MUMBAI: The much awaited selection of Ratan Tata’s successor for the post of chairman of Tata Sons is imminent, said officials with an announcement likely this week, possibly as early as later today.The four-month deadline to choose a successor ends on February 24th, but officials said the announcement is likely to be much earlier. Tata watchers say an unscheduled board meeting was called at 4pm today at Tata Sons but no agenda has been announced.
One of the officials mentioned above said there is a possibility that a post of Vice Chairman or two vice chairmen of Tata Sons will also be announced. Ratan Tata himself is likely to go back to his original Chairman Emeritus role, though some argue that it may be better if he becomes a senior advisor to the group for a period of 2 more years. This could not be independently verified.
When contacted, spokesperson responded that Tata Sons does not comment on speculation.
A 5 member selection panel was brought in place last October to shortlist the candidates for the top job for the $103 billion conglomerate — the largest in India. Other than Tata himself, others in the panel include TVS Chairman Venu Srinivasan, Bain Capital’s Amit Chandra, former diplomat Ronen Sen and Kumar Bhattacharyya of Warwick University. All of them, except Bhattacharyya, are on the board of Tata Sons.
Speculation has been rampant on potential names following a global manhunt. Names of Noel Tata, Rattan’s half-brother who is married to Mistry’s sister again resurfaced but Tata sources say he is unlikely to make the cut, despite being in the shortlist. The Tata sibling was also in the race five years ago.
Names of global executives — Harish Manwani of Unilever, Ajit Jain of Hathway Berkshire, ex Citi boss Vikram Pandit and even PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi have again being bandied upon. Some of them were also approached before Cyrus Mistry was hand-picked.
Tata insiders believe that the group may settle for an insider during such volatile and fractious time in his corporate history. In that context, there has been strong whispers about a diverse set of names with the favourite being Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the 53 year old CEO and managing director of TCS, the $16.5 billion Tata Group flagship. Chandra along with Jaguar Land Rover CEO — another potential candidate for the corner office — were the latest inductees into the board of Tata Sons in 2016.
Chandrasekaran should be among the strongest potential internal choices. If the posts of Vice Chairman is created then there could be both an outsider and an insider for the top jobs,” said an old Tata watcher, familiar with the group’s thinking.
There has been a similar buzz about old group loyalist, former group CFO Ishaat Hussain. Hussain was appointed as the chairman of TCS after Cyrus Mistry was removed. As a trusted lieutenant Hussain has been meeting financial investors ahead of the EGMs of various Tata group companies in December.
Other contenders being talked about is business tycoons Ajay Primal and Venu Srinivasan, both who joined the board of Tata Sons as a non-executive directors, on Ratan Tata’s invitation, last August. Two Tata Sons directors, Amit Chandra, managing director of Bain Capital in India and Nitin Nohria, dean of the Harvard Business School, also have board seats at Primal group companies Primal Enterprises and Primal Realty respectively