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Russi Mody: A man manager par excellence

Russi Mody, former chairman and managing director of Tata Steel, died here Friday night, after prolonged illness. He was 96.

On his death, Tata Steel recalled Mody’s famous lines, “What is man management? That one must behave naturally with any human being.”

Mody had patrician lineage. He was the son of Sir Homi Mody, governor of Bombay Presidency and Uttar Pradesh and member of the Indian Legislative Assembly. After his education at Britain’s Harrow School and Christ Church, Oxford, Russi Mody joined Tata Steel in 1939, rising steadily up the ranks – from a shop floor trainee at Jamshedpur Steel Works to chairman and managing director.

At the firm, Mody went on to become more than just the executive head; he was tipped as one of the contenders to head the Tata group. However, JRD Tata passed the baton to nephew Ratan Tata. A boardroom tussle, engineered by Mody, followed, leading to his ouster in 1993. His settlement included a bungalow on Belvedere Road (which he later bought from Tata Steel), a Land Rover and a Mercedes.

The famous acrimony, which found its way into books on business history, was buried a few years ago by none other than Ratan Tata. He announced the truce to Tata Tea shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting. “One of you asked about my meeting Mody at the lobby of the hotel. Mody and I had become friends again, many years ago. There is no need to do it publicly. He and I have buried our differences. And, we continue to share friendship at this point of time…may be not to the extent that existed in the past, but there is no animosity or acrimony at this point,” Tata said in 2012.

On Mody’s death, Tata on Friday said, “Russi Mody was an institution at Tata Steel. Under his leadership, the company grew significantly and he instituted many human resource initiatives. Through his career, he was respected by the work force. He lived a full and energetic life and will always be remembered by his friends.”

Tata group chairman Cyrus Mistry, Tata Steel Vice-Chairman, B Muthuraman, former Tata Steel managing director J J Irani and Tata Steel Managing Director T V Narendran have also mourned his death.

After his exit from Tata Steel, Mody went on to set up a trading house with a handful of ex-Tata Steel officials, including his protege Aditya Kashyap.

In 1994, he was appointed joint chairman of Air India and Indian Airlines. The irrepressible Mody, however, had regular run-ins with politicians and bureaucrats over day-to-day management of the airlines. Two years later, he resigned.

In 1999, Mody tried to stage a comeback to Jamshedpur, contesting the Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate, but lost.

Subsequently, he turned his focus on Mobar, which was wound up in 2007, following Kashyap’s death.

Friends remember Mody as a lively host who loved his Hawaiian-print bush-shirts.


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