Until his appointment as chairman to lead Tata Sons, few people knew Cyrus Mistry, who was then associated only with his family business.
A low-key South Mumbai lad, the 44-year-old scion of the Mistry family was already running businesses in the Shapoorji Pallonji Group when he was appointed to succeed Ratan Tata at the helm of the $100bn Tata Group of dollars. . According to reports, he was reluctant to take the job, but some persuasion, especially from Ratan Tata himself, led him to accept the offer.
After four years at the helm, he was replaced in a coup in the boardroom in October 2016, which saw Ratan Tata return to lead the group before the reins passed to N Chandrasekhar.
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The might of her father Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, dubbed the “Phantom of Bombay House” for the influence he wielded at the Tata Group headquarters, was of little help in helping Mistry, who had begun a massive drive for improvement governance practices within the group.
It turned sour, with Mistry taking the legendary business group to court to get the reasons for their exit. Mistry claimed that his work was appreciated a few months before and wanted to know the reasons that led to the sudden removal from office of president.
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Since the exit, the Mistry family, who are Tata Sons’ largest shareholder with over 18% stake, have often disagreed and also offered to offload their entire stake, leading to speculation on valuation.
During his tenure at the helm of the Tata Group, Mistry depended on a specially created Group Executive Council (GEC), made up of hand-picked executives within the Tata Group, industry executives and also from academia to direct operations. He has been described as a studious behind-the-scenes executive with a quick wit.
A naturally reclusive nature and conviction for the job of speaking meant that Mistry was very little known, even during his time at the helm. He did not give a single media interview from Bombay House, but opened up to talk in the days following his ousting.
Apart from Bombay Dyeing’s Nusli Wadia and Supriya Sule, childhood friend and daughter of NCP leader Sharad Pawar, no big names in the corporate world supported him during the stormy days following his release.
GEC members moved to work from the SP Group headquarters in Colaba and slowly dispersed across the world into new jobs.
Mistry retreated into her reclusive self in the years following a high-decibel campaign immediately after her release.
The battle for narratives mounted by Mistry in the days following the withdrawal saw sharp attacks, including statements like “a man’s ego” leading to bad business decisions within the group and also one that blamed Tata for not telling the truth.
Legally, Mistry first went to the National Company Law Tribunal, which denied his motion challenging the manner in which he was ousted and ruled that the board and majority shareholders had lost faith in him. .
However, he successfully appealed to the National Society Appeal Tribunal, but the Supreme Court sided with the Tatas who appealed.
The only reprieve he got from the Supreme Court was to strike out some unfavorable remarks made in the original judgment.
Even with Mistry’s death, clarity on what exactly led the dutiful Tata Group to kick Mistry out so soon after her term remains elusive.