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New frontiers await Cyrus Mistry

The new chairman of the Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry, will have his hands full in sustaining the global momentum that Ratan Tata infused. Gaurav Choudhury writes. The Tata story, seed to tree

business Updated: Dec 28, 2012 11:22 IST
Gaurav Choudhury

On the face of it, there is a lot that differentiate the incumbent from the successor - Ratan Naval Tata and Cyrus Mistry. Tata was 54 in 1991 when he took the mantle at Bombay House, the headquarters of the the salt-to-software Tata group. At 44, Mistry is a lot younger.

Ratan Tata already had a job offer from IBM back in 1964, which he refused at the behest of a certain Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata to enter the House of Tata for a long and fruitful career.

Mistry joined the board of Shapoorji Pallonji & Co - a firm that his grandfather founded - as director in 1991, the same year Tata took over as chairman of Tata Sons. Three years later he was appointed managing director of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group.

Tata assumed leadership role more by circumstance, rather than choice, while Mistry, many say, grew into the role.

Tata loves going out for long walks with his dogs. Mistry loves horse-riding and is an avid golfer.

Though not bearing the famous surname that goes with the territory, Mistry, a civil engineering graduate from Imperial College, UK (1990) and an M Sc in management from the London Business School, is considered an "insider" in the Tata Group.

Mistry is part of the extended family (his sister Aloo is married to Tata's half-brother Noel); he also represents the largest shareholder and has served on the board of Tata Sons as director for five years.

His affable nature and a tendency to shun the limelight, much like Tata, seem to have clinched the deal for him, say relatives, friends and associates.

His friends, peers and former employees described him as hardworking and patient as a manager, and not much given to grand gestures.

A leading industrialist who has known Mistry for many years, said that while initially the choice appeared surprising, Mistry's elevation seemed obvious in retrospect.

"It was a surprise, but now, in hindsight, he seemed to be the most obvious choice - someone who was there right in front of you and yet no one realised it. Of course, it certainly helps that he is a significant shareholder in the Tata group," the industrialist, who did not wish to be identified, said.