombay House strives to get facts, figures, events and perspectives right
Senior financial editor Deepali Gupta’s maiden book is a humdinger. She euphemistically labels the story a mere “battle” but the reader, by page 10, is drawn into the cannon fire and surgical strikes of full-fledged warfare. The war zone bristled with deadly mines and any attempt to explore goings-on at the Tata Group headquarters, Bombay House, was risky at every step.
To start with, I wondered if Mistry deserved equal font and picture size with Tata on the book cover. Surely, very few people in non-business professions knew of him. I WhatsApped seven individuals across the world whom I trusted would obey my specific dictum to not find the answer via Google. My single stark question was “Who is Cyrus Mistry?” Except for a neurosurgeon in Switzerland who replied, “A Bollywood film star”, the others got it right. Two years after the war, Mistry scored 6:1 and deserves no snigger for low recognition value!
But to return to the book and its brave and adventurous author. Neither Tata nor Mistry “offered comment for the purposes of this book.”
Ratan Tata and his peers searched worldwide to find a successor when, at age 75 in 2012, he decided to retire as chairman of Tata Sons Ltd He remained the chairman of Tata Trusts Ltd that holds majority stake in Tata Sons. The global manhunt ended with the appointment of Mistry, only 47, and scion of a family known to the Tatas for generations. Handing over charge of the Group with annual revenue of approximately US$ 110 billion, Tata advised Mistry to “Be your own man. Be yourself.” It seems Mistry did follow Tata’s advice with consequences that led Deepali Gupta to writing this book once Mistry was voted out of chairmanship after three years, 10 months and seven days.
It is pointless for this review to carry salacious tidbits of how, when, why, and what went wrong. The entire meaty, juicy describe-life-as-it-comes narrative shorn of abstraction is Gupta’s bailiwick. Her research is extensive and thorough and she strives to get facts, figures, events and perspectives right. Her reconstruction definitely has the virtue of rectitude.
Apparently, Mistry discovered lots of sins in the running of the holding company. Many of these went beyond the level of Tata Sons and involved its owner Tata Trusts. Ratan Tata chaired the latter; ipso facto, it must mean that over the years, he had aided and abetted the sins. Mistry sued Tata. His affidavit ran to some 900 pages. Short of manslaughter, scores of charges were hurled at Tata for corruption, corporate misgovernance, pursuing misconceived business plans for personal benefit, favouring friends at company cost, misusing the Trusts to stymie Mistry’s policies, opaque investments by RNT Associates, Tata’s vehicle for personal investments, insider trading and so on and on. Courtrooms were packed with teams of India’s top lawyers. There is no safe guess on the cost of litigation.
On judgment day, Mistry was in for a shock. The order was 400 pages long. The judges thought the suit was motivated by personal hurt. They opined that Tata was in the clear while Mistry was wrong to pursue court action. One of the obiter dicta said Mistry was an employee. An angry employee no doubt. A portion of the judgment praised the work of the Tata Group and Tata Trusts.
The case was dismissed.
Mistry has challenged the decision in the appellate court. Currently the appeal is ongoing. Possibly its result will determine who will head the House of Tata. That’s when Gupta might write the sequel.
Sujoy Gupta is business historian and corporate biographer.