Seventy-five-year-old Ms Ashalata Maheshwari had told Mr Ratan Tata that she would stop attending shareholder meetings of Tata Group companies, once he calls it a day as Chairman.

Known for reciting personalised poems and making glowing references to corporate honchos at annual general meetings, Ms Maheshwari now says she will in fact continue attending Tata AGMs. The reason being: ‘the right choice' has been made on who should succeed Mr Tata as Chairman of the $83-billion salt-to-software conglomerate.

She is not perturbed that Chairman-designate Mr Cyrus Mistry neither has the Tata surname nor the exposure of heading a conglomerate.

Bahut acha ladka hai…Tata saheb ne sahi decision liya hai (He [Cyrus Mistry] is a good person, Mr Tata has taken the right decision),” Ms Maheshwari, who owns at least 500 shares in each of the listed Tata entities, told Business Line.

“He has a battery of experienced people such as Ishat Hussain, S. Ramadorai , J.J. Irani among others to bank on…moreover, working under the tutelage of Mr Tata himself for a year will give him the required finishing,” she added.

The 43-year-old Mr Cyrus Mistry (till the latest appointment was announced) was the Managing Director of Sharpoorji Pallonji Group. This Group, comprising companies such as Shapoorji Pallonji Construction, Forbes Textiles and Eureka Forbes is not even half the size of the Tata Empire, is the largest shareholder in Tata Sons with an 18.8 per cent stake.

Long-term vision

Investment advisor Mr Shravan Sharma sees the appointment of a shareholder and not a professional as a big plus for the future prospects of the group.

“If a professional had been selected then he/ she would have only had a limited four to five-year vision for the growth of the Group… He has a good 25-30 years ahead of him as Chairman of the Tata group. Hence, he will be in a position to take a call on long-gestation projects such as airlines and nuclear power. As an investment advisor, I will be more supportive of the Tata Group companies now,” he added.

A section of investors that Business Line spoke to are relieved that an Indian would be heading the Tata Group and not an expatriate as was being suggested by earlier media reports. The names of Pepsi Chairperson, Ms Indira Nooyi, and Mr Arun Sarin, former Chief Executive Officer of Vodafone, were doing the rounds as potential aspirants for the corner office at Bombay Office. Another hot favourite for the job was Mr Tata's half brother Mr Noel Tata, 54, who is at present the Chief Executive Officer of retail company Trent.

 “Noel Tata was also a good candidate but I believe that Mr Mistry's age would have been the deciding factor as the group is looking at stability at the top,” said Mr Damodar Ramaswamy, another popular AGM speaker, who owns shares in Indian Hotels Company, Tata Motors and Tata Power among others.

If Mr Tata keeps his word, Mr Ramaswamy and Ms Maheshwari could soon have his company, albeit in a different role at AGMs. At a recent shareholder meeting, Mr Tata had quipped that he would be delighted to ask tough questions (at AGM's) to the new chairman of group companies after his retirement!

(This article was published on November 24, 2011)
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