India

Natarajan Chandrasekaran: Who is new Tata Group chairman?

Tata Sons chairman-designate Natarajan Chandrasekaran poses after a news conference in Mumbai, India January 12, 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Chandrasekaran is the first person outside India's affluent Parsi community to be appointed as chairman

India's Tata Group appointed Natarajan Chandrasekaran as its new chairman on Thursday, months after an acrimonious stand-off with its outgoing chairman Cyrus Mistry. The BBC's Sameer Hashmi profiles the new chief.

Chandra - as Mr Chandrasekaran is popularly called - is one of the best known faces of the Tata Group. The 53-year-old has been the chief executive of the high profile global IT service provider, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), since 2009.

But his journey with the Tata group began three decades ago. He joined the company in 1987 after obtaining a Master's degree in computer applications from the National Institute of Technology in Trichy in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Interestingly, Mr Chandrasekaran, who will become the seventh chairman of the Tata group - is the first person outside India's affluent Parsi community to be appointed to the post. The $100bn (£80bn) enterprise is controlled by a Parsi family and for many observers this decision marks a huge shift.

Going the distance

Apart from being an accomplished business leader, Mr Chandrasekaran is also known for being an avid runner. He has participated in marathons across the globe including in cities like Boston, Berlin, New York and Chicago, as well as back home in Mumbai.

"I love running. It's helped me become a better listener and also calms me down," he told the BBC a few years ago.

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Running long races has also been the hallmark of his professional life. Mr Chandrasekaran has never worked anywhere but at TCS. As the firm grew through the 1990s and 2000s to become one of India's most prominent IT companies, he also rose through the ranks, heading various important projects and teams before becoming the chief executive in 2009.

"I spotted him way back in 1996, and knew that he had the potential," S Ramadorai, the former chief executive of TCS and his first boss, said in 2009.

And it was his performance over the last eight years, during which TCS expanded its global footprint and became India's most valuable company with a market capitalisation of nearly $70bn, that put him in a different league.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tata is a $100bn dollar enterprise

This period was marked by global turbulence because of the economic recession which severely hampered the growth of Indian IT firms. But despite the tough times, TCS kept reporting healthy profits - and eventually displaced Bangalore-based Infosys to become the bellwether for India's IT sector.

TCS is the jewel in the crown for the Tatas, contributing 10% of the group's total revenues and 40% of its profit.

His strong leadership skills and a proven track record were big factors that helped him during the selection process.

The fact that he is a Tata veteran, an "insider" who understands the dynamics and complexities of the group, also gave him an edge over other candidates in the race.

"He is a global business leader with boldness of vision and drive for results. Chandra personifies the value system of the Tatas," Abidali Z Neemuchwala, Chief Executive of Wipro Limited told the BBC.

Bitter feud

But as Mr Chandrasekaran gets ready to take over the mantle from Ratan Tata, who was appointed interim chairman after Cyrus Mistry's ouster in October, he faces several challenges.

The bitter and very public feud between Mistry and the Tatas over the last couple of months has tarnished the conglomerate's brand image. Both sides have made serious but unverified allegations against one other and are now locked in a legal battle.

"The immediate priority for him will be to rebuild credibility. The second is building up transparency and governance besides everything else like strategy and building performance," said Kavil Ramachandran, the executive director at the Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Tata Steel operations in the UK have been a concern for the company

His other big task will be stabilising businesses that have been struggling.

Tata's empire ranges from cars and steel mills to aviation and salt. It has a presence in more than 100 countries. But firms like Tata Steel have suffered heavy losses in the UK, and at home Tata Motors is facing some stiff competition from foreign and local brands.

The Tata group relies hugely on a clutch of companies, including TCS - to bolster its overall profits.

Mr Chandrasekaran started running marathons when he was 43 to keep his fitness levels up. And given the mammoth challenge that lies ahead, he will need all his stamina and patience to succeed.

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