By Rajesh Kurup
Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, 82, is the world’s most reclusive billionaire. For a man with an estimated wealth of almost $10 billion (Rs 55,000 crore), he is surprisingly invisible, rarely seen or heard in the public space. One of India’s most successful and powerful businessmen, he controls a construction empire that operates across India, West Asia and Africa. He, along with his sons, also controls an 18.5 per cent stake in Tata Sons, the holding company of the $100 billion (Rs 550,000 crore) Tata Group, making the Mistrys the largest individual shareholders in India’s most diversified business conglomerate. He is called, with a mixture of awe and curiosity, the Phantom at Bombay House, the headquarters of the Tata Group, in Mumbai. His younger son, Cyrus Mistry, 43, will control the group when Chairman Ratan Tata exits in December.
Construction magnate Pallonji is an Irish citizen, by virtue of marriage to an Irish woman, but he lives mostly in India, in his sea-facing Walkeshwar bungalow in Mumbai. In 2012, Forbes estimated his wealth to be $9.7 billion (Rs 53,350 crore), making him the wealthiest person of Parsi descent as well as the richest Irishman in the world. Much of that wealth comes from his shareholding in the Tata Group, says Adi Godrej, chairman of the Godrej Group of Companies. Deepak Parekh, chairman of HDFC, recalls how the Mistrys first acquired shares in the Tata Group. “Pallonji’s father built factories for Tata Motors and Tata Steel. The Tatas had no money to pay for them so they gave him shares instead,” he says. Pallonji slowly consolidated his family’s shareholding in subsequent years by buying out shares of Tata family members who wanted to exit the business.
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