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Pissed off Parsis: The insults and allegations Cyrus Mistry and Tata Sons have hurled at each other

Quartz india
Quartz india

In the seven weeks since Cyrus Mistry was unceremoniously booted as chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata group, the boardroom battle between the former boss man and his erstwhile employer has generated much heat and sound. Figuratively speaking, of course.

The sparring, via copious statements and press releases, began somewhat grudgingly, with Tata Sons and Mistry holding back for a while, till the latter’s letter to the company’s board was leaked to the media in late October. It didn’t take long for the return fire to light up the skies over India Inc. Since then, allegations and counter-allegations—and lightening quick rebuttals—have flown thick and fast, pushed by top-of-the-line public relation agencies engaged by each party. Even 50-year-old Mistry’s reticent predecessor, Ratan Tata, 78, who’s been brought back as interim chairman, issued a statement or two.

The aggressive tone, colourful phrases, and the sharp, cutting statements employed by two seemingly genteel Parsi businessmen has somewhat upended the unadventurous—and often boring—world of Indian corporate communications.

To save you the trouble, Quartz trawled the many letters, releases, and statements to bring you the choicest selection of the choicest language used by either side in the Tata-Mistry spat, so far. [Emboldened to add emphasis]

Oct. 27: “A statement from Tata Sons”

Issued after Mistry’s letter to the board of Tata Sons was leaked to the press, the company attempted to hold the higher moral ground. Weeks later, though, it is knee-deep, rolling in the muck.

It will be beneath the dignity of Tata Sons to engage in a public spat with regard to the several unfounded allegations appearing in his leaked confidential statement. These allegations are not based on facts or the true state of affairs. It is convenient to put selective information in the public domain to defend one’s point of view.

Nov. 10: “Statement: TCS chairman appointment” by “sources close to Cyrus Mistry”

The afternoon began with a statement by “sources close to Cyrus Mistry” in response to Mistry’s removal as chairman of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), India’s largest IT services company and a major cash cow for the Tata Group. Oddly, the statement was disseminated by the same PR agency that later circulated all of Mistry’s press releases, but wasn’t officially issued by his office. It contained this gem:

The hasty actions appear to have been done at night. The stock exchange announcement at 8am. Cloak and dagger machinations with little regard to due process of law has come to define the angry strategy of the Ratan Tata camp. On October 24, Mistry was replaced by Ratan Tata (at a board meeting without notice of the replacement). Till date no reasons have been forthcoming—just vague statements about “culture” and “trust deficit.”

Nov. 10: “A statement from Tata Sons”

Late afternoon, Tata Sons issued a long statement to “put forward some facts so that the decision (to sack Mistry) is seen in the desired perspective.” For some reason, a sizeable chunk of it focused on Mistry’s alleged manipulation of Tata’s PR apparatus and the press itself. It’s a little strange considering the same PR machinery was still churning out the same stuff, but now in favour of Ratan Tata. Some instances:

Unlike in the past, Mr. Mistry constantly used the strong public relations network of Tata to emphasise the supposedly good work being done by and under the new leadership and particularly and repeatedly highlighting the major problem areas in the group inherited by him…

The media is fed with the total group figures over the past four years as evidence of the progress but it is not highlighted that these aggregate figures which show a good picture are largely (if not only) due to the excellent performance on all parameters of just two companies, namely, TCS and Jaguar Land Rover (JLR)…

It is evident that the group under Mr. Mistry’s leadership was intolerant to critical reports about the actions taken under his aegis. Over the past four years, only a very few such partially negative reports have appeared in some parts of the media – the most recent one being by the highly respected ‘Economist’ magazine of the U.K., which was really a well-balanced and critical review of the Tata group’s performance in recent years and which was reproduced by another respected Indian daily. Even this report was vociferously refuted in the strongest terms by the PR machinery of Tatas as being biased and incorrect.

Nov. 10: “Response to statement of Tata Sons ” by “sources close to Cyrus Mistry”

Within 30 minutes, Mistry hit back—but the PR agency insists it’s again actually “sources close to Cyrus Mistry” who are responding.

After 17 days of silence on the unjustified and unexplained removal of Cyrus P. Mistry as Chairman of Tata Sons, the Tata Sons nine-page “press release” has not much but selective data, unsubstantiated claims and half truths without a word of explanation as to why it became necessary to remove him summarily violating natural justice and without explanation.

[…]

That after 17 days, this is the best that can get said is heart-warming.

