PROFESSOR NIRMALYA Kumar, a close aide of former Tata Sons Chairman Cyrus Mistry and a member of the now dismantled Group Executive Council of Tata Sons, has said he was sacked from the $103 billion group in just “a minute”, on the same day that Mistry was removed.
“At 9 pm (on October 24), I get a call from a colleague with whom I had worked very closely and got along famously as we were often on the same side of arguments. He informs me: ‘it is my unpleasant duty to say your services are no longer required’. No explanation. I query, ‘does this mean I do not need to show up tomorrow morning?’ Receive an affirmative reply. That’s it. It’s all over in a minute,” wrote Kumar, who was earlier a professor at the
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London Business School, in his blog titled ‘I just got fired’.
“It was not as if I was fired for non-performance (my last evaluation was excellent). I always do my best — it’s the least I expect from myself and the most anyone can expect from me. I was fired for just being there at my position — working intensely and extensively with Cyrus,” he wrote.
While Kumar said today that he was fired, Tata Sons, in a statement on October 29, said that Kumar and two other members of Mistry’s advisory council had resigned.
Earlier, Mistry also questioned his removal, saying, “I cannot believe that I was removed on grounds of non-performance. I am not sure if the individual board members and trustees truly appreciated the extent of the problems I had inherited.”
Recalling the events of October 24, Kumar wrote that he was on a panel, where over 100 young students and managers were participating in a competition sponsored by Tatas, when he heard that Mistry had been removed.
“The theme was big data, and since I led this group-wide initiative by setting up a new company focused on data analytics, the participants were quizzing me on its potential. Suddenly, a colleague comes and whispers in my ear that Chairman Cyrus Mistry has been asked to step down,” Kumar wrote. “My head jerks — what? But I am on a panel, so (I) keep answering the questions, but signal to the facilitator that we need to wrap this up early,” wrote Kumar, who was responsible for strategy and reported directly to Mistry.
“Now readers, no pity is needed. It is something that has happened to many, and there are entire reality shows on TV built around the theme ‘you are fired’. But still nothing prepares you for this. I realise that I am unemployed for the first time since the age of 18,” wrote Kumar, who has also served on the faculty of Harvard Business School, IMD, Switzerland and Kellogg School of Management.
According to Kumar, his first thought went to the 70-plus people he had recruited in the Big Data team over the past year. “What is going to happen to them? They joined on my word that we were going to make this a core capability of the group. Quickly, I shoot off a text message to a colleague with a plea to take charge of this venture. My four-member team, I am less concerned about, as they are enormously talented and familiar enough with the group to land on their feet,” he wrote.
“The following morning, what to do? Well, a bit lost, and ready at 8:30, instead of the usual 8:00, I head for my morning Starbucks coffee. I find a new proposition for Starbucks that never occurred to me previously: a place for unemployed managers, all dressed in suits, with nowhere to go. Yes, there is the office to clear out and a final settlement to be agreed on, but I am in no mood to go to Bombay House for this. It can wait for another day,” he wrote.
“The lesson for my team was clear. I told them these people have made it to the top. They know how the system works. When in future anyone mentions me, please don’t say anything positive. Throw me under the bus to gain credibility in the new regime. It’s my parting advice,” he wrote. “What I found exceptional about the group was the kind of person that Tata attracts — unpretentious and dedicated… They deserve a great chairman.”
“Once fired, you discover your friends and the integral qualities of those who worked with you. The interesting insight for me was that the higher in the organisation you go, this ‘human’ aspect declines. The people at the ‘bottom’ of the pyramid treated me with the same respect and affection as always. Their smiles were genuine and open. Those in the middle, like my team, were sincerely sad to see me go. They repeatedly mentioned what fun it was to have worked with me,” wrote Kumar.
“In my 30-year career, I had only three bosses who inspired me: Lou Stern, my PhD advisor at Northwestern University; Laura Tyson, my dean at LBS; and you. Thank you, Cyrus.”