Tata Steel's next Managing Director - Whom will Cyrus Mistry choose?

Mistry's selection as Tata Sons Chairman was a break from history. Will history repeat in the case of Tata Steel? We might get to know within a month.

Prince Thomas
Published: 06, Dec 2012

Despite the seemingly royal linkages of my first name, I like to see life from the back bench. While studying it helped when lectures were unending but later I realized it also worked as a corporate reporter. It gives a clear view of both the performer and the viewer; of the 360 degree perspective and the minute detail. Now while tracking the world of business for the pages of Forbes India as Senior Assistant Editor, I will use this space to share what I observe from that rear seat.

As soon as Cyrus Mistry takes over from Ratan Tata at the helm of Tata Sons later this month, in what is the biggest transition in the Group in two decades, the new Chairman will himself oversee a change in leadership.

The Group's flagship company Tata Steel is getting ready for a transition at the top with present Managing Director HM Nerurkar set to retire in October 2013. As was seen in the last change, when Nerurkar was appointed COO to the then Managing Director B Muthuraman almost a year before he took over, a similar arrangement could be repeated.

As reported a few days ago, there are four frontrunners - Group CFO Koushik Chatterjee, raw materials division head Partha Sengupta, TV Narendran, who oversees the flat steel business and Anand Sen, in charge of the ambitious Kalinga Nagar project in Odisha.

Senior officials at the company confirmed that these four are the "main contenders."

HM Nerurkar


Interestingly, each of them heads a function that is critical for the company's future and their performance will weigh on Mistry's mind.

Let us see what could favour or drag each of these candidate's chances.

Koushik Chatterjee - For a company that has a mountain of debts, a Managing Director with financial acumen makes sense. His experience as part of post-acquisition integration teams for Natsteel, Millennium Steel and Corus, will count. Chatterjee's age, same as Mistry's 44, will also work for him as the Group is increasingly looking for young blood.

A drag though, would be history. If Chatterjee does make it, his selection will break the tradition of having "pure" operations guy as the Managing Director.

Partha Sengupta - Critical to Tata Steel's profitability in India and lack of it in Europe is raw materials. Sengupta, who now leads the company's search for mines, knows and understand the issues "like the back of his hand."

A possible drag will be the absence of "international experience" in his resume.

TV Narendran - Heads the moneys-spinning flat products division. Successfully managed the company's first acquisition in NatSteel in Singapore. He ran the international unit till 2010.

Anand Sen - A metallurgical engineer, he has considerable operations experience. He now heads the Kalinga Nagar project, which is right now a high priority for the company.

But that advantage could be a drag too. Even if it meets the deadline, the project commissioning happens much after the leadership decision is taken.

Dark horse - While these Tata Steel "lifers" are the frontrunners, one can't rule out a surprise selection, akin to a Karl Slym, whose appointment as Tata Motors Managing Director earlier this year has been described as a "coup" to a "shocker."

Moreover, will there be a realignment in the role of Karl-Ulrich Köhler, CEO of Tata Steel Europe, after the latest transition?

Opinion maker -  That would be former Managing Director and present Vice Chairman B Muthuraman. Said to be close to Ratan Tata, Muthuraman's view will hold weight because each of the contenders has worked closely with him. While Chatterjee was always by his side during the"Corus days," both Sengupta and Narendran have been Muthuraman's Principal Executive Officer.

So what kind of a Managing Director does India's largest steel company need? A mix of KV Kamath (for financial whiz), Ratan Tata (for being the doer) and Narayan Murthy (for the vision) would be ideal.

Mistry's own selection as Tata Sons Chairman was a break from history. Will history repeat in the case of Tata Steel? We might get to know within a month.


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