The resounding slap in the face administered to Ratan Tata (RT), chairman emeritus of the Mumbai-based Tata Sons, the holding company of the multi-business salt-software Tata Group of companies (annual revenue: Rs.7.9 lakh crore) and his hand-picked Tata Sons CEO N. Chandrasekhar by the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) on December 19 could well be a final ignominious requiem for RT, now in the winter of his life. In 2013, after his mandatory retirement from the chairmanship of Tata Sons on attaining age 75 — a limit gratuitously mandated by RT for all Tata Group directors — he engineered the appointment of Cyrus Mistry, son of construction tycoon Shapoorji Pallonji as his successor in Tata Sons. At the time this seemed an ideal arrangement as Shapoorji Pallonji Ltd is a substantial equity shareholder (18 percent) of Tata Sons.
However soon after, RT became disillusioned with his protégé. Particularly after Mistry set about correcting his (Ratan’s) bloomers such as the disastrous over-priced acquisition of the UK-based Corus Steel, unravelling the Tata Docomo tangle and rescinding contracts awarded to Ratan’s pal Melhi Mistry (no relation) by Tata companies.
In October 2016 alleging unsubstantiated “mismanagement” RT ousted Mistry and appointed Chandrasekhar as Mistry’s successor in Bombay House, the command centre of the Tata business empire. Against all advice, Mistry bravely appealed his ouster at NCLAT, where he has won a famous victory.
As former editor of Business India and Businessworld, your correspondent is well acquainted with the dramatis personae of Bombay House and slippery Ratan Tata in particular. When the health of J.R.D. Tata who headed the Tata Group for over half a century was failing in the early 1990s, the chairmanship of Tata Sons was up for grabs. In the race Ratan was a distant also-ran and was repeatedly being rubbished by front-runner Russi Mody, chairman of Tata Steel. At that time (at RT’s request) I argued his case in the media as being a better bet than Mody. Just before he passed on in 1993, RT was designated JRD’s heir.
However soon after when your editor requested modest support from the Tata Group by way of advertising for this then floundering publication, RT point-blank refused to discharge his IOU, pleading abject poverty. Ditto his lapdog Chandrasekhar (annual remuneration Rs.53 crore) who withdrew support for the TCS-EW annual teachers awards, instituted by Fakir Chand Kohli, the genius who built TCS into India’s #1 IT software and consultancy company, as soon as he succeeded Kohli in 2003. Now following the NCLAT judgment this scheming duo has been thoroughly exposed and discredited. God pays his debts!