Ratan Tata Steps Down, After 144 The Helm Goes To An Outsider

After 144 years, the president of the Tata group will not share his last name with the company: Ratan Tata, after 21 years, is stepping down. He leaves his corporate responsibilities among recognition from shareholders, admiration from the international business community, and the appreciation of the Indian government. 2013 will mark the beginning of the era of Cyrus Misty. Young at 44 years old, he will need to live up to the expectations of his predecessor, considered the most shining example of success of the Indian economy. Ratan Tata, in fact, heads the short list of Indian capitalists that have been able to combine entrepreneurial acumen with solid ethics. The latter is a particularly difficult attribute to earn in a country where there is little respect for transparency. When he took the helm of his family’s holding, the ex-president came from the ranks of the textile division, the largest component of the group, along with real estate. He plied the protected waters of Indian autarchy, where the national industry was not subjected to competition but lacking in the dynamism that only exposure to alternative models can produce. The first thing Ratan Tata did was to deliver a shakeup to the company, making changes in management. Time and competence were his instruments. It may appear ironic that his cultural background –with full respect to his degree from Cornell and Masters at Harvard – was initially far from the world of business. Known as a humble man who is ready and willing to dialogue, he grew his fame with philanthropic donations. His corporate reorganization led to a diversification of its activities, according to a reallocation plan along seven strategic lines – information technology, engineering, raw materials, services, energy, consumer goods, and chemicals – that is still in effect today. Nevertheless, it was the international aspect that registered the best results and gave the group its notoriety. The most prestigious acquisitions involved Jaguar Land Rover and Corus, the giant Anglo-Dutch heir to British Steel. In a sort of post-colonial payback, Tata became the largest private-sector employer in the United Kingdom. The group has income that surpasses $100 billion every year (58% from its foreign activities), employs 450,000 people globally, and operates with more than 100 companies in more than 80 countries. But there was no lack of disappointment in the great shakeup. The biggest was the Nano; along with it went the hope of giving India wheels with a reliable and affordable car that was within reach of even the lowest incomes. Ratan Tata’s exit at 75 years old leaves both questions and hope. The former are tied to continuity, made difficult by the crisis, to the competition, and to the inexperience of his successor. The auspices are for the complexity of the family corporation’s experiment, a combination of elements that could either flower or dry out depending on the political context in which it finds itself.