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India's Ratan Tata to hand over reins of business empire

Indian industrialist Ratan Tata is handing over the reins of his sprawling business empire after decades at the top of the country's turbulent corporate world.

Indian industrialist Ratan Tata retires on his 75th birthday this week, handing over the reins of his sprawling business empire after decades at the top of the country's turbulent corporate world.

Ratan Tata has been credited with transforming the Tata group into a streamlined conglomerate of more than 100 companies and earning a global reputation for eye-catching purchases of Western firms.

With a portfolio ranging from salt and software to tea and telecoms, Tata is India's largest group, and new boss Cyrus Mistry faces a challenge as the first chief appointed from outside the immediate Tata family in its 144-year history.

"I have devoted my life, as best I could, to the welfare of the group," Mr Tata said ahead of his retirement on Friday.

The highly-respected, media-shy mogul, who spent 50 years with the company, is likely to mark his last day at the helm in the unassuming manner in which he took over from his uncle JRD Tata in 1991.

The same year saw India unleash radical free-market reforms that transformed the country's economy, and Mr Tata took full advantage.

"Ratan Tata came with zilch expectations and in an environment where the group was headed by people who thought they could perhaps 'manage' him," said financial consultant R Balakrishnan.

"The transition today is amazing," Mr Balakrishnan said.

Tata companies include India's largest IT firm, the biggest vehicle maker and a ritzy hotel chain.

In one of the group's most successful moves, Tata Motors turned around fortunes of loss-making British luxury brands Jaguar and Land Rover just a year after buying them out from Ford Motors for $2.3 billion in 2008.

Jaguar Land Rover now contributes nearly 80 per cent of Tata Motors' earnings and the deal has vaulted the Tata firm from a commercial vehicle and small-car maker into a global player.

Tata Consultancy Services, went public in 1994 under Ratan Tata's leadership, when investors were unsure about the future of technology stocks. It is currently growing faster than rivals Infosys and Wipro.

Mr Tata is exiting with the group's total combined sales at $100bn in 2011-12, nearly 60 per cent of which come from business outside India, mainly the United States and Britain.

"His reign has been outstanding," said fellow industrialist Rahul Bajaj.

But Mr Tata could not escape some controversy: he was one of the business leaders questioned in 2011 by a parliamentary watchdog probing a multi-billion-dollar telecom licensing scam that rocked the government.

India's federal police agency later cleared the Tata group of any wrongdoing.

Mr Mistry, the current vice-chairman, was announced as heir more than a year ago, and Mr Tata has said the group will be "in the hands of somebody who understands the business environment better" than he did.

 

* AFP