Here’s how Tata Sons’ new Chairman N. Chandrasekaran was picked over 3 other contenders

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When N. Chandrasekaran was asked how he will handle manufacturing since he had no experience, his reply reminded the 5-member selection panel of the time when Ratan Tata was named Tata Sons Chairman.

"I cannot all by myself. I need a team to guide me,” Chandrasekaran replied.

When Ratan Tata was taking over from JRD Tata, he had no experience in technology and was dependent on FC Kohli to build TCS into the group flagship.

ET quoted people involved in selection process saying that Chandrasekaran's answer made it evident he was ready to hit the ground running.

The selection committee interviewed three other serious contenders - Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth, Harish Manwani of Unilever and Sir George Buckley of the Smiths Group.

So how Chandrasekaran, or Chandra, appointed? Well, before the Tata Sons board met to select the occupant for the corner office, the selection panel briefed the Nomination and Remuneration Committee (NRC) of the board about its unanimous choice. Some of the members of NRC - Tata himself, Ronen Sen and Venu Srinivasan - were also on the selection panel, so the meeting was brief. This was followed by a meeting of the entire board where Chandra, who arrived after addressing the media on TCS' quarterly results, was "officially, given the news. Sources said both Tata and Chandra made short speeches.

After the board meet at Bombay House, the group headquarters of the $103-billion conglomerate in south Mumbai, Chandra and fellow Tata Sons board member Amit Chandra drove back together to the TCS head office.

Pretty early on during selection interviews, the search panel came to the conclusion that, despite the global nature of the process, an internal candidate was to be preferred - one who understood the complexities and ethos of the House of Tatas.

"An external candidate would need some months to grapple with the diversity,” an old group associate told ET. Speth, while an internal candidate, was not an insider in the sense Chandra is.

"Look at his value-creation track record and the scale of operations he manages at TCS along with his personal leadership traits and the respect he generates,” another official involved in the process told ET, adding “He has grown TCS substantially from what he inherited from S Ramadorai and helped it topple Infosys as the IT bellwether.”

Chandrasekaran has been instrumental in leading business transformation for many of his global clients. And that in turn has given him invaluable insights into customer centricity.

Under Chandrasekaran, TCS had identified a series of future leaders, so taking him out of the organisation would not have triggered a major dislocation.

His finance deputy was the obvious choice to follow in his footsteps.

Now, as Tata Sons Chairman, Chandrasekaran's job will be to create his own brain trust at the earliest. So that would mean the long awaited group chief financial officer's position getting filled.

Some would even expect the creation of a vice-chairman's role - something that Cyrus Mistry had promised the Tata Sons board but never did.

"The selection panel or the board could not have done that for him. He has to lead that initiative,” a senior Tata Group official told ET.
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