In­dus­tri­al­ist Pal­lonji Mistry re­or­gan­ises his own con­struc­tion busi­ness even as son Cyrus gets ready to head Tata Group

India Today - - SPECIAL REPORT - By Ra­jesh Ku­rup

Pal­lonji Shapoorji Mistry, 82, is the world’s most reclu­sive bil­lion­aire. For a man with an es­ti­mated wealth of al­most $ 10 bil­lion ( Rs 55,000 crore), he is sur­pris­ingly in­vis­i­ble, rarely seen or heard in the pub­lic space. One of In­dia’s most suc­cess­ful and pow­er­ful busi­ness­men, he con­trols a con­struc­tion em­pire that op­er­ates across In­dia, West Asia and Africa. He, along with his sons, also con­trols an 18.5 per cent stake in Tata Sons, the hold­ing com­pany of the $ 100 bil­lion ( Rs 550,000 crore) Tata Group, mak­ing the Mistrys the largest in­di­vid­ual share­hold­ers in In­dia’s most di­ver­si­fied busi­ness con­glom­er­ate. He is called, with a mix­ture of awe and cu­rios­ity, the Phan­tom at Bom­bay House, the head­quar­ters of the Tata Group, in Mum­bai. His younger son, Cyrus Mistry, 43, will con­trol the group when Chair­man Ratan Tata ex­its in De­cem­ber.

Con­struc­tion mag­nate Pal­lonji is an Ir­ish ci­ti­zen, by virtue of mar­riage to an Ir­ish woman, but he lives mostly in In­dia, in his sea- fac­ing Walkesh­war bun­ga­low in Mum­bai. In 2012, Forbes es­ti­mated his wealth to be $ 9.7 bil­lion ( Rs 53,350 crore), mak­ing him the wealth­i­est per­son of Parsi de­scent as well as the rich­est Ir­ish­man in the world. Much of that wealth comes from his share­hold­ing in the Tata Group, says Adi Go­drej, chair­man of the Go­drej Group of Com­pa­nies. Deepak Parekh, chair­man of HDFC, re­calls how the Mistrys first ac­quired shares in the Tata Group. “Pal­lonji’s fa­ther built fac­to­ries for Tata Mo­tors and Tata Steel. The Tatas had no money to pay for them so they gave him shares in­stead,” he says. Pal­lonji slowly con­sol­i­dated his fam­ily’s share­hold­ing in sub­se­quent years by buy­ing out shares of Tata fam­ily mem­bers who wanted to exit the busi­ness.

For those close to him, Pal­lonji Shapoorji Mistry is not elu­sive. “To me, he is very ap­proach­able. I could reach him any time, ei­ther on phone or I could just walk into his home or of­fice, that too with­out prior notice, and he has al­ways re­ceived me with warmth. He is very nice, very friendly and also help­ful,” says em­i­nent ar­chi­tect Hafeez Con­trac­tor, who has been as­so­ci­ated with Pal­lonji since 1968. But Con­trac­tor is one of a for­tu­nate few. Un­til re­cently, Pal­lonji was chair­man of the $ 2.5- bil­lion ( Rs 13,750 crore) Shapoorji Pal­lonji Group ( SPG); he handed the reins of his em­pire to his el­dest son, Shapoor, 48, ear­lier this year. The group is in­volved in busi­nesses from tex­tiles to real es­tate, hos­pi­tal­ity to busi­ness au­to­ma­tion. The com­pa­nies un­der SPG fold in­clude Shapoorji Pal­lonji Engi­neer­ing and Con­struc­tion, Af­cons In­fra­struc­ture, Forbes Tex­tiles, Gokak Tex­tiles, Eu­reka Forbes, Forbes and Co, SP Con­struc­tion Ma­te­ri­als Group, SP Real Es­tate and Next Gen among oth­ers. Pal­lonji was also the for­mer chair­man of As­so­ci­ated Ce­ment Com­pa­nies, now ACC Ltd, from Septem­ber 24, 1977, to July 26, 1979, and later from Septem­ber 4, 1997, to April 26, 2000, and had chaired the com­pany’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ings ( AGMs). Such AGMs are among his rare ap­pear­ances in pub­lic. Asha­lata Ma­hesh­wari, an in­vestor with share­hold­ing in about 1,000 com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing ACC and Tata Group firms, says: “I in­ter­acted with him at meet­ings of As­so­ci­ated Ce­ment Com­pa­nies, but that was a long time ago. I don’t think I had ever sought a meet­ing with him.”

