Gone too soon, a fighter for good corporate governance 

One can’t miss comparing the irony and tragedy of the death of Cyrus Mistry on Sunday afternoon with that of Princess Diana.

Published: 05th September 2022 08:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th September 2022 08:20 AM   |  A+A-

Cyrus Mistry

Cyrus Mistry (Photo | PTI)

MUMBAI:  One can’t miss comparing the irony and tragedy of the death of Cyrus Mistry on Sunday afternoon with that of Princess Diana. The popular commoner-princess, just 36, died on August 31, 1997 along with her partner Dodi Fayed. It was from injuries she sustained in a car crash in a Paris tunnel. The memories of her tragic end were revived as the world mourned her again on her 25th death anniversary a few days ago. 

Cyrus Mistry, just 54, died in similar circumstances. But there is more to the comparison. Cyrus too, like Diana, had conquered the world in his young and heady days; and both were castaways from their adopted families – Diana from British Royalty, and Cyrus from the Tata Group. 

Cyrus Pallonji Mistry, before he was anointed the sixth (and only the second non-Tata) chairman of Tata Sons in December 2012, was already in-charge of the large, $27 billion Shapoorji Pallonji construction empire.

Born to Indian-origin Parsis of Irish citizenship construction magnate Shapoorji Mistry and Patsy Perin Dubash Cyrus was very much a ‘Bombay Boy’ and schooled at the Cathedral & John Connon School. 

He was just 23 when he joined the family construction business, and three years later, in 1994, became the MD of the construction behemoth founded by his father. By virtue of his family owning 18.4% the largest single stake in Tata Sons, he joined the board in 2006, and very quickly emerged as a close confidante of Ratan Tata. 

‘Intelligent & qualified to take the responsibility’

When in 2010, the Tata Sons board and chairman Ratan Tata decided it was time for the old patriarch to hang up his boots, the Tata Group had acquired Corus Steel and the iconic Jaguar Land Rover enterprise, and had become a $83 billion multi-national empire.

The choice of young Cyrus Mistry in December 2012 as the new chairman was controversial but Ratan Tata scotched all naysayers, with: “He is intelligent and qualified to take on the responsibility being offered….” Mistry came in with big plans. He felt over a span of five years, the group must incubate a minimum of four businesses that had the potential to be spun off into new companies.

He was also a great believer in Tata Sons, the holding trust, to exercise a tight control over the large web of Tata companies by having the right to nominate one-third of the board of directors. Unfortunately, much of his vision for the Tata Group never reached fruition as relations with Ratan Tata and the rest of the board soured over the next four years.

On 26 October, 2016, the Tata Sons Board voted to oust Cyrus Mistry as chairman of Tata Sons. But Cyrus Mistry did not go down without a fight. To the charges that he had no vision for the group, Mistry pointed out that the only reason he was removed was because he had flagged corporate governance issues in group companies. Tata Sons retaliated by seeking his ouster from all group companies too.

Mistry finally resigned from all Tata companies, but not before he put up a two-month fight that knocked off Rs 80,000 crore from the market capitalisation of these companies. The battle then extended to the courts. Alleging suppression of minority shareholder rights, Mistry filed a case in the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) against Tata Sons.

He lost the first round, but the positions were reversed by December 2019 when the Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) reinstated Mistry as the Chairperson for Tata Sons for his remaining term. The six-year legal battle finally ended in the Supreme Court last year with its upholding an appeal by Tata Sons and ruling Cyrus Mistry’s removal as Executive Chairman was legal. But even after all these years of court battle and reams of affidavits, the mystery on what sparked Ratan Tata’s animosity against someone he mentored continues to linger.

The one fault perhaps with the outgunned Mistry was he did not know when to stop. However,
despite King Cyrus losing his Empire, he continued to attract secret admiration for sticking his neck out for good Corporate Governance.

Young choice of Ratan Tata

The choice of young Cyrus Mistry in December 2012 as the new chairman of Tata Sons was controversial but Ratan Tata scotched all naysayers, with: “He is intelligent and qualified to take on the responsibility being offered….”. Unfortunately, much of his vision for the Tata Group never reached fruition



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