Much like his famous cousin Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of Tata Sons, Mehli Mistry also shunned limelight — till his name cropped up during the Tata-Mistry spat, which is arguably India’s biggest corporate battle so far.
Following his ouster from Tata Sons’ board in 2016, Cyrus had levelled a number of allegations against Mehli that included favours from Tata group companies to the latter’s firm M Pallonji & Company. Cyrus, backed by his family firm Shapoorji Pallonji Group (SP Group), had alleged that the favours were granted due to Mehli’s personal relationship with Tata Sons’ chairman emeritus Ratan Tata.
This also drove a wedge between the Mistry families, with Mehli, a close confidant of Ratan Tata, going to town disputing all the allegations. MP Group has presence across industries such as paint distribution and logistics, to travel and automotive dealerships among others.
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The face-off between the two also resulted in lawsuits and the media termed it as ‘Mistry versus Mistry’, a subplot to the main corporate battle. Mehli’s and Cyrus’ mothers are sisters, their grandfather lived in England, before World War II. M Pallonji & Co is a private firm which has Mehli, his brother Pheroze and their mother Maki Mistry as directors.
The allegations ranged from M Pallonji & Company getting long-term contracts from Tata Power; Mehli using Tata Power’s helicopter for personal use and he transferring a luxury apartment in Colaba (Mumbai), personally benefiting Ratan Tata.
None of the allegations were proved, while Mehli said he was targeted due to his proximity to Ratan
Tata, who was “a friend and mentor”.
Later in 2021, the Supreme Court found no merit in the allegations in the transactions between Tatas and M Pallonji & Co, where SP Group had sought independent audits.
Following the ruling, Mehli had disappeared into oblivion.
People close to Cyrus’ believed that Mehli wields a lot of influence over Ratan Tata, which he rubbished in an interaction with media in 2017. Mehli was of the opinion that while their friendship is undisputed, Tata is not someone who can be influenced.
Mehli was also hard on his estranged cousin Cyrus, stating that while Pallonji Mistry (Cyrus’ father) was known as the Phantom of Bombay House (Tata Group headquarters), his son will go down in history as the self-confessed “lame duck”. This was in reference to Cyrus’ email to the Tata Sons’ board stating he was reduced to a “lame duck chairman”.
Now the spotlight has fallen once again on the ever-reclusive billionaire, following his induction as trustee on three Tata Trusts. Last week, Tata Trusts had appointed Mehli Mistry as trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Sir Ratan Tata Trust — the two main trusts through which the group carries out its philanthropic activities. Further, the 62-year-old was also named as a trustee of Tata Education and Development Trust.
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Mehli Mistry has been a trustee of Tata Medical Centre, which runs the cancer care hospital in Kolkata, since 2014. His inclusion comes at a time when trusts announced the retirement of its first CEO N Srinath, who was appointed in 2020.
Mehli, according to insiders, will now play an important role as a trustee, and would be instrumental in searching for a successor to Srinath. The trusts have already initiated a hunt for a new CEO from both internal and external candidates.
Many say that the induction of Mehli and Noel Tata as trustees is a part of the succession planning exercise at Tata Trusts, which together own 66% of Tata Sons, the holding company of the sprawling Tata group. This is significant as Tata Sons passed a special resolution in August this year, with the support of the trusts, amending the articles of association by stipulating that the chairperson of Tata Sons and Tata Trusts will not be the same person.
Mehli’s days of remaining out of the spotlight seems to be over for now.