Be your own man, Ratan Tata has advised Cyrus Mistry, who will succeed him at the helm of the $100-billion Tata group two weeks from now. “I don’t think it is right to have a ghost to shadow over somebody,” says Tata, dismissing any notion that his larger-than-life persona would linger even after he retires on December 28, when he turns 75.
Tata has told Mistry, 31 years younger, “you should be your own person, you should take your own call and you should decide what you want to”.
Tata spoke about his 50 years with the group, 21 as its chairman, the highs and lows of his tenure, his equation with Mistry and his post-retirement plans during an expansive interview at his office.
Mistry, currently vice-chairman of the conglomerate that spans automobiles, IT, hotels, tea and steel across 80 countries, has been working closely with Tata to prepare for the transition.
Have you passed on a success mantra to Mistry?, the outgoing chairman was asked. “No, I told him the same things that I told myself when JRD (late JRD Tata) handed over the mantle to me. The first reaction of anybody is to be JRD Tata because you are filling his shoes.
“I instantly told myself, ‘I can never do that’. I will never be him much as I try to imitate him. So I took a decision to be myself and to do what I thought was the right thing. I told Cyrus the same thing,” he said.
During the transition, Mistry had asked him from time to time, ‘is this ok, that ok’. He had responded by telling him that he should look at things as “if I were not there because you should be your own person”.
He had told Mistry, “if you want my inputs I will give it to you but be your own man and be yourself and just be driven by the fact that every act you do and every move you make has to stand the test of public scrutiny”.
That, he said, was the test he had given himself. “If it stands the test of public scrutiny, do it....if it doesn’t stand the test of public scrutiny then don’t do it.”
Asked if his counsel would be available to his successor, Tata replied, “Yes, certainly. He knows where to reach me and, we in fact, would talk business and stay in touch after I leave.”
He then disclosed that