The seven in the Tata clan
Aug 17 2010 , Mumbai
Here are the choices, just in case search panel wants another family person
Supposing, just supposing, the five-member headhunting committee set up by Tata Sons to look for a successor to Ratan Tata finally decides that the family name should, after all, continue to adorn the nameplate outside the chairman’s office, it will have exactly seven Tatas to choose from, counting out Ratan Tata for obvious reasons.
The seven are: Jimmy Tata (Ratan’s brother), Noel Tata (Ratan’s stepbrother), Simone Tata (Ratan’s stepmother), Aloo Tata nee Mistry (Noel’s wife), and Liya, Maya and Neville – the three children of Noel-Aloo’s.
It can be said with a degree of certainty that two names won’t be in the short list at all. They are Simone Tata and Jimmy Tata for two good reasons. Both are in advanced years and clearly neither is interested in taking up the mantle.
Among the rest, Aloo Tata is a Tata by marriage. (She is the daughter of Pallonji Mistry.) So it is anybody’s guess if she will qualify.
That leaves us with four candidates – Noel and his children. All three of Noel’s children are still studying and may not be ready or even willing to take the corner office yet. Even if they were, the search committee may not consider them for reasons of they not being old enough.
All this is hypothesis, of course. The Tatas, as a family, are the most reticent of India’s industrialists and shunning the spotlight is deep-rooted in their character. By the family’s standards, Ratan Tata can be said to be decidedly loquacious. But then he can hardly be not so; after all, he is the chairman of the expansive group and has to come out of his lair now and then.
Where are those seven Tatas now and what do they do? Let’s take Jimmy Tata first. Jimmy, now around 70 years old, worked in various companies in the Tata group, and retired as consultant from the Tata Electric Company (now Tata Power).
He is now on the board of the Bai Hirabai JN Tata Navsari Charitable Institution, Sarvajanik Seva Trust and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. He rarely comes to Bombay House and is known to call in once or twice a week to check on any major updates for him.
True to the Tata trait, Jimmy declined to be interviewed for this article.
Simone Naval Tata, the 80-year-old French stepmother of Rata Tata, can also be counted out. She had done college in Geneva. She is a director of Trent Brands, Trent’s wholly-owned subsidiary, according to the Directors Database.
According to the Database she is also involved in work as chairman of Sir Ratan Tata Institute (the home of authentic Parsi food) and was a trustee of the Children of the World India (CWI), a registered public charitable organisation affiliated to Enfants du Monde of France. Its mission is to reach out to the most underprivileged and marginalised sections of society, especially children and women regardless of their social, religious, racial, cultural and political persuasions.
CWI’s projects are supported by the French Red Cross, European Commission, Enfants du Monde, Sports Sans Frontiers, Voice of Children, ADER, Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala foundation, among other charitable and social organisations.
Simone Tata was also a trustee of the India Foundation for the Arts that aims to enrich the practice and knowledge of, widen public access to, and strengthen capacities and infrastructure in the arts in India, by supporting innovative projects, commissioning research and creating public platforms.
She too declined to be interviewed and said in an email response: “It has been my philosophy throughout life not to give any interview. Under those circumstances I am sure you will understand my regretting your request in order to preserve my privacy.”
Her son, the 53-year-old Noel Tata is the vice-chairman of Trent and chairman of Tata Investment Corporation. He is rarely seen, and less heard, in public. A director of Kansai Nerolac Paints, Titan Industries and Voltas among others, Noel studied in Sussex University and is an Insead graduate.
Not much is known about Noel’s wife, Aloo, other than that she is the daughter of Pallonji Mistry of the Shapoorji-Pallonji group that is the biggest stakeholder in Tata Sons. Still less is known about her and Noel’s children. Liya and Maya are both believed to be studying overseas. Neville is still in school. What is certain, though, that they are the only flag bearers of the next Tata generation after Ratan and Noel.
Not just the Tatas themselves, even the key men that worked for the group do not like to speak about the first family of Indian industry. Ajit Kerkar, a Tata helmsman from the JRD Tata times and who headed the Taj group of hotels for years, turns reticent when talking about the merits of the living Tatas to be chairman.
But he did say this: “I have not set foot in the Taj since 1997 and have not been in touch for 13 years. It would not be correct on my part to comment on this great institution, given the 36 years I spent there mostly with JRD and given the amount of time I’ve been outside the group.”
He said even when he left the Tatas amid allegations, he never responded to them. Those were acrimonious times and he walked away on attaining the age of 65. “But even today if I have to go back to working for someone then I would like to go back to a house like the Tatas for whom I have the greatest regard and respect.”