Titan had just 3 CEOs in 40 years. Who will be the fourth?

Titan  (Titan entered the wearable technology space with its Juxt and Juxt Pro ranges of watches last year, making Gesture Band its third smart wearable product.)
Titan (Titan entered the wearable technology space with its Juxt and Juxt Pro ranges of watches last year, making Gesture Band its third smart wearable product.)

Summary

  • Three internal candidates - Ajoy Chawla, CEO of jewellery business, Suparna Mitra, CEO of watches and wearables, and Saumen Bhaumik, CEO of eyecare business - would be evaluated by Titan's 13-member board in the coming months.

Titan Co. Ltd will soon begin the search for a new CEO, the fourth in its 40-year-history, with three internal candidates seen as favourites before the current boss leaves at the end of next year.

On Friday, the Tata group company granted a second term of 14 months to C.K. Venkataraman till the end of December 2025. Venkataraman, who took over as CEO on 1 October 2019, turns 65, the group's retirement age, on 30 October next year.

Three internal candidates -- Ajoy Chawla, CEO of jewellery business, Suparna Mitra, CEO of watches and wearables, and Saumen Bhaumik, CEO of eyecare business -- would be evaluated by Titan's 13-member board in the coming months, an executive aware of the plans said.

Chawla, whose business fetched 81% of Titan’s revenue in FY24, is the front-runner, two other executives said. Earlier, Venkataraman too had headed the jewellery business before taking over as CEO.

However, if the board entrusts Mitra, who heads a division that accounted for 8.2% of revenue, she would be the first woman CEO in Titan's four-decade journey.

An email and message sent to a spokesperson of Titan on Saturday remained unanswered.

"This development (CEO being given a second 14-month term) does mark the start of the succession planning exercise because the incumbent CEO won't be around in 2026," said Amit Tandon, founder and managing director at Institutional Investor Advisory Services (IiAS), a proxy advisory firm.

In the past, Titan has announced a successor months before the incumbent's term ended. On 1 February 2019, Titan informed the exchanges that Venkataraman would take over from his predecessor Bhaskar Bhat from 1 October of that year. Bhat himself was appointed deputy managing director on 1 May 2001, eleven months before he succeeded Xerxes Desai as CEO on 1 April 2002.

Titan’s first CEO Desai had a 16-year tenure, from 3 January 1986 until 31 March 2002, followed by Bhat, whose 19-year stint was the longest, between 1 April 2002 and 30 September 2019. Under Bhat’s watch, Titan’s revenue jumped from 700 crore to 15,000 crore.

"Now, if Titan has good succession planning, the question or observation to ask is, what Titan is doing should ideally be happening at other companies. Identifying leaders early and then grooming them is the starting point," said Tandon.

Over the last five years, Venkataraman has steered the company to triple its revenue, even as its market cap jumped from $12 billion to $37.6 billion at the end of Friday.

Titan, which started as Titan Watches, a joint venture between Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corp. (TIDCO) and the Tatas in 1984, began making watches in 1987. Titan had 19.14 crore in sales in the year ended June 1988, the first full year of commercial operations, when it sold 3.4 lakh watches. Profit totalled 21 lakh.

Titan, which declared its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings last Friday, reported a 22.8% jump from the year-ago period to end with 47,501 crore in revenue in FY24. Profit improved 6.8% to 3,496 crore.

Promoter holding in Titan stood at 52.90% at the end of March 2024, including 27.88% by TIDCO and 25.02% by Tata Sons and a few Tata group firms. The value of Tata’s shares in Titan stands at 78,529 crore ($9.4 billion), as Titan was valued at 3,13,868 crore ($37.6 billion) at the end of 3 May.

Both Bhat and Venkataraman launched new business divisions during their tenures, including eyewear and perfumes. But jewellery remains its mainstay, and its share (80.7% of the company’s revenue) is similar to what it was at the end of September 2019, when the incumbent CEO took over.

Tandon, who served as one of the bankers when Titan went public, credits many of the company's success stories to Desai. "Desai was a great and visionary manager. I remember Desai telling me that many of the Swiss jewellery firms became watchmakers and that Titan will go the other way, from watches to high-end watches and into the jewellery business."

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