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A man with a great zest for life

Russi Mody (1918-2014)

“What kind of a man is Russi? A remarkable man. In fact, of all men I have known, very few, indeed, other than political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, would justify that description,” J.R.D Tata, then chairman of the Tata group, said at a reception in Mumbai in 1989 while felicitating Russi Mody on his completion of 50 years at Tisco, presently Tata Steel.

He had a great zest for life and even at the age of 70, Mody would play the piano, fly a plane, drive fast cars and go skiing.

Mody, who died on Friday night in Calcutta at his Alipore bungalow at the ripe old age of 96, lived his life to the fullest — except for the last few years when old age and illness curbed the lifestyle of a natural bon vivant and raconteur.

Russi was a natural leader with an infectious laugh and a gregarious spirit that inspired fierce loyalty and life-long ties. But there was also a pugnacious side to the man — he loved a fight and would often wade into a controversy, fearless of the consequences.

At the felicitation, JRD said: “He (Mody) is a strong man. He has his own ideas and his ways of doing things… He has shown it throughout in career and caused a lot of trouble to some of us and sometimes to others.”

That apocalyptic statement played out three years later when he felt slighted and got into public spat with JRD and Ratan Tata, who had been anointed as the chairman of the Tata group.

Mody was stripped off the managing directorship that was given to J.J. Irani. A year later, on April 19, 1993, Ratan Tata stepped in as the chairman of Tata Steel, days before Mody was due to retire on May 21.

Not to be bogged down by the controversy, Mody made a spectacular comeback within a year when then Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao made him the chairman of both Air India and Indian Airlines. His stint with the national career was less charismatic than the 53-year stint at Tata Steel which he ruled with great skill of people management.

Born in 1918 in Bombay as Rustomji Homusji Mody to Sir Homi Mody and Lady Jerbai Mody, the Oxford graduate joined Tata Steel in 1939 and then went on to become managing director and then chairman.

While he never flinched from a slugfest, he could be forgiving and big-hearted as well — this was evident in the manner he mended fences with Ratan Tata, rekindling some of the warmth they had once shared.

On Saturday, Ratan Tata said, “Russi Mody was an institution at Tata Steel. Under his leadership, Tata Steel grew significantly. He was well regarded and respected by the work force throughout his tenure. He lived a full and energetic life and will always be remembered by his friends.”

The cremation will take place at 11 am on Sunday at Keoratala burning ghat in the presence of his nephew, Jimmy Mody.

 
 
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