Friday 24 May 2019

Cyrus Mistry and the mammy factor at the heart of Tata

CYRUS MISTRY: Earned his chairmanship by proving himself on various Tata boards
CYRUS MISTRY: Earned his chairmanship by proving himself on various Tata boards

Peter Casey

Did you know that one of Ireland's richest men runs the biggest company in India and one of the most successful in the world?

It may not be the richest company in capital value - though, at €80bn in revenue, it's up there with the best of them - but in terms of philanthropy, goodness, ethics, and social consciousness it is in a league of its own.

Last week, many Americans heard of Tata for the first time, when Tata Consultancy Services was the main sponsor of the New York Marathon.

Overall, The Tata Group employs over half a million people, reported a profit of €5bn in 2011-2012, and controls assets valued at €62bn.

A diversified global enterprise, philanthropic at its core, the company shares profits with employees, shareholders and the societies in which they live and work.

The most senior Tata managers don't live in sprawling mansions, but in modest apartments and homes.

The guiding principle for everyone at Tata is sharing the wealth.

The Tata Group is run by Cyrus Mistry, who, like many of Ireland's very richest people, does not live in Ireland.

Many wealthy Irish men and women have left the country for tax shelters abroad, but few realise that the wealthiest by far live in India, which hardly qualifies as a tax haven.

Cyrus Mistry's father, Pallonji Mistry, married Patsy Perin Dubash, who was born in Dublin's Hatch Street Nursery in 1939. The couple had four children, Shapoor, Cyrus, and two daughters, Liala and Aloo who, thanks to Patsy's Irish birth, all have a claim to Irish citizenship.

Both Cyrus and his older brother, who runs Pallonji Construction (a Tata company), elected to keep their Irish passports, and in 2003 their father chose to become an Irish citizen.

Mysterious? Well, I can tell you the choice has no tax benefit, as they are all permanent Indian residents, subject to Indian tax law.

Can we look to the Tata Group for clues to the Mistry mystery? Yes, but first we need to learn something about a religion little known in the West.

Zoroastrianism has a direct bearing on both the Tata business model and the character of Cyrus Mistry.

Zoroastrians believe that it is your good works and your contribution to society - what you do to better the lives of others - that earn your heavenly reward.

In the 1800s, with the British Empire controlling one-fifth of the world's population, three amazing men lived on the Indian subcontinent: Jamsetji Tata, Seth Edulji Dinshaw, and Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry.

Zoroastrians are divided roughly into two groups, the Irani and the Parsi. All our three men were Parsi, deeply committed to making society and civilization better.

Jamsetji travelled widely and decided that India needed to produce steel, clean energy, and an educated people.

Seth made his first huge fortune supplying the British army in India, eventually coming to own nearly half of Karachi.

Shapoorji became a great builder, responsible for many famous Mumbai landmarks.

When Tata Steel and Tata Power got into financial difficulties in 1924-1925, the company turned to Seth's son Framroze Dinshaw, who, a lender of last resort, saved Tata in return for 25pc of Tata Steel profits and 12.5pc of Tata Power profits. In the early 1930s this was converted into a 12.5pc stake in Tata Sons, the holding company.

When Dinshaw died in 1936, Cyrus Mistry's grandfather Shapoorji bought the 12.5pc stake from the Dinshaw heirs and soon acquired even more from the Tatas, bringing his holdings to 17.5pc.

In 1975, Cyrus Mistry's father, Pallonji, inherited Shapoorji's stake, which a resolution of a rights issue in 1996 raised to 18.5pc. In 2003, a company buyback lowered this to 18pc - still leaving the Mistry family the largest shareholder in the Tata Group.

Or, rather, they are the largest shareholder after the philanthropic trusts that hold a staggering 66pc.

In a story that is a triumph of capitalism, JRD Tata ran the Tata Group from 1938 until his death at age 89 in 1993; Ratan Tata took over for the next 21 years, building Tata from €4bn to €80bn before stepping down a year ago and handing the reins to Cyrus Mistry.

Cyrus earned his chairmanship by proving himself on various Tata boards, edging out Ratan's half-brother, Noel Tata, husband of Cyrus's sister Aloo and CEO of Trent, Tata's consumer division.

The main point is this: the biggest company in India is two-thirds owned by charities.

That is what happens when the company founder and its subsequent leaders are Zoroastrians who live their faith. Whatever they create becomes a massive engine for profit dedicated to doing good.

I've talked with Cyrus, and I can tell you that he's neither an Indian nor an Irish nationalist.

Although he is an Irish citizen and a permanent resident of India, he sees himself as a global citizen. The colour of his passport is not important.

I believe the decision he and his elder brother made to keep their rights to Irish citizenship is rooted not in nationalism, but in family.

Let me tell you a story about mine. In 2000, then Tanaiste Mary Harney opened my Claddagh Resources HQ in Donegal in 2000, and posed a question to the audience. "Everyone is wondering why Peter is coming back to Ireland after all these years. Is it the low tax rate, the highly-educated workforce or the government grants?"

She paused.

"No. It is the MF."

At this point, everyone in the audience was asking themselves: what is the MF?

She then turned to my mother. "Patsy," she said, "thank you for bringing Peter home!" And the place erupted.

I believe that Patsy Perin Dubash, born in Hatch Street, is as proud of her Irish heritage as my mother, Patsy, was proud of hers.

And my theory is that the Mammy Factor works just as powerfully in Mumbai as it does in Donegal!

  • Peter Casey is CEO of Claddagh Resources and the author of 'Tata: The World's Greatest Company', published by Ballpoint Press in Ireland and Penguin in India. He's on Twitter: @TheDragonPeter

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