Indias Steel Man Russi Mody passes away

Written by Aveek Datta | Mumbai | Updated: May 18 2014, 05:47am hrs
ModyMody, who lived alone in Kolkata, was known as much for being a hands-on and efficient man manager, as for being a gastronome.
Russi Mody, popularly known as Indias Steel Man for his role in shaping Tata Steel as one of Indias leading steel manufacturing company that it is today, died at the age of 96 years in Kolkata on Saturday due to age-related ailments.

Mody, born on January 17, 1918, joined Tata Steel (then known as Tisco) in 1939, and rose through the ranks to become its chairman and managing director in 1984. Mody was ousted from the top job at Tata Steel in 1993 as the result of an acrimonious fallout with Ratan Tata, who had just taken over as chairman of the Tata Group.

He was then made the joint chairman of Air India and Indian Airlines by then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao. Mody, who lived alone in Kolkata, was known as much for being a hands-on and efficient man manager, as for being a gastronome.

Though Tata Steels top management sits out of the groups headquarters in Bombay House at present, Mody was known for running the steel-making firm from the shopfloor of its primary manufacturing asset at Jamshedpur, then in Bihar, now in Jharkhand.

Russi Modys experience of rising through the ranks from the steel mill lent him a sense of of empathy and appreciation for the welfare of the workers with always a finger on their pulse, a Tata Steel statement issued on Saturday said. As he loved saying: What is man management That one must behave naturally with any human being.

Cyrus P Mistry, group chairman of Tata Sons, said in the statement that

Mody steered a major modernisation programme at Tata Steel and simultaneously widened the companys development initiatives for local communities, which has helped Tata Steel earn the goodwill of the local population at Jamshedpur.

In the statement, Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, called Mody an institution at Tata Steel. Under his leadership Tata Steel grew significantly and he instituted many human resource initiatives, Tata said. 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 relationship between Tata and Mody became cordial only in the last few years. Before that, when Ratan Tata took over the reins of the top job at Bombay House in 1991, Mody was one of the four satraps within the ranks of the Tata Group, who were all very powerful and successful in running their lines of businesses within the salt-to-software conglomerate.

The other three were Darbari Seth (at Tata Tea and Tata Chemicals), Ajit Kerkar (at Indian Hotels) and Nani Palkhivala, a director on the board of several Tata companies and chairman of the erstwhile Associated Cement Companies.

They were empowered by Ratan Tata's predecessor JRD Tata to take decisions independently and functioned more as entrepreneurs rather than managers. One of them was expected to take over the mantle from JRD Tata, but the industrialist chose a young Ratan Tata instead. This led to some friction between these senior Tata Group executives and Ratan Tata. Mody and the others were hesitant in accepting the authority a much younger leader, and Mody was the first to go after being sacked in 1993.

In his biography published in 2008 by Partha Mukherjee and Jyoti Sabharwal, Mody said though Ratan Tata and he said and did things to hurt each other, they had become friends again.

A major bone of contention in the cold relationship between Mody and Ratan Tata was the appointment of Aditya Kashyap as joint managing director of Tata Steel. Mody was Kashyap's mentor at Tata Steel and was being positioned as the former's successor at the company. Both left the firm together in 1993 and Mody had maintained that Kashyap's elevation was a function of merit and not because they were close associates. Kashyap died of cancer in 2006.