Who is Tata's successor? It's a Mistry

Cyrus P. Mistry, the newly appointed Deputy Chairman of Tata Sons is pictured in Mumbai.

Story highlights

  • India business press surprised by the selection of Cyrus Mistry as Tata deputy chair
  • Will replace Ratan Tata as chairman of the Tata Group in December 2012
  • The 43-year-old will run one of India's largest and most iconic companies
Corporate India was surprised that the low-profile scion of an Indian construction tycoon will take over the nation's most high profile company after a 14-month search.
Reaction across the Indian business press was one of surprise at the appointment of 43-year-old Cyrus Pallonji Mistry as the successor to business icon Ratan Tata, the man who has led the $80 billion conglomerate for the past two decades. Mistry was former head of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, a construction company.
"The first (impression) is wow! People looked at the possibility of Tata's half-brother succeeding him, but nobody looked at Mistry," Sunil Jain, opinion editor of the Financial Express, told India's MoneyControl. "I think for all you know, he may turn out to be a good chief."
Mistry was named deputy chairman Wednesday, shadowing Tata for a year before officially taking the reins in December 2012. Mistry is expected to be named the sixth chairman since the company's founding in 1868.
It was widely expected that Tata's half brother, Noel Tata -- who is married to Mistry's sister -- would be named chairman. He is managing director of Tata International.
Asked in an exclusive interview with CNN earlier this year what are the chances a Tata family member would replace him, the 73-year-old Ratan Tata said, "My stepbrother is one of the candidates that is being considered and I don't think it's my lot to say whether it's 50%, or 90% or 10% (chance)."
The Tata Sons holding company has about 100 companies sprawled under the Tata umbrella -- stretching across 80 countries in fields as diverse as automotive, energy, business consulting, steel, IT and telecommunications sectors -- with annual revenues of $83 billion.
Under Ratan Tata, the group aggressively expanded overseas, and now owns the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, as well as European steelmaker Corus Steel and Tetley Tea.
The company made history in 2009 with the production of the Nano, the world's cheapest car. The group also owns the Taj group of hotels, including the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower in Mumbai which was at the center of the deadly 2008 terrorist attacks.
Tata is a bachelor with no children. He took over the family business in 1991 and has been credited for pioneering different markets and turning "Tata" into a household name.
The decision was announced by a five-member selection committee that once included Mistry, who left the committee after he became a candidate for the job.
"For some it is a welcome move and for some others it is a case of a selector becoming the selected," wrote the Hindu Business Line.
Mistry's family business, led by his construction tycoon father, Pallonji Mistry, is the largest single shareholder in Tata Sons with an 18.4% equity stock. Most of the company's stock is controlled by Tata family philanthropic trust funds. Mistry's father has an estimated net worth of $8.8 billion, according to Forbes.
The younger Mistry has been on the Tata board since 2005, taking over a seat vacated by his father.
Described as an avid golfer and prolific reader of business books, Mistry has a civil engineering degree from London's Imperial College and studied management at the London Business School.
Mistry is married to Rohiqua, daughter of high-profile lawyer Iqbal Chagla, who told Indian press that Mistry "has a very old head on his young shoulders."
"People raised eyebrows when Ratan Tata succeeded JRD (Tata, the previous chairman)," Darius Pandole, a partner in New Silk Route, told India's Economic Times. "Look at what he's achieved."