Launching a scathing attack on ousted chairman Cyrus Mistry, Tata Sons today accused him of betraying trust and trying to seek control of main operating firms of the over $100 billion group.
In a nine-page statement, the promoter of the major operating Tata companies made a point by point rebuttal to the letter which Mistry had written to its board members a day after he was ousted on October 24.
Tata Sons accused Mistry of trying to gain control of the Indian Hotels Co Ltd – the firm that runs Taj Group of Hotels – by using independent directors.
Mistry-headed IHCL, where Tata Sons holds just 28.01 per cent stake, had last week in a filing to stock exchanges stated that independent directors have backed the Chairman and his leadership.
“In hindsight, the trust reposed by Tata Sons in Mr Mistry by appointing him as the Chairman four years ago has been betrayed by his desire to seek to control main operating companies of the Tata group to the exclusion of Tata Sons and other Tata representatives,” the Tata Sons statement said.
Tata Sons said dividend from 40-odd Tata Group firms had declined during Mistry's tenure while expenses have risen. It accused Mistry of demolishing the historic management structure where Tata Sons exercised control over its group companies.
“We now have an unacceptable new structure where the Chairman alone is the only common Director across several companies and this situation could not be allowed to go on,” it said.
Punching holes into Mistry's performance over four years, it listed Tata Steel Europe, DoCoMo-Tata Tele joint venture and Tata Motors' Indian operations as “problem companies” where there was no “noticeable improvement in operations” and the situation has worsened with widening losses, increasing debt and declining market share.
“Even with no turn-around…the only action taken was to write-off huge amounts against these companies,” it said.
Mistry had in his letter to the Directors warned of Tata Group firms facing Rs.1.18 lakh crore write-offs.
Tata Sons said the group's debt has risen by Rs.69,877 crore to Rs.2,25,740 crore in the last four years and went on to point that the buyer of Tata's European steel assets had dramatically turned around the company in the very first year.
It lashed out at Mistry's handling of the crisis at Tata Steel Europe and the stand-off with Japan's DoCoMo over the failed telecom joint venture where Tatas face USD 1.17 billion penalty for violation of contract.
Referring to Mistry's allegations in his letter to its board members that five major Tata firms may have to take potential write downs of Rs.1.18 lakh crore, Tata Sons questioned whether he had informed the respective boards of these companies and why was it not made public.
Arguing that he could not have 'discovered' such a large potential liability only a day or two after he was replaced, Tata Sons said, “It also suggests that he had no intention of or given up any attempt to revive the value of these companies.”
Refuting Mistry's accusation of interference by the Tata Trusts, Tata Sons said it “was not only wrong in reality but has been twisted to mislead people”.
It was only to to protect the assets of the Trusts – the most important and valuable being investments in Tata Sons — that information relating to the operations of the company, which is an unlisted investment holding company need to be kept track of, it said.
Citing that there has been continuous decline in the income of Tata Sons from its large portfolio of investments other than TCS during the last four years of Mistry's regime, the statement said it reflected the corresponding decline in the many operating companies in which Tata Sons holds a significant shareholding.
Dividends received from all the other 40 companies excluding TCS has continuously declined from Rs.1,000 crore in 2012-13 to Rs.780 crore in 2015-16, including additional interim dividend of Rs.100 crore.
“While dividend income was declining, expenses (other than interest on debt) on staff increased from Rs.84 crore to Rs.180 crore and other expenses increased from Rs.220 crore in 2012-13 to Rs.290 crore in 2015 (excluding exceptional expenses),” Tata Sons said in its statement.
It further said impairment provisions increased from Rs.200 crore in 2012-13 to Rs.2,400 crore in 2015-16 “indicating inability to stem falling values and turn around the 'hot spots' referred to by Mr Mistry”.
On the group's automobile venture, Tata Motors, Tata Sons said that during Mistry's leadership “there has been a perilous drop in market share in both passenger cars and commercial vehicle areas over the past three years”.
“In passenger cars, in the year ended March 2013, the market share was 13 per cent which now stands at 5 per cent! …However, even more concerning is the market share in commercial vehicles which in March 2013 stood at 60 per cent and now stands at (over) 40 per cent the lowest in the company's history as the market leader in commercial vehicles,” Tata Sons said.
While it did not make any mention of Nano, Tata Sons said the problems of Tata Motors are “masked by the performance and profitability of JLR as most references to Tata Motors are in consolidated form”.