The Daily Telegraph
Executive who took charge at Tata during a difficult period
CYRUS MISTRY, who has died in a car accident aged 54, was a scion of one of India’s leading business dynasties and the former chairman of Tata Group, the parent of Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley Tea; he was also a citizen of Ireland, where his mother was born.
Mistry was managing director of his own family’s Shapoorji Pallonji conglomerate, which owned 18.4 per cent of Tata, when in 2012 he was appointed chairman of Tata – the first for almost 80 years not to be a member of the Tata family. He succeeded the group’s patriarch, Ratan Tata, who had multiplied the group’s revenues and profits many times over in a global expansion that included, besides JLR and Tetley, major investments in the UK and European steel industry as well as in aviation, telecoms, car-making and much else.
In October 2016, Mistry was abruptly sacked by the board, making way for the return of the 78-year-old Ratan Tata as “interim chairman”. No explanation was issued for one of modern corporate India’s most dramatic upheavals.
But Mistry himself declared that he had been a “lame duck” chairman, who on appointment had not grasped “the gravity” of the debt-laden financial situation he was about to inherit – and had been subject to constant interference, unable to advance an adequate turnaround strategy.
A ferocious legal tussle ensued, and in December 2019 the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal reinstated Mistry’s appointment as chairman (though he indicated that he would not retake the post) only for India’s Supreme Court to overturn the order and uphold his dismissal on appeal.
Cyrus Pallonji Mistry was born in Mumbai on July 4 1968, the younger son of Pallonji Mistry and his Dublin-born wife Patsy Perin Dubash. The family were Parsis – descendants of Persian migrants and adherents of the prophet Zoroaster.
Though permanent residents in India, both parents and their four children held Irish passports and reportedly gave up Indian citizenship in 2003 when the Indian government legislated against dual nationality. There was speculation in the Indian media that Cyrus’s falling out with the Tata board was fuelled in part by his alleged reluctance to relinquish his Irish status.
The Mistry family business – the Shapoorji Pallonji conglomerate encompassing engineering, construction, real estate, water, energy and financial services – began in 1865 as a building venture in Bombay (now Mumbai). Its first landmark project, in 1887, was a reservoir on Malabar Hill to store water for the growing city, where it later built the central railway station and the Cricket Club of India stadium.
Cyrus was educated at the Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai and went on to study Civil Engineering at Imperial College London and management at London Business School. He joined Shapoorji Pallonji as a director in 1991.
The Mistrys had long business connections with the Tatas – also Parsis – and in the 1930s Cyrus Mistry’s grandfather made an investment which grew, at 18.4 per cent, to be the largest individual shareholding in Tata Sons, the parent company. Cyrus’s sister Aloo married Noel Tata, half-brother of Ratan, and Cyrus joined Tata’s board in 2006.
Cyrus Mistry’s father Pallonji died in June this year, aged 93, leaving a fortune estimated at
$29 billion. Cyrus was returning to Mumbai on September 4 after visiting the Atash Behram fire temple at Udvada in Gujurat, one of the holiest sites of Zoroastrianism, when the car in which he was driven hit the central barrier of a highway; he and another passenger were killed, and two others seriously injured.
He is survived by his wife Rohiqa Chagla, a lawyer’s daughter whom he married in 1992, and their two sons.