Nov. 25: Statement from “sources close to Cyrus Mistry”

Much of November is spent on the usual trading of allegations, with both sides lobbing a fair few at each other, and wrestling for control of group companies. But around the first month anniversary of the spat, things became more personal, with Mistry going for it. In a short statement, “sources close to Cyrus Mistry” made a return and attempted to sling mud at Ratan Tata:

We believe that this unprecedented erosion of core Tata Values, is seriously damaging Brand Tata. Each time one thinks the current standard of corporate governance in Tata Group listed companies under the leadership of the Interim Chairman (Ratan Tata) cannot hit a newer low, one has been belied.

Dec. 05: “TATA Sons statement”

The Tatas took their time but came back strong with a statement, parts of which the PR team itself emboldened for emphasis. Sadly, it forgot to highlight some of the fascinatingly forceful words. But thank god, at least someone understands the plight of the overworked reporter!

Tata Sons strongly and categorically refute the contents of Mr. Mistry’s letter which are a rehashed version from his earlier statements, press reports and leakages which we have forcefully rebutted.

Indeed, the Tata Group is no one’s “personal fiefdom”. After he became the Chairman of Tata Sons, it is Mr. Mistry who converted the Group into his “personal fiefdom”, with his unilateral actions destroying precious institutional memory of the House of Tata.

Mr. Mistry’s designs have been laid bare in his actions post October 24, 2016. The price of his wanton allegations has been borne by none other than millions of shareholders.

Dec. 06: “Statement from office of Cyrus P. Mistry”

A day later, it was Mistry’s turn. Thankfully, it wasn’t from random sources but a “statement from the office of Cyrus P. Mistry.” As is slowly becoming the ousted chairman’s habit, the statement began and ended strongly.

A statement has been issued by Tata Sons, speaking up for the abuse of control by trustees of Tata Trusts. The statement is vague in detail but seeks to “dismiss charges” contained in Mr. Mistry’s representation to various Tata Group companies. The statement is neither sound nor sheds any light.

[…]

Never before has the Tata Group including the philanthropic objectives of the Tata Trusts been in jeopardy to this extent and scale. How hollow the statement is, is evident from the lack of merit in its contents.

Dec. 07: “Statement from office of Cyrus P. Mistry”

Ratan Tata wrote a letter to the shareholders of Tata group companies asking them to remove Mistry as director in upcoming extraordinary general meetings (EGMs). Hours after the letter arrived in email inboxes, Mistry dispatched a statement of his own, where he just about stopped short of calling Ratan Tata a liar.

Mr. Ratan Tata’s letter today to shareholders of Tata Companies is a combination of statements ranging from misrepresentation and convenient mischaracterisation.

First, it is evident that seven weeks after the unprecedented conduct on October 24, 2016, severely damaging the century-plus Tata legacy, Mr. Ratan Tata has completely failed to offer a single reason for his inexplicable actions.

Second, Mr. Ratan Tata does not speak the truth.

Dec. 11: “An appeal from the Tata Group to all stakeholders of Tata Companies”

Tata Sons continued with Ratan Tata’s assault strategy and escalated the war of words by another notch. In a four-page “appeal,” Tata Sons said that it is “compelled to propose the removal of Mr. Cyrus P. Mistry as the Chairman and Director of all Tata Companies…” The statement also piled on the allegations:

Mr. Cyrus Mistry misled the Selection Committee set up in 2011 for selecting a Chairman of Tata Sons to succeed Mr. Ratan Tata, by making lofty statements about his plans for the Tata Group…

[…]

Mr. Mistry has gradually over the past three/four years concentrated all power and authority only in his own hands as Chairman in all the major Tata operating companies and gone about systematically diluting the representation of Tata Sons on the Boards of various Tata Companies…

[…]

…Mr. Mistry has chosen to resort to selective media leaks, media statements and to make a public spectacle, knowing fully well that his actions would hurt and damage the companies even while remaining as their Chairman.

Dec. 11: “Response to Tata Sons statement”

Not one to remain silent in the face of incoming fire, the “office of Cyrus P. Mistry” hit back. In particular, three lines stood out:

Repeat a lie a thousand times and hope it becomes a truth, seems to be Mr. Ratan Tata’s last-ditch effort to overcome a monumental disaster his actions have unleashed.

[…]

The allegation of concentration of power is new-found wisdom being written after seven weeks of failure to come up with any reason for upstaging Mr. Mistry.

[…]

Mr. Mistry’s family as the owner of over 18% interest in Tata Sons is as injured by any injury caused to Tata Sons. Far from hurting the Tata Sons businesses intentionally, Mr. Mistry is saving the Tata Group from the whimsical ineptitude of Mr. Ratan Tata.

With more sparring underway as the EGMs convene, stay tuned.

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