Mumbai, Nov. 23: At first glance, the appointment of Cyrus P. Mistry as the future chairman of the mammoth Tata group seems to be an unusual choice but on closer inspection, Mistry and outgoing chairman Ratan Naval Tata seem to share many similar personality traits.
Both Tata and Mistry have unassuming personalities bordering on being reticent.
A former classmate of The Cathedral & John Connon School, from where Mistry did his schooling, says, He was really shy, in fact humble, and never tom-tommed the fact that he belonged to the wealthy Shapoorji Pallonji family.
Tatas media-shy personality is well-known. Mistry apparently avoids the media with equal fervour, says a source who has interacted with him. The Shapoorji Pallonji family itself is famous for being extremely media shy and over the years there is little reporting to be found on their business activities and plans.
While Ratan Tata has trained as an architect, Mistry is a graduate of civil engineering from Imperial College, the UK (1990). Subsequently, he got a masters degree in management from the London School of Business.
On his appointment as the deputy chairman of Tata Sons on Wednesday, Mistry issued a low-key statement while at the same time announcing his decision to disengage himself from the management of his family businesses.
I feel honoured by this appointment. I am aware that an enormous responsibility with a great legacy has been entrusted to me. I look forward to Mr Tatas guidance in the year ahead in meeting the expectations of the group, he said.
I take this responsibility very seriously and in keeping with the values and ethics of the Tata group I will undertake to legally disassociate myself from the management of my family businesses to avoid any issue of conflict of interest, Mistry added.
Commenting on Mistrys appointment, veteran Tata man J.J. Irani told a television channel that Ratan Tata listened to Cyrus Mistrys views carefully during the board meetings of Tata Sons over the years.
Mistry joined the board of Tata Sons in 2006 and had been a director of Tata Power and Tata Elxsi in the past.
He joined the board of family-run Shapoorji Pallonji group in 1991 and was appointed managing director in 1994.
A note prepared by the Tata groups public relations agency says under Mistrys guidance, Shapoorji Pallonjis construction business has grown its turnover from $20 million to around $1.5 billion.
The group registered many firsts in India — construction of the tallest residential towers, the longest rail bridge, the largest dry dock and the largest affordable housing project — under Mistrys stewardship, the note added.
Mistry has also dabbled in infrastructure, starting in 1995 with a 106MW power project in Tamil Nadu followed by the development of the countrys largest bio-tech park near Hyderabad as well as two large road projects with an investment of $550 million.
His international experience includes Shapoorji Pallonjis recent entry into agriculture and biofuels, with the leasing of 50,000 hectares in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian experience may well be a start for Mistry in international markets who will now face several challenges in stabilising and growing a global empire that is the Tata group.
His set of challenges, however, will be very different from what Ratan Tata faced when he took over the reins of the group.
The one-year waiting period working in close association with Tata will stand Mistry in good stead.