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Tata tip to Mistry: Be your own man

Tata group supremo Ratan Tata, who retires on December 28 as chairman when he turns 75, spoke about his 50 years with the group, the highs and lows of his tenure, his equation with Cyrus Mistry, who will succeed him at the helm of the $100billion group and his post-retirement plans during an interview with PTI in his office at Bombay House, the group headquarters. Excerpts:

Top advice

Be your own man, Tata has advised Mistry. “I don’t think it is right to have a ghost to shadow over somebody,” says Tata, dismissing any notion that his larger-than-life persona will linger even after he retires. The Tata patriarch has told Mistry, 31 years younger, “You should be your own person, you should take your own call and you should decide what you want to.”

During the transition, Mistry had asked him from time to time, “Is this ok, that ok.”

Tata had responded by saying, “If you want my inputs I will give it to you but be your own man and be yourself and just be driven by the fact that every act you do and every move you make has to stand the test of public scrutiny.”

Change in role

Tata, who will remain chairman of the various Tata trusts, which hold 66 per cent shares of Tata Sons, was asked as to whether this would not give him a large influence over the group.

“I don’t want to say I will have a large influence… I would have to wear a different hat of being the major shareholder. The same kind of view that a shareholder might have, not a chairman's view of the company,” he said.

“I should not be involved in the business of the company. But at the same time I should be concerned about the return I get on my shares because it is the only income that the trusts have.”

Future of the group

Tata believed that it was poised to continue to grow. “Where it would grow, I think Cyrus Mistry should have his space and define where he would like it to grow.” His 20 years at the helm was enough time to chart a course. Quite often an organisation has played out one course and is ready to go in a different direction. “Often, an unwillingness to have that course correction brings about the demise of an organisation because when you bring fresh blood into it, he sees things in another way,” Tata said.

The Tata patriarch, however, warned that “competition is growing all the time and sustainability of business is becoming more and more difficult”. “So I am sure Cyrus will bring new ideas and new things,” he added.

Unfulfilled wish

Tata said he had wanted a more open, flat organisation where there was not much hierarchy, where there was much more informal working relationship at all levels. “We are very hierarchical, not feudal...given to honouring years of experience... We don’t touch each other’s feet but we still almost bow down every time when one passes.”

Frustrations

Tata said there were many, recalling his first job in the foundries of Telco where when one asked why something was being done in a particular way, one was told, “this is the way we have done it and it is the best way”.

Has that changed in the group now? “It has changed to some extent. I would be arrogant and lying if I were to say it has really changed. There are pockets which have changed and there are pockets which continue to be just as they were,” Tata said.

Retirement plan

“I will spend more time on technology which is quite a passion with me. As an architect I would like to once again go back to it. “Then there are things like piano which I learnt when I was nine years old. I haven’t played it since and would like to relearn to play the piano,” he said.

 
 
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