Moneycontrol PRO
you are here: HomeNewsIndia

The Phantom of Bombay House passes on 

Pallonji Mistry was reclusive and conspicuous by his absence in social circles. He’s also been described as “always accessible and sharp but genial”

June 28, 2022 / 02:30 PM IST
File image of Pallonji Mistry, Chairman of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group (Image: Facebook)

File image of Pallonji Mistry, Chairman of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group (Image: Facebook)

Pallonji Mistry, head of the real estate and construction conglomerate Shapoorji Pallonji Group, which was known for its deep ties to the Tata Group in the past, passed away on June 28 at his home in Mumbai at the age of 93, as confirmed by group executives.

Referred to as the ‘Phantom of Bombay House’ in Mumbai’s business circles because of his reclusive nature and conspicuous absence in social circles, Mistry, his family and the group were the single-largest private shareholder in the Tata Group at one time.

Mistry was said to have a firm management style that was often underscored by the phrase “Tumi Karo (you get it done)” when it came to difficult work and projects, but not without a sense of humour.

“I saw him a few weeks ago when we both were coming out of Breach Candy Hospital and he remarked that I was too young to be on a wheelchair,” recounts Nawshir Khurody, 86, who was one of the few executives to have served at both the Tata Group as head of Voltas and at the SP Mistry companies as a director.

Mistry, the low-key business tycoon, is credited with taking the 150-year-old Shapoorji Pallonji Group to the next level of growth, having established long-term and lucrative ties as business infrastructure developers and builders for the Tata Group.

Close

The SP Group undertook and executed several projects for the Tatas from Jamshedpur to other factory sites over many decades. Other key projects included buildings for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Citibank headquarters in India, and a Steel Authority of India (SAIL) plant.

‘Always accessible’

S Ramadorai, former CEO of Tata Consultancy Services, said Mistry was “a stalwart and one of the strongest supporters of the Tata Group and TCS. His presence added a lot of insights and we found him very engaging. He was always accessible.”

Ties with the Tata Group soured after Mistry’s son Cyrus was removed as chairman of Tata Sons in October 2016.

The SP Group is a global, diversified company with 18 major companies across engineering and construction, infrastructure, real estate, water, energy and financial services. The group operates in 50 countries and has over 50,000 employees.

The Indian-born Irish billionaire was reported to have had a net worth of $28.9 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index on June 28.

One of the senior-most (by age) billionaires in India, Pallonji was conferred with the country’s third-highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan, in 2016, for his contribution to business.

Mistry is survived by his wife Patsy Dubash, sons Shapoor and Cyrus and daughters Laila and Aloo.

“Can’t say I knew him too well, but I had met him at Tata Sons board meetings and had little chats on the side-lines. He was very genial but sharp at the meetings. He raised pertinent questions but was also very flexible when it came to discussions and he valued his relationship with the Tatas and built it assiduously over the years,” says R Gopalakrishan, former Tata Sons director. “The thing with him was that you could have a relationship with him regardless of whether he agreed with you.”

Mistry retired in 2004-2005 at the age of about 75 and had served on the Tata Sons board for some three decades.

Project execution

His main business strength was project execution to quality and timeliness, says Khurody.

“He himself was on site at the Muscat palace which the SP Group was working on against the wishes of the British who ruled Muscat at one stage. One thought that being the head of the group, he would sit back but that wasn't so. In fact, he would often oversee lunch that the workers would eat. He would walk around project sites and catch a grill that was off by an inch,” says Khurody.

Vikram Thapar, chairman of the KCT Group, said he met the billionaire, or “Pallonji Seth” as he was referred to, for the first time at his home for his grandchildren’s Navjot ceremony in Mumbai about two decades ago even though he knew Cyrus from earlier on.

“He made it a point to come across to me and greet me and speak with me for an extended time like I was a family member,” Thapar recalls. “He was a thorough gentleman and I cannot recall anyone who has said an ill word about him.”

Beyond the social family functions, few saw Mistry in the public spotlight. Former Tata hands say that he was “a quiet man” and was never seen at a Bombay House function over 35 years. If he came, he would briefly nod his head and walk off after a few minutes.

Mistry was also considered to be one of the most benevolent billionaires within the Parsi community and was largely silent about what he did to support it.

“He established a home for senior Parsis that’s no different from a 5-star hotel near Breach Candy and was called the Shapoorji Pallonji Home for the Aged,” says Viraf Cheeniwala, a Mumbai-based construction entrepreneur. “The truth is that despite his billions, he himself was fairly down to earth, basic and made it a point to regularly attend the fire temple in Mumbai.”

The funeral ceremony will be conducted at the Tower of Silence at Doongerwadi on June 29 and a huge turnout from the Parsi Community in Mumbai is expected.
Pavan Lall is a senior journalist based in Mumbai.
first published: Jun 28, 2022 02:30 pm
Sections
ISO 27001 - BSI Assurance Mark