Cyrus Mistry, Who Once Led India’s Biggest Company, Dies at 54

An Indian-born Irish businessman who once led India’s biggest conglomerate but was unceremoniously removed from his job died in a car accident in the western Indian state of Maharashtra on Sunday. He was 54.

The businessman, Cyrus Mistry, was traveling with three others when their Mercedes-Benz hit the railing of a bridge on a busy highway about 60 miles north of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra. Both Mr. Mistry and a friend, Jehangir Pandole, whose family owned a large brand of soft drinks before selling it to PepsiCo, died on the spot, the police said.

Mr. Mistry and Mr. Pandole had both lost their fathers recently, and they were traveling toward Mumbai after offering prayers at the Iranshah fire temple in Udvada, a tiny village in Gujarat. Mr. Mistry’s family, who are part of the tiny and vibrant Parsi community in Mumbai, funded the restoration of the temple there.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Mr. Mistry’s death a shock. “He was a promising business leader who believed in the country’s economic prowess,” Mr. Modi said in a tweet. “His passing away is a big loss to the world of commerce and industry.”

In 2012, Mr. Mistry was named the chairman of the Tata Group, a powerhouse conglomerate that makes Land Rovers, operates the historic Pierre Hotel in New York and sells the world Tetley tea. He was the first non-Tata family member to lead the nearly 154-year-old company, which also has consultancy, steel, chemicals and electric power businesses, among others.

He was removed as chairman by the board of directors in 2016 and replaced by the previous chairman, Ratan Tata. That ultimately opened the way for the first non-Parsi chairman of the company, Natarajan Chandrasekaran.

The car in which Mr. Mistry was traveling when he died on Sunday.Credit…Associated Press

The reasons for Mr. Mistry’s ouster are still not clear. He challenged the decision before two Indian tribunals. One dismissed his petition, saying that the board and majority shareholders had lost confidence in him. India’s top court upheld the dismissal.

Mr. Mistry had been on Tata’s board since 2006, and his family’s large construction business — which he once served as director — was the biggest shareholder in the Tata Group, at 18 percent.

His family’s business, Shapoorji Pallonji Group, built luxury hotels and factories across Asia and went on to found large financial companies. Mr. Mistry’s father, Pallonji Mistry, who died in June at age 93, had a net worth of almost $29 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, putting him among India’s richest men.

Cyrus Mistry’s death in a car accident less than three months later adds to a grisly toll on Indian roads. The country has about 1 percent of the world’s vehicles but 11 percent of global deaths from road accidents, according to a report by the World Bank released in 2020. About 450,000 accidents take place annually, killing 150,000 people.

In recent years, the quality of roads has improved as the government has worked to connect vast rural parts of the country with its metropolises. But with more roads has come more accidents.

According to a preliminary investigation by the police in the Palghar district, both Mr. Mistry and Mr. Pandole appeared not to have been wearing a seatbelt. Mr. Pandole’s brother and his wife, who was driving, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries, according to Prakash Gaekwad, a police officer in Palghar.

Mr. Chandrasekaran, the Tata chairman, said in a statement that he was mourning Mr. Mistry’s death. “He had a passion for life, and it is really tragic that he passed away at such a young age,” Mr. Chandrasekaran said.

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