If there is one good reason to applaud the appointment of Natarajan Chandrasekaran
as chairman of the all-powerful Tata
group holding company Tata
Sons, it is that the $103 billion group has finally decided to take a chance on the array of management talent within. This otherwise encouraging fact, however, masks the reality that Mr Chandrasekaran will be, in effect, the second TINA (There is No Alternative) candidate to make it to this top job. Cyrus Mistry, the Tata
protégé turned enemy, was the first.
Mr Mistry was the ultimate dark horse. He was not even originally in the running as Ratan Tata’s successor, having been part of the search committee tasked with identifying one. By his own admission, he agreed to take the job reluctantly. The story that did the rounds at the time was that his diligence and astute questioning apparently convinced the rest of the committee of his fitness to head the group. Which could be another way of saying they couldn’t find anyone else.
is not just India’s largest private sector corporate group, it was also, until recently, one of India’s most respected. Given that, the luminaries of the Indian management firmament, if not the global one, should have been queueing up for the privilege of leading it. When Jack Welch stepped down after his long stint at GE, three candidates competed for his job. Strangely, there has been little sign of eagerness to head Tata
Sons. Maybe possible candidates sensed something of the problems that have led to the current imbroglio between Messrs Mistry and Tata.
The battle, no less sordid despite the entertaining and grammatically impeccable accusations and counter-accusations, may have discouraged even the least faint-hearted this time. Names such as Indra Nooyi and Harish Manwani were bandied about, which the group declined to confirm or deny. Mr Manwani may have been a possibility though his experience as head of a fast moving consumer goods company Hindustan Unilever may have been deemed too limited for a group as varied as Tata. Ms Nooyi? Too masterful, it would be thought, to submit to the straitjacket culture of Bombay House.
To be fair, Mr Chandrasekharan, chief of the most profitable of the group companies, was always in the reckoning as a frontrunner. As an old and steady Tata
hand, who understands the unique culture of the group and Mr Tata’s overdeveloped sense of ownership, he is probably the best fit, too. Mr Chandrasekharan can be relied on not to challenge Mr Tata’s admittedly troubled legacy, or set himself up as an independent power centre (as the Tata
acolytes claim Mr Mistry did).