Mumbai/Bangalore: He is low-profile, given to details, doesn’t socialize much, is a foodie and seems to be interested in golf, although he doesn’t play much.
The day after his surprise appointment as the designated successor to Tata group chief Ratan Tata, Mumbai and India woke up to the truth that no one really seemed to know much about Cyrus Mistry.
Executives in companies that are part of the Shapoorji Pallonji (SP) Group were much in demand, although most didn’t say much. Tata group executives declined to comment on their future boss, and a paparazzi-style car chase, involving his SUV and journalists from a TV channel, down the city’s Marine Drive, didn’t result in much. Even R.M. Lala, the renowned chronicler of the Tatas, says he doesn’t know the man, although he thinks that because Mistry is young, “he will be open to new ideas”.
An executive at an SP Group company describes him as “meticulous”. “He comes prepared for meetings with questions. There is not a piece of paper that goes to him that he doesn’t read,” adds this person, who asked not to be identified because there was an unspoken “blanket ban” on talking about him.
That meticulous nature was evident even when Mistry was in school, recalls a classmate from the Cathedral and John Connon School, where he studied. “He is the perfect choice for the job and I was surprised he was part of the team that was to select Ratan Tata’s successor (and not the obvious successor). I wonder why they did not think of him sooner because he has always been diligent and astute,” adds this person who, like almost everyone else Mint spoke to for this piece, asked not to be identified, given Mistry’s desire to keep a low profile.
A meticulous man: Cyrus Mistry outside Bombay House, the Tata group headquarters, in Mumbai on Thursday. Photo: PTI
Yet, the picture that emerges isn’t that of a recluse, although many in Mumbai’s famously tight-knit Parsi community, to which Mistry belongs, either do not know him or don’t want to talk about him.
“He is a reserved fellow who knows where he is supposed to be. He lives like a billionaire, but does not have the aura of one. He was kind enough to host the 25th reunion of his batch two years ago at his house at a time when we were struggling to find the right venue. Over 100 people turned up for that,” adds a second classmate, who also didn’t want to be identified.
A close family friend, Supriya Sule, member of Parliament from Baramati, says Mistry “loves his underground profile”. She adds that she has been friends with Mistry and his wife Rohiqa for several years and that he has always been “very humble and very driven”. Sule, the daughter of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, describes Mistry as “a great family man and a great father”.
And Mistry doesn’t appear to be someone who’s inexperienced when it comes to business.
He was very focused on the execution and operational aspects of the construction and development business he ran (till he was named Tata’s successor), says a senior executive at a large finance company who knows him and whose company has done some work with Mistry’s.
Indeed, within the construction business, Mistry seems quite well-known (and well-liked). Associates say he is more likely to be seen supervising work at a construction site than in a cabin in the office. Dilip Thacker, the co-founder of SD Corp. Pvt. Ltd, a venture in which Shapoorji Pallonji and Co. Ltd has a stake, describes Mistry as a workaholic who knows how to get things done. And if someone who works for him isn’t shaping up, he will get a warning or two before simply being asked to go, adds Thacker.
Architect Hafeez Contractor, who has designed some of the projects developed by the company, says Mistry is the kind of person who insists on doing things the right way, even if a project exceeds the budget.
Darius Pandole, a childhood friend of Mistry and currently partner at New Silk Route Advisors Pvt. Ltd, describes his management style as participative.
Agrees the SP Group executive cited above. “He is a good listener,” he says.
But he “doesn’t socialize much” or seem to have interest in things ‘like horses’ (unlike his father)”, adds the senior executive at the finance firm.
Indeed, the entire family has always kept a low profile, says the executive at the SP Group company.
Manoj Namburu, author of Moguls of Real Estate, which featured Mistry’s father Pallonji Mistry, says the family is strikingly different from the others in the business that are often given to flamboyance. “Whether it’s the father or sons, when you meet them, you don’t feel you are meeting one of India’s richest families.”
And “you never know what their interests are”, says the executive at the SP Group company. According to two persons who know Mistry professionally (and who did not want to be identified), he is a photography buff and also likes music. Pandole adds that Mistry is a technophile, has “intellectual curiosity” and is an avid reader.
One of the two persons adds that Mistry isn’t into cars and views them as things “that take you from Point A to Point B”. Indeed, the executive at the SP Group company says that Mistry hasn’t changed his car in the past five years.
The second classmate, who has known Mistry since he was five and is still in touch with him, says Mistry often speaks of playing golf, “but I don’t think he does”.
Mistry stays in a sea-facing house in Walkeshwar near the governor’s bungalow (his father and elder brother Shapoor Mistry also live in the same house). The residence boasts a big garden overlooking the sea where Mistry occasionally hosts private parties.
Like J.R.D. Tata, he likes to eat at Ling’s Pavilion in Colaba and often orders in lunch from the restaurant, which is near his office (he likes the steamed fish and prawns). He also likes to lunch at Indigo Deli (also in Colaba), where his favourites include the chicken wings with a blue cheese dip, and the chorizo pizza.
Mistry’s low profile is the “perfect mould for the Tata group”, says Suhel Seth, managing partner of Counselage India and founder of Equus. “Cyrus Mistry is very reclusive. You will not find him like other chief executives screaming out from the pink papers or the party pages.”
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John Satish Kumar, Supriya Nair, Arun Janardhan and Shally Seth Mohile contributed to this story.