Will hand over the reins to Cyrus Mistry

Ratan Tata, who led the transformation of the Tata Group from a conventional corporate house into a $100 billion global conglomerate with high-profile acquisitions abroad, will retire on Friday, ending a 50-year run in one of India’s oldest business empires.

Marking a generational change, Mr. Tata, who turns 75 on December 28, will hand over the reins of the group to 44-year-old Cyrus Mistry.

Mr. Tata is hanging up his boots after steering the group for 21 years as its Chairman, when he succeeded the legendary JRD Tata. While JRD made Mr. Tata the Chairman out of the blue in 1991, Mr. Mistry of the Shapoorji Pallonji group and whose family owns 18 per cent stake in Tata Sons, was chosen by a five-member selection committee.

During Mr. Tata’s tenure, the group’s revenues grew manifold, totalling $100.09 billion (around Rs.475,721 crore) in 2011-12 from a turnover of a mere Rs.10,000 crore in 1991.

His vision to transform the group into a multi-national giant resulted in high profile acquisitions such as Tata Tea’s takeover of U.K. brand Tetley for $450 million in 2000. But Mr. Ratan Tata set new standards for the Indian corporates in the current era of globalisation when Tata Steel acquired Anglo-Dutch rival Corus for 6.2 billion pounds beating CSN of Brazil in 2007.

A year later, the group’s automotive firm Tata Motors lapped up British luxury vehicle maker Jaguar Land Rover for $2.3 billion from Ford Motor Co.

Even as Mr. Tata was concentrating on activities abroad, he came up with the idea of producing the world’s cheapest car when he conceived the ‘Rs.1 lakh’ small car Nano. The Tata group underwent moments of high tension in executing the Nano project when it got into problems on acquisition of land in Singur in West Bengal.

Ironically, the group had to shift the project from Singur to Sanand in Gujarat.

Under Mr. Tata, the group also made great strides when it capitalised on the sunrise industry of information technology in the 90’s. With revenues of over $10 billion in 2011-12, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is today India’s largest IT company.

For TCS to lead the pack of entirely new IT ventures in the country is significant, given the background of Tatas, a leading member of what is derisively called the ‘Bombay Club’

For all his achievements, Mr. Tata describes his half-a-century with the group modestly as “a journey of great learning”. “It was a period of learning, a period of frustrations also from time to time...I tried to uphold the values and the ethical standards that there were.

“I feel satisfied that I have done my best to do what I considered to be the right thing and that has been there throughout.”

On his post-retirement plans, Mr. Tata, a bachelor, has said he will spend time on technology which is quite a passion with him. He will brush up on his piano, which he learnt as a school boy and pursue flying, apart from his focus on philanthropic activities.

It will be big shoes to step in for Mr. Mistry, who joined the Tata group in 2006 as a director. Earlier, he was leading the then over $2.5 billion construction giant Shapoorji Pallonji Group as Managing Director.

“Be your own man and be yourself,” is the mantra Mr. Tata has passed on to Mr. Mistry. This is the same counsel he told himself when he took over from JRD.

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