Did Tata Know in 2012 that Mistry Was Not The Best Fit?

"Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan" *** Local Caption *** "Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of Tata Sons along with Cyrus Mistry (who will succeed him in December 2012) at the Auto Expo being held at Pragati Maidan on Thursday. Express photo by Oinam Anand. 05 January 2011"

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The aftermath of ousting of Tata Group Chairman, Cyrus Mistry was probably not what the Tata Group, or Mr. Ratan Tata would have anticipated. Then again, could there have been sufficient signs even as Mr. Tata was looking for the next Chairman for the group many years ago?

A little short of 4 years ago, the challenging task of identifying a successor for Mr. Tata was completed. Cyrus Mistry seemed like a strong and obvious fit. A strong choice, given his qualifications and abilities. And from purely a cold, financial angle, it probably felt obvious too. After all, Cyrus’ father, Pallonji Mistry, is the single largest shareholder in the Tata Group, with a whopping 18.4% in the holding company, Tata Sons. In that sense, no other individual or family was as incentivized to want the group to grow and prosper.

However, Mr. Tata’s task was to identify someone to surpass his vision, dedication, and passion toward a large conglomerate and its home country. And in such a scenario, lending disproportionate weightage to the most financially invested individual or family, while seemingly a no-brainer, was not particularly prudent or without risk.

Mr. Mistry had initially demanded a free hand and little interference, as conveyed by his recent letters to the board. Those requests, while reasonable, could have been a little too much to expect. After all, he wasn’t merely handed the keys to one of the biggest conglomerates, or a group of profit-making companies. He was handed the keys to 148 years of vision, passion, rich culture, traditions and practices. It takes a lot more than business acumen to run or improve on that.

The business world thrives on profits, loud marketing, overwhelming sales pushes, and frequent deception or misrepresentation. But while the Tata Group may have its shortcomings (read this insightful article by The Economist on the mess facing the group currently), I’d even go a step further and call the Tata Group a religion. Few people in India feel as strongly about any other Indian company.

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Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry in more cordial times | source: link

In his eagerness and urgency to find a successor, many years ago, Mr. Tata probably made a critical mistake. Perhaps forgetting that passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills. Recent emails by Mr. Mistry suggest that he was offered the position back then, which he declined on more than one occasion. While Mr. Mistry is probably as capable as anyone else shortlisted for the position, the fact that he needed much convincing was perhaps a clear sign he was not the right fit for the role.

“Passion and intention always beat qualifications and skills.”

So in the Tata Group’s search for a Chairman, did they underrate important qualities in favor of someone most financially invested, assuming such a person would be naturally inclined to do his or her best for the group? Passion, however, is not an easily replaceable or interchangeable quality.

The unfortunate result was best described by Oogway‘s  subtly put pearl of wisdom to Shifu – ‘one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.’

oogway

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what’SAPpening?

what’SAPpening?

You know the whole “effect” thing. It is all about how things are put, less about what things really are. Its more about the gift wrap than about the gift. More to do with the fanfare, and less about the intention; all about quantity, not much about quality,  and all that.

For the past few months, one of my responsibilities at work includes contacting the Management folk at Colleges and B-Schools and introducing them to the SAP uAcademy courses, which are an innovative way of enabling students to gain working knowledge of SAP by way of a Learning Management System, an online Audio-Visual module, whereby students can take the course at their own pace, re-work topics, and they can have queries immediately answered by SAP’s support team by way of call, email, chat or video chat. And all this at a heavy discount to the SAP courses available at Training Centres.

Anyway, a part of this task involves me looking up college websites, identifying the right person to contact. A Vice Chancellor (VC) or Chairman, and in many cases, the Director or Dean.

I had a list of colleges that I started tackling one by one. The first few calls felt like I was speaking to the gatekeeper to heaven. Whose only job was to make it nearly impossible to reach the VC or President. I heard every reason from ‘he is traveling’, ‘not in town’, ‘not at his desk’ to more direct ‘no one can speak directly with him’ and so on. Schools, and I thought these folks were supposed to be a little more approachable. I have not had even half the trouble speaking and meeting General Managers and Directors at companies. And here I was, struggling to meet people at colleges.

Then, one Saturday, a few days and many calls later, I called a college on the number given on their ‘Contact Us’ page. And to my surprise, the Director answered! (‘Wha.!’, I’d say to myself, just praying it wasn’t a prank by a bored peon looking for a kick out of his otherwise mundane routine).

As I kept working on my list, I got to some colleges which had mobile numbers listed under ‘Contact Us’, which belonged to Directors or Dean’s. A refreshing change from the otherwise fortress some institutes had around their heads.

And today, when I was almost at the end of my list, I call a college and asked only for the Director’s email id (no, couldn’t find any direct lines, and I was way too bored to request a direct word with the Director), saying I will first email him and then call to speak with him, and the generous person at the other end says ‘Hold on, I’ll connect you to him, you could speak to him directly’.

The more you want something done, people seem to make it that much tougher. When you don’t care, they’ll give you that extra push up the hill. Humans, never cease to amaze.

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