Managing director, Trent Limited
Born: 1957, in India.
Family: Son of Naval Tata and Simone (maiden name unknown); married Aloo Mistry.
Career: Tata Group, ?–1997, various positions at Tata International; 1997–1999, director of Trent Limited; 1999–, managing director of Trent Limited; 2003–, director of Titan Industries and of Voltas.
Awards: Named to Time magazine–CNN 2003 Global Influentials List.
Address: Tata Group, Bombay House, 24, Homi Mody Street, Fort, Mumbai 400 001, India; http://www.tata.com.
■ Noel Tata was an influential figure in one of India's largest business conglomerates, the Tata Group. After beginning his career at Tata International, the group's arm for the products and services it offered abroad, Tata joined Trent, Tata Group's retail arm, of which he became managing director in 1999. Praised as an intelligent and candid businessperson, Tata earned his reputation largely by developing Trent's department store, Westside, from a single unprofitable shop to a chain of fourteen highly successful outlets. He was one of the favorites to assume the Tata Group's top post of group chairperson after the retirement of his half brother, Ratan Tata.
One of India's most diverse and successful companies, the Tata Group was involved in industries ranging from information services to manufacturing. Tata's mother Simone founded the Tata Group's retail company, Trent, after her famous cosmetic company, Lakme, the first of its kind in India, was bought out by Hindustan Lever in 1997. Simone Tata was Trent's chairperson, and her son, who became a director when it was founded, became the company's managing director in June 1999. By this time Trent had acquired the department store Littlewoods International, UK, changed its name to Westside, and taken over its infrastructure. Tata Group leaders and many in the Indian business community considered the retail area to have great potential for growth, so Tata immediately began to gain attention for his ambitious plans to turn Westside into a large and profitable venture.
Under Tata's direction Westside carefully researched its market and concentrated on affordable clothing, housewares, toys, and cosmetics aimed at the middle and upper-middle classes, which made up 25 percent of India's population. One of Westside's distinguishing features was its use of the West-side brand name for 90 percent of its product range, and nearly all of its clothing and furnishings. This allowed for a higher profit margin as well as the ability to offer a unique option to consumers, and it combined with the reputation of the Tata name to give Westside an edge over its competitors. Westside may also have been successful because of its customer-service policies, such as not requiring a receipt for returns; its avoidance of heavy losses from theft, which the stores addressed by paying the staff higher wages than competitors and implementing high-tech security systems; and its successful merchandise sourcing, which required buyers to keep up on the latest trends. Tata emphasized the need for careful research into an area before opening a store, something in which he was always personally involved, and he advocated opening many new stores in order to reduce the percentage of corporate costs and drive profits.
Westside's most significant obstacle between 1999 and 2004 was the expensive real-estate market that made expansion less profitable. By the summer of 2004, however, due in great part to Tata's leadership, Westside had expanded to 14 stores and shares in Trent were performing very well. In October 2002 Tata had outlined plans for Trent's foray into food retail, a major business venture that was immediately attractive to investors. The first of Trent's grocery stores was planned to open in late 2004, and Tata claimed that the venture would grow by 100 percent in each of the following years. Food retail made up a large percentage of retail sales in India, and Tata emphasized the opportunity for diversification and expansion in the business.
Tata was the son-in-law of the largest single shareholder in Tata Sons, the Tata Group's holding company, as well as the half brother of its group chairperson, Ratan Tata, and these connections were a significant factor in his becoming one of the most likely successors to the group's highest post upon his half brother's retirement. Tata's success with Westside was the key factor in raising him from a lesser-known candidate to the front of the list of possibilities, which also included his brother-in-law Shapoor Pallonji Mistry. In 2003 Tata was appointed a director of Titan Industries, the Tata Group's manufacturer of watches, clocks, and jewelry, and an additional director of Voltas, the Tata Group's air-conditioning giant. After Ratan Tata announced his upcoming retirement in December 2002, his half brother received increased media attention and was characterized as an intelligent manager of apt business sense. Business India characterized him as a "street-smart, single-focused manager" (September 2, 2002), and Time magazine commented on his good managerial record.
Ardiga, Aravind, "He's Got Connections," Time , December 1, 2003, pp. 80–81.
Gupta, Indrajit, and T. Surendar, "The Enigma called Pallonji Mistry," Businessworld , August 11, 2003.
"Lots in Store," Business India , September 2, 2002.
"Tata Sons Board May Get Two New Faces This Year," Times of India, Economic Times , March 2, 2004.