The Battle of the Titans – Ratan Tata Vs Cyrus Mistry

The 148-year old Tata Group has never seen more turbulent times before.

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By Aashika Jain

Entrepreneur India

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The 148-year old Tata Group has never seen more turbulent times before.

It took less than a week for the Tata Group to see Rs 26,000 crore wiped out from its market capitalization, and the business community across the world wondering what really happened at the Bombay House.

Ratan Tata is back at the helm of Tata Group's holding company Tata Sons only 4 years after retiring in 2013. The 48-year old Cyrus Mistry, who was believed to be the best fit to lead the group back in 2012, was shown the door in a surprise move by the Tata board earlier this week.

The sacking was followed by intense public mud-slinging on and by the 78-year old industry stalwart, who many say, could never really leave the throne of the $100-billion kingdom.

Mistry, in a scathing attack on Tata, called out Tata's interference in the group businesses and said he was pushed into the position of a lame duck chairman during his tenure.

In his 5-page letter, addressed to the Tata Sons board, Mistry claimed India's largest conglomerate was sitting on a Rs 1.18-trillion rupees of writedowns and on five unprofitable businesses he inherited and attempted to makeover.

According to Mistry, the Tata Group's financial condition was deteriorating due to the wrong decisions taken by Tata in his 50-year tenure. Among the loss-making companies, Mistry pointed guns at Tata's automobile baby Nano, which is the world's cheapest car and making losses since inception, Tata's European steel business, which Mistry had been trying to sell and Tata's partnership telecommunications company NTT Docomo Inc, which is being fought out in court.

He also called out Tata's Power's overbidding for the Mundra ultra mega power plant a decision that lead to losses and said Tata's investment in aviation and acquisition of hotels at a steep price were questionable.

Among the imminent sales planned under Mistry were Tata Steel's UK operations' sale, Tata Power to sell its Indonesian coal mines' stake and Tata Communications and Indian Hotels to offload overseas assets. These could be seen to cut losses and reduce mounting debt.

Tata Sons Has Fiercely Refuted Mistry's Claims

The group, which has 29 listed units, states the removal of Mistry was a calculated decision made on the grounds of the 48-year old overwhelmingly losing the board's confidence.

It called Mistry's claims unsubstantiated and all his allegations malicious.

The group said it was unfortunate that Mistry made allegations and misrepresented facts about business decisions that the former Chairman was party to for over a decade in different capacities only after his removal.

In a strongly-worded statement, Tata Sons said the record, as and when made public, will prove things contrary to Mistry's claims.

"The Tata way is to not run away from problems, or constantly complain about them, but firmly deal with them and build a better tomorrow," Tata Sons, which employs more than 660,000 employees, said.

According to official communication, Mistry, whose family also holds an 18.5 percent stake in Tata Sons, is not expected to consider litigation.

A selection committee, comprising of Ratan Tata apart, Ronen Sen, Venu Srinivasan, Amit Chandra and Lord Kumar Bhattacharya, is put in place to hunt for the next chairman with a four-month time-frame

Some contenders for the prestigious position are also doing the rounds. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Tata insider Noel Tata and TCS chief Natarajan Chandrasekaran are being reported as top prospective candidates.

Are Mistry's claims baseless?, Could Mistry's exit be made more honourable, is Ratan Tata not going to completely let go of the Tata Group till the end and is India going to see the biggest fight ever in its corporate history are some questions that may remain unanswered for quite some time.

In this battle of the Titans, however, both Mistry and Tata agree on at least one point – the airing of dirty linen in public has done the reputation of the Tata Group immeasurable harm.

Aashika Jain

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Associate Editor, Entrepreneur India

Journalist in the making since 2006! My fastest fingers have worked for India's business news channel CNBC-TV18, global news wire Thomson Reuters, the digital arm of India’s biggest newspaper The Economic Times and Entrepreneur India as the Digital Head. 

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