Ratan Tata will step down in December next year after he turns 75.
Sources say the criterion related to the number of years of experience has been relaxed to include more candidates.
Except Noel Tata, the names of other contenders have been kept secret.
“The selection committee is engaged with the task. It has interviewed both internal and external candidates. It will be premature to share details of the progress of its endeavours, except to state that the committee is fully aware of the relevant timeline,” said a Tata Sons spokesperson. “The committee has requested us to convey to the media that it would not like to comment on any speculative report on this issue.”
The search panel has N A Soonawala, vice-chairman, Tata Sons; R K Krishna Kumar, non-executive director, Tata Sons; Cyrus Mistry, the younger son of construction giant Pallonji Mistry, the largest single shareholder in Tata Sons; Lord Bhattacharya, a businessman based in the UK who runs Warwick Manufacturing; and Shirin Bharucha, a lawyer for the group.
Sources say contrary to reports that the panel is finding it difficult to find suitable candidates, it has identified top talent from across the world. The reports were based on Krishna Kumar’s remark that the committee had come to a conclusion that it was difficult to find Ratan Tata’s replacement and there was a need to change the search model.
A few weeks ago, the committee suggested lowering the retirement age of non-executive directors from 75 to 70. This will not apply to non-executive directors who are already 70 or above, including Krishna Kumar and J J Irani. The proposal has been accepted by the board of Tata Sons. This means that some key players in the group — including Tata Steel Managing Director (MD) B Muthuraman, former Tata Motors MD Ravi Kant and former TCS head S Ramadorai — who have given up executive roles will retire within the next four-five years when they turn 70.
The group has brought people in their 40s and 50s to run some key companies. Observers say the next leaders will be from among them. They include Tata Power MD Anil Sardana, TCS MD Natarajan Chandrasekaran, Tata Chemicals MD R Mukundan, Tata Teleservices MD N Srinath, Tata Global Beverages head Peter Unsworth, Tata Motors MD Carl-Peters Forster, India Hotels chief Raymond Bickson and Tata International MD Noel Tata.
The activities of the group are overseen by two bodies. The executive office reviews business activities of all group companies. Besides Ratan Tata, it has R Gopalakrishnan, Ishaat Hussain, Kishor Chaukar and Arunkumar Gandhi.
Then there is the group corporate centre, which reviews policy issues related to growth and takes decisions on entering new areas. It also promotes the Tata brand and provides advisory services to group companies in human resources, finance and legal affairs. It comprises Ratan Tata, JJ Irani, R K Krishna Kumar, R Gopalakrishnan, Ishaat Hussain, Kishor Chaukar and Arunkumar Gandhi. The members of both these groups are in 60s and 70s.