MUMBAI: Arunkumar Gandhi, the Tata group's chief dealmaker who played a pivotal role in the group's multi-billion dollar acquisitions of Corus and Jaguar LandRover in the heady days of 2007-08, stepped down last week from the Tata Sons board as he had reached the age of 70. Gandhi, who is recovering from a surgery, could not be reached for this story.
These acquisitions helped Tata MotorsBSE 0.91 %, Tata Steel, Tata CommunicationsBSE -0.94 %, Tata Global BeveragesBSE -0.46 % and Tata ChemicalsBSE -0.98 % enter the global stage and effected a fundamental transformation in the group's profile. The Tata group's revenues for financial year 2011-12 was 4,75,721 crore, of which more than half - 2,80.840 crore-was from international businesses.
He is the first executive director to retire after the new norms were put in place following recommendations by the five-member search committee constituted for selecting Ratan Tata's successor in 2011. As a result of the recommendations, Tata Sons advanced the retirement age of its board members from 75 to 70 years. The rule did not apply to those who had already crossed 70.
His appointment in August 2003 was a surprise move, but he came into prominence with the group's big ticket acquisitions. In an interview to an in-house publication in 2005, Ratan Tata, now chairman emeritus, emphasised Gandhi's importance in the group. "We don't have a big M&A group - we have one centre and the person who's focused on this is Arun Gandhi," the Tata publication said quoting from the interview.
His finest hour was undoubtedly the thrilling battle for Corus in which Gandhi and his team outmaneuvered rival bidder, the Brazilian steelmaker CSN. Gandhi bid 5 pence per share higher every round, even as CSN aggressively bid 10 pence more. But his last bid was 18 pence higher than the penultimate bid of 590 pence, completely blindsiding CSN, which was five pence short of the Tata bid.
Gandhi declined to hog the limelight, saying the strategy had been devised after consultations with Ratan Tata, B Muthuraman, the then managing director and current vice-chairman of Tata SteelBSE -1.58 % and Koushik Chatterjee, who headed the finance function.
A religious person, Gandhi meditates for two-hours every morning, according to people familiar with him. He led a small team of professionals at Tata Sons, who were much sought after by the 90-odd companies in the group in all matters concerning mergers and acquisitions.
Gandhi was a lateral appointee having been inducted directly into an executive role on the board of Tata Sons, the main holding company, a fairly unusual event. Most Tata Sons directors come from the Tata companies though in the last decade there have been two exceptions, R Gopalakrishnan, who joined from Hindustan UnileverBSE 0.75 % and Alan Rosling who joined as a nominee of Hong Kong's Jardine Matheson, who invested Tata Industries, a holding company for new businesses for the Tata group.