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Cyrus begins transition at Tata Group

Dev Chatterjee  |  Mumbai 

Tata Sons Chairman Cyrus Mistry, who completes his first 100 days in office next Monday, has rarely been seen or heard at public forums - his trips to New Delhi to meet ministers have been restricted by both the parties as nothing more than photo-ops. But that's hardly a surprise as the 44-year-old younger son of Pallonji Mistry, the largest individual shareholder in Tata Sons, is known to be a mirror image of his father when it comes to avoiding the limelight and social circuit.

The only two public functions where he has been heard are the Vibrant Gujarat summit on January 12, where he heaped praise on Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and the Founder's Day Celebrations in Jamshedpur on March 3. Besides flagging off a grand pageantry and the usual "commitment to values, etc", Mistry spoke about the need to have trained teachers and his plans about having a professional group on board to train at least 20,000 teachers over the next 10 years. People who attended the celebrations said the sincerity and passion, besides absence of smart one-liners, reminded them of his predecessor.

Mistry's style of functioning was in full display after the Tata group took its first major decision under him as chairman - to form a joint venture with AirAsia for a low-cost airline in India. While he has been completely silent on the issue, Ratan Tata, now the group's chairman emeritus, met the aviation minister and tweeted his thanks to the government for granting permission to the new airline venture.

Mistry's backers say that's typical of the man - he didn't crow about his success even when Shapoorji Pallonji Group's turnover crossed $2 billion from $20 million during the period he was the managing director. But there is a less sympathetic view, too. A section says silence is golden only up to a point, especially if one is the chairman of a $100-billion-plus conglomerate.

Even as he gets his feet under the desk (the new chairman has kept his predecessor's cabin vacant and operates from another room on the same floor), Mistry's main focus in his first days has clearly been on initiating a gradual generational shift in the group's Team 'A'. It wasn't a coincidence that one of the first appointments the Tata group made after he became vice-chairman in 2012 was of Madhu Kannan, 39, a former CEO of BSE. Kannan, who joined in July, heads the business development department and reports directly to Mistry. The youngest CEO in the entire group was appointed last year - Avani Saglani Davda (33) at Tata-Starbucks.

The Mistry stamp was directly visible when he created the position of brand custodian and chief ethics officer and handpicked Mukund Rajan, who is the same age as Mistry and has spent over 18 years with the group. People familiar with the developments say Mistry's bid to move young executives to the forefront will also be visible when a replacement for group HR head Satish Pradhan, who resigned recently, is announced. And, there was the appointment of Ajit Krishnakumar (38) to head the mergers & acquisitions team.

The investment banker at Rothschild is the son of Ratan Tata's long-time lieutenant, R Krishna Kumar.

The restructuring of the Tata Sons board was also one of his priorities and a hunt was on for young corporate leaders, both from within and outside the group, a senior Tata executive said.

Once his Team 'A' is in place, Mistry will focus on walking the talk on his stated investment plans of Rs 45,000 crore for the group over the next two years - an advance on the Rs 50,000 crore invested over the past three years. The announcement, which was made in his New Year greetings to Tata Group employees, talked about using the corpus for "spreading of risk, acquisition of technology, access to talent, and investment in long-term growth markets". Analysts say most of the investment may be for new acquisitions - of and resources like raw materials for steel and power generation.

Insiders say Mistry will soon focus his attention on the operational details of some of the group companies, such as Tata Steel, Tata Motors and Indian Hotels, which are facing the heat due to a slowing global economy. "These will benefit as he is known to be meticulous to details," group insiders say.

First Published: Mon, April 01 2013. 00:53 IST