Ratan Tata's successor Cyrus Mistry is riding a generational transformation in the Rs.4,00,000-crore Tata Group. While Mistry's global experience and outlook will help him manage the transnational ambitions of the group, in many ways, his ascension is a mirror image of the time Ratan Tata stepped up to the plate after JRD Tata.
Then Ratan Tata had to assimilate a homogenous loose confederation of 80 odd disparate companies with high profile no-nonsense chairmen. For the architectural grad from Cornell, the confederacy was a culture shock. Disparate businesses headed by powerful satraps rooted in the old Tata work ethic. From Darbari Seth to Ajit Baburao Kerkar to Russi Mody, the empire was littered with tell tale signs of the past.
Ratan Tata has metamorphosed his group by adopting a radical acquisitive strategy, one of rapid brown field expansion which has allowed the group to acquire size, scale and more than anything else, mass. A flurry of acquisitions has meant that a company with a pre-dominantly Indian soul has transformed into a transnational giant. The vagaries of global slowdowns and meltdown may have impaired its recent performance levels, but the sheer size of the behemoth is unmistakable.
While Ratan Tata leaves the management of these vicissitudes to his chosen heir Cyrus Mistry, his own legacy is one that will catapult him into the pantheon of business and industry titans.
Strangely, in a company that people reckon is run by geriatrics, the last three chairmen - JRD Tata was 34 when he took over from Nowroji Saklatwala, Ratan Tata himself was 54 and now Mistry is 44.
Jamshed Irani, Tata Steel head in the past and Tata Sons board member, feels that there are many similarities between RNT and Mistry.
He says: "When Mr Tata took over, global revenues were only 10 per cent. Tatas have scaled up under Mr Tata's outward looking strategy. Ratan Tata came at the very end of the last vestiges of the licence permit raj, but he slowly reinvented the group by embedding his own thought processes with the group's core values. He would always tell us - think big, take bold decisions and plan for profits. See where the group is now."
Competence and continuity have been the guiding lights of this transition, just as they were when RNT took over from Jeh.
Thirty one listed companies dot the topography of this salt to automobile conglomerate. Geographies never bothered RNT.
Nor was there any absence of vision and ambition.
In an interview to this writer, he first explained how he would like to build a mode of transport for all those families of four who he saw precariously poised on two wheelers.
That became the Nano. Inspirational leadership was the kernel of Ratan Tata's being. Growing exponentially, part of his DNA.
Age is on Mistry's side. The Imperial College London and London Business School alumnus has the extremely large shoes of Ratan Naval Tata to fill from today.
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