The Tata Group is a beacon of the Parsi business acumen that has shaped Indian industry for over a century. While the group consistently says that it does not give preference to people from the community, it’s not something most take seriously. In 2012, when Cyrus Mistry was selected to take over from Ratan Tata, the selection committee had three Parsi members: Cyrus Mistry (who stepped down when his name was proposed as successor), N.A. Soonawala, and Shirin Bharucha.
After today’s surprise move replacing Mistry, Ratan Tata will be the only Parsi on the selection committee. Here are the five people who have been entrusted with finding the head of India’s most recognised business house:
Ratan N. Tata: After a four-year absence, Ratan Tata will once again be the top man in Bombay House, at least for the next four months. He turns 79 in December. During his tenure as Tata Sons chairman from 1991 till December 28, 2012, he made several global acquisitions, making Tata a global brand. In his tenure, the group’s revenue crossed the $100 billion (Rs 6.3 lakh crore) milestone in 2011-12. Since his retirement, Tata has been investing in several startups. Interestingly, Tata was not a part of the selection committee which unanimously picked Mistry to be his replacement.
Venu Srinivasan: Venu Srinivasan, the chairman of TVS Motors, joined the Tata Sons board barely two months ago as a non-executive director. Srinivasan is no stranger to the functioning of family-owned business conglomerates; he is the grandson of TVS founder T.V. Sundaram Iyengar. Similar to Ratan Tata, Srinivasan did not simply inherit the business. He began his career as a mechanic in his own garage. After completing his MBA from Purdue University, Srinivasan took over as CEO of Sundaram-Clayton and in the same year, founded TVS Motors. Srinivasan is also a newbie in the Tata Sons selection committee.
Amit Chandra: Managing director of private equity firm Bain Capital, Chandra will bring to the table his years of experience in investment banking. Before joining Bain, Chandra spent several years at DSP Merrill Lynch. He has also worked at NSR (New Silk Route) Advisors, which advised the $1.3 billion NSR Private Equity fund focussed on the sub-continent.
Ronen Sen: A former diplomat, Sen has been on the Tata Sons board since April 2015. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1966 and has been ambassador to Mexico, Russia, Germany, Britain, and most recently, the U.S. Sen has worked in several government departments, including the Department of Atomic Energy, Atomic Energy Commission, and the Ministry of External Affairs.
Lord Sushantha Kumar Bhattacharyya: Elected to Britain’s House of Lords in 2004, Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya is known to be close to Ratan Tata. The founder and chairman of WMG (Warwick Manufacturing Group) at the University of Warwick, Lord Bhattacharya was closely associated with the Tata acquisition of Corus and Jaguar Land Rover. He was the independent member in the selection committee when Mistry was appointed, so he has experience of what to look for in a person to lead the Tata Group.
In hindsight, it can be argued that Ratan Tata had foreseen a falling out with Mistry. In one of the last board meetings Tata chaired, a resolution was passed, giving the Tata Trusts the power to select or remove a chairman through three nominated members. To elaborate, the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Sir Ratan Tata Trust, which hold the majority stake in Tata Sons, were allowed to appoint three members to the selection committee. Apart from this, one member is selected by the Tata Sons board, and one will be an independent member. The trusts were also allowed to choose the selection committee’s chairman. Prior to this, the five-member panel chose its own leader. Quorum for a selection committee meeting was made possible if the majority of the members nominated by the trusts were present. The trusts’ nominees on the current committee is not immediately known.