Tata Trusts is a string of non-profits and owns 66 percent in the diversified conglomerate Tata Sons .
MUMBAI: Noshir Soonawala, a Tata Trusts trustee and a confidant of Ratan Tata, retired on Wednesday.
Soonawala expressed his desire to retire citing his “health and advanced age,” the Tata Trusts said in a brief statement. “The Trustees acknowledge the significant contribution Soonawala has made as a Trustee and in the group over the years and respect his desire to step down from the Trusts,” the statement said. Ratan Tata, chairman of the Trusts, also expressed his “personal thanks” to Soonawala for his colleagueship over the years, the statement from the Trusts added.
Soonawala has been at the group for about five decades and is reputed for his knowledge and skills in the area of finance. He was the finance director of Tata Sons for 11 years. Then, Soonawala was appointed by Ratan Tata the non-executive V-C of the Tata holding company in 2000, from where he retired in 2010.
This was recognition of his contribution in guiding the financial operations of group companies with transparency and enabling Tata Sons to consolidate its holdings in major operating Tata companies.
Tata Trusts collectively own 66% of Tata Sons, the main holding company of the $100-billion Tata group. It had earlier announced the first part of its succession plan, appointing TVS Motor’s chairman Venu Srinivasan, and Vijay Singh, a retired senior bureaucrat, as vice chairmen at the Trusts. The announcement raised eyebrows within the group as it is the first in the history of the Trusts that non-Parsis have been identified as successors.
While the Trusts do not specify a ‘retirement age’ for trustees, the decision by Soonawala to retire, at 84, still came as a surprise to people close to him.
He is seen as the “conscience keeper” for the Tatas, and someone Ratan Tata implicitly trusted and valued immensely for views and advice on important issues. He was also the goto man at Bombay House when Natarajan Chandrasekaran took charge as chairman of Tata Sons, an event that led to exit of several Tata senior officials seen as close to Cyrus Mistry.
A long-pending goal recently fulfilled was the induction of Noel Tata on the board of Tata Trusts. Soonawala finally managed to convince chairman Ratan Tata and his fellow trustees on inducting Noel Tata into the board of the Trustees.
A Tata Trustee told ET recently that Soonawala was not one to mince his words: “He is extremely fit for his age. He’s the sharpest financial mind and never clamours for power and hated even being seen as a person wielding influence.”
Soonawala is also credited with the TCS listing, having ensured that the Tata Trusts got a fair deal in the unlocking of value when the IT software company went for an initial public offering. Soonawala also had singular habits. He never used a mobile phone and avoided long travel, especially international flights.
Tata group’s former general counsel Bharat Vasani said in an interaction with ET earlier: “He is a man with integrity. He would even return 50 paise for a revenue stamp taken from the office and he is also extraordinarily gifted at finance.”