After ousting his protege-turned-foe from the helm of Tata Sons Pvt. in a boardroom coup three years ago, Ratan Tata was looking forward to a partial retirement. Instead, he’s fighting the battle all over again — this time in a court.
Supreme Court is expected to hear as early as this week an appeal by the $111-billion conglomerate to quash a panel’s order that directed the Tata group to rehire the man it fired as chairman. The tycoon, 82, is personally leading the charge in the case, and filed a separate petition challenging the ruling.
In a severe blow to the Tata Group, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal said December 18 that Cyrus Mistry was improperly removed in October 2016 at the behest of Ratan Tata, chairman-emeritus of the group, whose actions were “oppressive” for minority investors. Meanwhile, Mr Mistry said that he doesn’t want to return, but will fight to protect shareholder rights.
The court’s verdict has threatened to upend Ratan Tata’s 21-year legacy as chairman, when the group embarked on an unprecedented expansion, snapping up assets such as the iconic luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover and British steelmaker Corus Group Plc. After Mr Mistry took over as the chairman in 2012, he sought to roll back some of his predecessor’s moves in a bid to pare the group’s debt, drawing Ratan Tata’s ire that eventually cost him his job.
“This is a landmark case for Ratan Tata,” said Sanjiv Bhasin, executive vice-president at Mumbai-based brokerage India Infoline Ltd. “This is an ego battle and he wants to protect his legacy linked to the transformation of the Tata group.”
The legal wrangling has come as the latest challenge for the octogenarian at a time when the group is trying to find partners for JLR, whose fortunes have faded in the wake of Brexit as well as a demand slump in China and a backlash against fossil-fuel-guzzling vehicles. The purchase of Corus in 2007 added to Tata Steel Ltd.’s debt and the company is now paring its European operations by slashing thousands of jobs.