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Row before Tata MD death

- Thai police speak of letter from wife and argument

Mumbai, Jan. 27: Karl Slym, managing director of Tata Motors Ltd, died on Sunday after falling from a hotel room in Bangkok in what police said could be possible suicide.

Slym, 51, had attended a board meeting of Tata’s Thailand unit in the Thai capital and was staying with his wife, Sally, in a room on the 22nd floor of the Shangri-La hotel.

Police lieutenant Somyot Boonyakaew, heading the investigation, said the police found a three-page note, written in English to Slym by his wife, which they were translating into Thai. “The wife wrote the note because she wanted her husband to know some personal things. Yes, they did argue,” he said after speaking with her.

Unconfirmed reports said the couple had a five-hour row about “family business” from around 7pm on Saturday. The couple had been married for about 30 years and had no children.

Thai police said they were called to the Shangri-La hotel around 7.45am on Sunday after staff found Slym’s body. They woke up Slym’s wife, who looked shocked when she was told what had happened to her husband.

Hotel staff discovered his body at 7.45am on the fourth floor, which juts out above lower floors. The Slyms were due to check out later in the day.

“We didn’t find any sign of a struggle,” said Boonyakaew. “We can rule out murder in this case.”

“We found a window open. The window was very small so it was not possible that he would have slipped. He would have had to climb through the window to fall out because he was a big man. From my initial investigation, we believe he jumped,” the police officer added.

The news sent a shock wave through the markets. The Tata Motors stock sank 6.13 per cent to close at Rs 347.80 on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Reports indicate that Ravi Kant, former MD of Tata Motors and currently vice-chairman, will take charge of the automaker. Tata Motors’ board of directors is due to meet in the next few days to pick a new MD.

“We will issue a statement when the board takes a decision but do not have any timeline now,” said Minari Shah, spokesperson for Tata Motors.

The board is scheduled to meet on February 10 to consider its third quarter results. But it is likely to meet earlier to pick Slym’s successor.

Cyrus Mistry, head of the Tata Group and chairman of Tata Motors, said: “I am deeply saddened to inform you about the untimely and tragic demise of our company’s managing director, Karl Slym. Karl joined us in October 2012 and was a valued colleague who was providing strong leadership at a challenging time for the Indian auto industry. In this hour of grief, our thoughts are with Karl's wife and family.”

“Devastated with news of Tata Motors MD Karl Slym passing away. Tragic loss of a great human being. Thoughts are with his wife Sally and family,” Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India, said in a Twitter message.

The automaker, which has a 6 per cent share in the passenger vehicles market, has been going through a rough patch in its domestic operations. On a standalone basis, Tata Motors reported a loss of Rs 100 crore in its domestic operations in the half year ended September 30 against an after-tax profit of Rs 1,072 crore in the same period a year ago.

But it was able to report a consolidated net profit of Rs 5,268 crore in the first half on the back of a spectacular performance by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), the luxury vehicle maker that Tata Motors acquired in June 2008.

Last week, Slym had announced an early retirement offer to trim the automaker’s workforce in India.

The tragedy also focused attention on an alleged GM India fraud that was busted by a government panel investigating the recall of 1.26 lakh Tavera sports utility vehicles last July. The investigation had revealed that GM India had fudged emissions data between 2005 and 2012. Slym was GM India’s MD between October 2007 and 2011.

The investigation revealed that GM India flouted production rules, which mandate that vehicles and components should match specifications and performance standards that the testing authority approves. The company was accused of replacing untested engines with tested ones while sending them for the mandatory checks.

Publicly, Slym had shrugged off accusations of wrongdoing during his reign at GM India. GM India had three MDs between 2005 and 2012: Rajeev Chaba, Karl Slym and Lowell Paddock, the current MD.

GM has already asked Chaba, who was re-designated as vice-president (sales) after Slym took over as MD, to leave the company along with 25 other officials. Paddock had told the probe panel that he was the one who blew the whistle on the fraud.

Slym, who described himself in his Twitter account as a “Britisher who just can’t stay away from India”, was the second GM executive to be appointed managing director at Tata Motors. The company had previously hired Carl-Peter Forster in 2010 from GM in Europe. Forster quit after less than two years at the company. Earlier this month, he joined engine maker Cosworth as a non-executive director.

Before joining Tata Motors, Slym had a short stint as executive vice-president of SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobiles in China, a joint venture between the state-owned SAIC Motor Corp, GM and Liuzhou Wuling Motors.

Slym led the automaker’s operations in India and international markets, including South Korea, Thailand and South Africa. But he did not look after the JLR luxury unit.

Slym had overhauled the old management structure at Tata Motors and had come out with a common vision statement for the commercial vehicle and passenger vehicle businesses.

Tata Motors recently introduced a 1.2-litre petrol engine called the Revotron for its passenger vehicles and was planning to launch a hatchback and compact sedan this year, the first all-new Tata-branded passenger vehicles since 2010.

The company was gearing up for the Auto Expo next month where it plans to unveil its new SUV concept Jump. It has also drawn up plans to launch new versions of the Nano, Indica and the Indigo.


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