There were three phases in the business life of Cyrus Mistry, the former chairman of Tata group, who was ousted from Tata in 2016, after his differences with patriarch Ratan Tata. First one was his career grooming days with his father late Pallonji Mistry, elder brother Shapoor and the then Tata group chairman Ratan Tata. It was Tata who influenced him more than his father and brother in the first phase.
When he was appointed on the board of Tata Sons in August 2006 after his father, who was nicknamed 'Phantom of Bombay House', decided to vacate the post, Mistry was just 38-year-old. It was during this time that Tata turned aggressive on the business front, scouting for big assets abroad - Corus Corus Plc and Jaguar Land Rover - and expanding footprint in the hotel chain business in the US.
In a positive way, Tata used Mistry as his resource to understand the emerging trends in the customer facing businesses. Mistry offered a global perspective in every business discussion and that impressed Tata.
In a few years down the line, Tata found his successor in Mistry over his half-brother Noel Tata, who is married to Mistry's sister Aloo. While announcing the appointment of Mistry in 2011, Tata said, "I have been impressed with the quality and calibre of his participation, his astute observations and his humility." By that time, Tata's dream acquisitions turned lossmaking and started dragging down the financial performance of Tata Group. However, Tata had full faith that these acquisitions were the way forward.
The second phase began here. Mistry created his team to transition the over-century-old group. Here there was some problem. The group members were not from Tata group companies. In some of the internal meetings, Mistry was in the company of his close group rather than the CEOs of group companies. Mistry also was sensitive to issues and stopped reporting to Tata in the executive decisions like acquisitions (Welspun's renewable power) and dividend announcements (which is the lifeline for the operations of Tata Trusts). He also announced his plans to shut down loss-making operations (Nano, telecom and Tata Steel Europe) without consulting Tata.
On October 24, 2016, just before the board meeting in the morning, Ratan Tata and another director Nitin Nohria walked into Mistry's room and offered an opportunity to resign voluntarily. He refused to resign and the board meeting, which commenced soon after, ousted Cyrus, citing performance issues. Here the interesting point is that the Tata group executed many of his controversial decisions after his exit to turnaround the group into a financially healthy business power house.
In the third phase, Mistry, the highly sensitive business genius, was seen completely devastated. He shifted his office back to Shapoorji Pallonji centre at Colaba, Mumbai. The usually clean-shaven, chubby and smiling Mistry, changed to a salt and pepper look. He was in casuals most of the time and seen discussing with lawyers. He once said his fight was not for removing his successor N Chandrasekaran and regaining the lost job in Tata. He wanted his family's interest - 18.37% stake in Tata Sons - protected.
He was deeply hurt that he never wanted to come back to business, even in Shapoorji Pallonji group. He announced some small investment ventures, but never had been able to focus enough to build it big.
The life ended abruptly while Mistry was yet to get out of the Tata episode completely, even after six long years.