Pallonji Mistry went away quietly at 0100 hours in the intervening night between Monday and Tuesday at the family residence in South Mumbai’s Walkeshwar at age 93. The end was fitting for a man who was known for his reclusive nature and conspicuous absence in social circles, earning him the monikers, ‘Phantom of Bombay House’ and ‘The Reclusive Billionaire’.
Even though the former chairman of the diversified Shapoorji Pallonji Group (SP Group) holds an 18.4% stake in the Tata Group, no one at Bombay House, the headquarters of Tata Group, has ever seen him walking in or leaving the premises. It was no surprise therefore that the Mistry family, in a public notice, on Tuesday requested “no condolence visits please”. The funeral will take place at 11.00 am on Wednesday at the ‘Towers of Silence’ in South Mumbai’s Kemps Corner locality.
To many of the Tata Group executives and businessmen closing working with the construction major, he was accessible “whenever we needed him”. “He was a strong supporter of the Tata Group and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and always had a great amount of respect for professionals like us. Whenever we wanted him, he was always accessible,” former TCS chief executive officer and managing director S Ramadorai said.
Little is known about the man, except for some tidbits mentioned in journalist Coomi Kapoor’s book `The Tatas, Freddie Mercury & other Bawas.’ When Pallonji’s father Shapoorji was bankrolling India’s biggest movie production, Mughal-E-Azam, the younger Mistry was nervous about the ballooning budget of the movie and the fact that it was being reshot. He tried to talk his father out of the ‘dead investments’, but the senior did not listen. However, the movie crashed all box office records of time – paying off his father’s penchant for perfection.
Mistry is survived by his wife Patsy, daughters Laila Rustom Jehangir (who is married to Rustom Jehangir), Aloo Noel Tata (married to Noel Tata, chairman of Trent and Tata Investment Corporation) and sons Shapoor Mistry and Cyrus Mistry (former Tata Sons’ chairman).
Mistry, who was born on June 1, 1929, did his schooling and college education in Bombay, as the city was called then. In 1947, he joined family business, Shapoorji Pallonji & Company and later took over the reins of the company in 1975, following the passing away of his father, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry. The SP Group, set up in 1865 and which celebrated 150 years of its existence in 2015, is valued at about $5 billion today. It has built some of iconic buildings in India, including The Taj Mahal Hotel and The Oberoi Hotel, Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai Central Station and the World Trade Centre in Mumbai.Towards the end of the 1960s, Pallonji, an astute businessman, ventured abroad by setting up construction businesses in the Middle East and Africa, where the company executed several landmark projects such as Palace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said in Muscat, the Presidential Office in Ghana, the National Assembly of Gambia and the Ebene IT Park in Mauritius.
Over the years he acquired strategic stakes in other companies such as Sterling & Wilson, United Motors, Forbes Gokak and Afcons Infrastructure. He also served on the boards of several companies and organisations, namely Union Bank of India, W
H Brady Group of Companies, The Associated Cement Companies and Tata Sons.Earlier in 2012, Pallonji stepped down as Chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji and Company, the operating and holding company of the SP Group, and handed over the chairmanship to his elder son Shapoor Mistry. His younger son, Cyrus, took over as the sixth and youngest chairman of Tata Sons after Ratan Tata retired in December 2012. Cyrus was later ousted following a boardroom coup in 2016, who then became an advisor to SP Group and also started a venture capital firm, Mistry Ventures, to invest and nurture start-ups in India.That’s not the only bad news for him. The Shapoorji Pallonji group is debt laden and faces an uncertain future. Pallonji would have loved to resolve this unfinished job.
Condolences poured in from who’s who in the country, including from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Saddened by the passing away of Shri Pallonji Mistry. He made monumental contributions to the world of commerce and industry. My condolences to his family, friends and countless well-wishers. May his soul rest in peace,” Modi said in a tweet.The country’s Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu, Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari, Vedanta Resources chairman Anil Agarwal and RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka were among others who tweeted their condolences.