The news of 85-year-old Pallonji Mistry being chosen for Padma Bhushan, one of India’s top civilian awards, didn’t come as a surprise for those who know him.
With a net worth of $12.6 billion, Mistry is well known for constructing some of Mumbai’s landmarks such as the Reserve Bank of India headquarters, The Taj Mahal Palaceand Towers, and the Oberoi Hotels.
Mistry and his sons, Shapoor and Cyrus, now chairman of Tata group, draw power from their 18.5 per cent stake in the unlisted Tata Sons which gives them unparalleled influence over the $100 billion Tata group.
An Irish citizen, Mistry is also known as the “Phantom of Bombay House” for keeping low profile. Mistry started working when he was 18 and built a close relationship with the Tata group over the decades. Tata group old-timers recall how Pallonji’s father built steel and automobile factories for the Tatas and, in return, received 12 per cent stake in Tata Sons in 1930 because the Tatas had no money to pay at that point of time. Since then, the Mistrys kept on increasing their stake in Tata Sons and today are the largest shareholders in Tata Sons after the Tata Trusts.
Another connection with the Tatas was established when Mistry’s daughter Aloo married Noel Tata, half-brother of former Tata group chairman, Ratan Tata. The group started in 1865, when Pallonji’s grandfather started a construction business with a British partner. The first project was Mumbai’s first reservoir near Malabar Hill and later both partners built automobile factories and steel mills for the Tatas.
Pallonji was born just a year after the Mistrys acquired Tata Sons shares. When Ratan Tata was made chairman of Tata group, Pallonji kept a distance from the group except for a brief tenure when he became chairman of ACC, which was once Tata group’s cement firm. ACC was later sold by Tata group to Swiss cement major, Holcim.
Even as JRD Tata and later Ratan Tata expanded the Tata empire, Pallonji Mistry quietly built a massive construction business. Mistry undertook big construction projects first in Mumbai and then in the Middle East, including Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. The firm cemented its reputation as world-class construction company when it built the palace for the Sultan of Oman. An example of Mistry’s influence on the Tata group was seen in 2011 when his son Cyrus, 48, was named as Ratan Tata’s successor. Cyrus Mistry is the first non-Tata chairman in 74 years to lead the conglomerate.
Mistry named his oldest son, Shapoor, 50, chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji Group in June 2012. Mistry has also divided his assets between his two sons equally, as per a filing made to the regulators when a group company, Afcons Constructions filed for an initial public offer. The IPO was never launched.