Pal­lonji has an eye for de­tail and is a per­fec­tion­ist to the core. He strives for per­fec­tion, even if that means costs ex-

ceed­ing bud­get al­lo­ca­tions. Con­trac­tor, who is cur­rently do­ing eight projects for the group, says Pal­lonji has a sim­ple phi­los­o­phy: “‘ We should en­sure that this is the best, be­cause both our names are as­so­ci­ated with it.’ That’s his stan­dard state­ment be­fore we start work on a project.” Con­trac­tor has col­lab­o­rated with SPG on sev­eral projects: The Sar­ala Birla Academy, a board­ing school for boys, in Ban­ga­lore; a town­ship project called ‘ Em­press City’ in Nag­pur and the 60- storeyed Im­pe­rial Tow­ers in Mum­bai, In­dia’s tallest sky­scraper.

SPG has built some of In­dia’s most iconic build­ings— The Taj Ma­hal Palace and Tow­ers and The Oberoi Ho­tel, both of which were at­tacked by ter­ror­ists in 2008 ( 26/ 11), the Mum­bai- Pune Ex­press­way, Brabourne Sta­dium, the World Trade Cen­tre in Mum­bai, as well as the Sul­tan’s palace in Oman and the pres­i­dent’s palace in Ghana. And

now it seems there will be a change of guard. Mur­murs of a new or­der grew louder af­ter Pal­lonji re­lin­quished board po­si­tions at some of the com­pa­nies early in 2012. Cit­ing old age and health is­sues, the 82- yearold stepped down from boards of Forbes & Com­pany and Af­cons In­fra­struc­ture in March. Ear­lier, he had re­signed as chair­man of United Mo­tors ( In­dia), a com­pany pro­moted by the group. In early June, he of­fi­cially be­queathed the chair­man’s ti­tle of flag­ship SPG to el­dest son Shapoor. There was no pomp, no cer­e­mony, and the me­dia got wind of the news only a month later. Shapoor’s crown­ing came al­most six months af­ter younger brother Cyrus was ap­pointed the deputy chair­man and chair­man-des­ig­nate of Tata Sons.

Pal­lonji now dons the man­tle of chair­man emer­i­tus and con­tin­ues to ad­vise the group. “Pal­lonji has in­stilled his un­shake­able val­ues in his two sons, who have car­ried the ba­ton for­ward,” says HDFC’s Parekh. When Shapoor was ap­pointed SPG chair­man, Cyrus re­port­edly told him that the fu­ture of his chil­dren was in his hands.

Shapoor’s quiet ap­point­ment was very much in line with Cyrus’s ap­point- ment as the suc­ces­sor to Ratan Tata in Novem­ber 2011, which the me­dia got to know about only when a for­mal state­ment was is­sued by the Tata Group. The group, which gets twothirds of its $ 83 bil­lion ( Rs 456,500 crore) in rev­enue from over­seas op­er­a­tions, had named Cyrus af­ter a global hunt that ended at home. Cyrus’s sis­ter, Aloo, is mar­ried to Ratan Tata’s half- brother Noel, and Cyrus has been a di­rec­tor of Tata Sons since 2006. The fu­ture chair­man’s share­hold­ing in the Tata Group has been moved into a trust as part of an agree­ment be­tween SPG and the Tata Group.

Not ev­ery­one was con­vinced about Cyrus’s el­e­va­tion. Says Asha­lata Ma­hesh­wari, “I was scep­ti­cal at first as peo­ple told me that Cyrus was just a boy,


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