Looking Back At The Life Of Pallonji Mistry, The Phantom of Bombay House
Dubbed as India’s 9th richest man, Mistry was one of Mumbai’s last few remaining industry titans.
The head of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, Pallonji Mistry, passed away in his sleep last night, aged 93. One of the world’s richest people — sitting atop a $13 billion fortune — Mistry’s construction empire held the contracts for several iconic luxury hotels, stadiums, factories, and even royal palaces.
Holding a majority stake in the Tata Group, with which he had a bitter corporate feud, Mistry’s life is an interesting insight into the top tiers of the construction/engineering industry, across India and foreign shores.
Who Is Pallonji Mistry?
Born on June 1, 1929, Mistry was raised in Mumbai at the famous Cathedral and John Cannon School, after which he went to London’s Imperial College and went on to join his father’s company just as India achieved independence, with initial goals of expanding in the Middle East.
It was during his schooling that Mistry’s father first purchased shares in Tata Sons, cementing a long-standing relationship between the two business families. During most of his early career, Mistry worked quietly to push ahead the family’s projects, while learning the secrets of becoming a top-tier industrialist.
His first big international project took place in 1976, when he signed the contract to build the palace of the Sultan of Oman — a high profile, luxurious property flanked by the Arabian Sea.
At the height of his career, Mistry was the chairman of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, which is now 157 years old. Through this, he controlled Shapoorji Pallonji Construction Ltd., Forbes Textiles and Eurka Forbes Ltd., as well as Associated Cement Companies (ACC), of which he was a chairman. In 2016, he was awarded the Padma Shri for his efforts on India’s industrial frontlines.
Mistry was famously media-shy compared to his billionaire counterparts in India. This earned him the moniker ‘The Phantom of Bombay House,’ in reference to the original Tata company headquarters. His highly private life also made it difficult to estimate his personal wealth. At the time of his death, Forbes estimated his net worth at $13.1B (making him the 9th richest Indian), while Bloomberg estimates it at a whopping $28.9B, pushing his Indian rank all the way to #3.
Personal Life and Tata Troubles
Mistry gave up his Indian citizenship back in 2003 — using his marriage to Irish national Pat ‘Patsy’ Perin Dubash to become an Irish citizen (and amusingly, the richest ‘Irish’ person). Part of his love for Ireland and Irish horses in particular, was brought back home in the form of a massive 200-acre estate in Pune, which houses a prime stud farm.
Today, Mistry’s older son, Shapoor runs the company, while his younger daughter Aloo is married to Ratan Tata’s half-brother, Noel Tata. You’d guess that this close, familial connection to the Tatas — along with a majority 18.4% stake in Tata Sons — means that the two families are joined at the hip.
It certainly was that way, but not after October 2016. Back then, Mistry’s younger son Cyrus was ousted as chairman of Tata Sons in one of India’s biggest boardroom dramas, so far.
Cyrus was initially on the board of Tata Sons, and was hailed as an ‘intelligent and qualified’ choice by Ratan Tata himself, on becoming deputy chairman in 2011, and eventually taking over the chairman post a year later. Despite early promise, later in 2016, Ratan Tata and director Nitin Nohria walked into his office, and asked Cyrus to resign voluntarily, citing performance issues.
Cyrus, who eventually cited ‘legacy problems’ as the reason for his ousting, refused to quit and was forced out by the rest of the board. Mistry took a serious position against the Tatas ever since, as the families locked horns over shareholder’s rights across the last few years.
Several political figures, including the Prime Minister and President, took a moment to address Mistry’s legacy and offer their condolences:
Saddened by the passing away of Shri Pallonji Mistry. He made monumental contributions to the world of commerce and industry. My condolences to his family, friends and countless well-wishers. May his soul rest in peace.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 28, 2022
I am sad to learn that Pallonji Mistry is no more. He was doyen of infrastructure and building industry. His contribution to wealth creation and nation building will be long remembered. Condolences to his family & friends.— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) June 28, 2022
Mistry is survived by his children Shapoor, Cyrus, Laila, Aloo, and his widow, Pat Dubash.
(Featured Image Credits: Shapoorji Pallonji Group)