Be your man: Ratan Tatas advice to Cyrus Mistry

Written by Press Trust of India | Mumbai | Updated: Dec 15 2012, 08:38am hrs
Be your own man, Ratan Tata has advised Cyrus Mistry, who will succeed him at the helm of the $100-billion Tata group two weeks from now. I dont think it is right to have a ghost to shadow over somebody, says Tata, dismissing any notion that his larger-than-life persona would linger even after he retires on December 28, when he turns 75.

Tata 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.

Tata spoke about his 50 years with the group, 21 as its chairman, the highs and lows of his tenure, his equation with Mistry and his post-retirement plans during an expansive interview at his office.

Mistry, currently vice-chairman of the conglomerate that spans automobiles, IT, hotels, tea and steel across 80 countries, has been working closely with Tata to prepare for the transition.

Have you passed on a success mantra to Mistry, the outgoing chairman was asked. No, I told him the same things that I told myself when JRD (late JRD Tata) handed over the mantle to me. The first reaction of anybody is to be JRD Tata because you are filling his shoes.

I instantly told myself, I can never do that. I will never be him much as I try to imitate him. So I took a decision to be myself and to do what I thought was the right thing. I told Cyrus the same thing, he said.

During the transition, Mistry had asked him from time to time, is this ok, that ok. He had responded by telling him that he should look at things as if I were not there because you should be your own person.

He had told Mistry, 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.

That, he said, was the test he had given himself. If it stands the test of public scrutiny, do it....if it doesnt stand the test of public scrutiny then dont do it.

Asked if his counsel would be available to his successor, Tata replied, Yes, certainly. He knows where to reach me and, we in fact, would talk business and stay in touch after I leave.

He then disclosed that the two of them would have lunch every couple of weeks over something and we will talk about whatever he wants to talk about.

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

He replied, I dont want to say I will have a large influence over the group. I think 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 chairmans view of the company.

I should not be involved in the business of the company or how the company goes about its growth. 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.

The dividend from Tata Sons was to be distributed for charity by the trusts. So I should protect that, he said.

Looking ahead to the future of the group, Tata said he personally 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, he said.

His 20 years at the helm was enough time to charter course. Quite often an organisation has played out one course and is ready to go in a different direction, he said.

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 group would continue to grow at the same kind of growth that it had achieved but the patriarch warned, competition is growing all the time and sustainability of business is becoming more and more difficult.

He went on to say, So I am sure Cyrus will bring new ideas and new things. I feel very confident that the organisation and his leadership will grow.