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Pallonji Mistry: Man with eye for India’s growth story

Mistry’s stake in Tata Sons, the holding company of Tata companies, is estimated at 18.4 per cent, making it the largest shareholder after Tata Trusts. Most of the family wealth is derived from being the largest minority shareholder in TCS.

Pallonji Mistry: Man with eye for India’s growth storyPallonji Shapoorji (File/Twitter)

Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry, the head of 157-year-old, Mumbai-headquartered engineering and construction SP group, was a reclusive industrialist who was rarely seen in the media or high-profile corporate circuit.

While Mistry, who passed away on June 28, 2022, was a big name in the construction field and built an empire worth $ 29 billion — according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index — making him one of the richest men in India and in Europe, he became famous for his association with the Tata group and his group’s epic battle with the Tatas after ouster of his son Cyrus Mistry as Tata Sons Chairman in 2016.

Mistry’s stake in Tata Sons, the holding company of Tata companies, is estimated at 18.4 per cent, making it the largest shareholder after Tata Trusts. Most of the family wealth is derived from being the largest minority shareholder in TCS. Pallonji Mistry was quite influential in the Tata group, especially when Ratan Tata took over as the group head in 1991.

Mistry, known to be active behind the scenes in the Tata group and never stepped into the limelight, was called the ‘Phantom of Bombay House’ at the Tata group headquarters and within the media.

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After Pallonji Mistry’s younger son Cyrus was ousted as Chairman of Tata Sons in October 2016, the two families – the Tatas and the Mistrys — have been involved in a major legal battle. In September 2020, though the Mistrys decided to sell their Tata Sons’ stake, nothing has happened since then.

Simultaneously, Pallonji continued to expand the business following in the footsteps of his father. The group’s flagship Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt Ltd is a global, diversified organisation of 18 major companies which developed mega structures and iconic landmarks. It’s active in several business segments, namely engineering & construction, infrastructure, real estate, water, energy and financial services. It has a workforce of over 50,000 people in over 50 countries.

Some of the iconic buildings in Mumbai like RBI building, Cricket Club of India, Bank of India, Mumbai Central station, Mafatlal Centre, Oberoi Towers, World Trade Centre, Lilavati Hospital, NCPA and TIFR were constructed by the SP group under the leadership of Pallonji Mistry and his father.


Mistry is survived by his wife Ireland-born Patsy Perin Dubash, daughters Laila Rustom Jehangir, Aloo Noel Tata, sons Shapoor Mistry and Cyrus Mistry, and their respective families. Aloo is the wife of Ratan Tata’s half-brother Noel Tata who is the Chairman Trent, Tata Investment Corporation and Vice Chairman of Tata Steel.

Mistry surrendered his Indian nationality and became an Irish citizen in 2003 through his marriage to Patsy.

Mistry was born on June 1, 1929 and did his schooling and college education in Bombay, as it was then called. He joined his family business, Shapoorji Pallonji & Company Ltd, in 1947 at the relatively young age of 18, under the watchful eyes of his father, Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry. He learned the ropes of the business very quickly, witnessed many ups and downs as the business culture of India evolved.


He took over the reins of the company in 1975, when his father passed away. While his father focussed largely on construction and had grown the business manifold over the several decades he was in charge, Pallonji, an astute businessman, was quick to spot new opportunities that India’s industrialisation and growing economy presented.

Towards the end of the 1960s, Pallonji had the incredible foresight, confidence, and determination to venture abroad. Construction in the Middle East, fuelled by petrodollars, was booming. Under Pallonji’s leadership, the company bid for, and won, a tender to build the Palace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said in Muscat. When HM Sultan opened his Muscat Palace for visitors in 1975, it not only established Shapoorji Pallonji as the first Indian construction company to have completed a project abroad, but the palace also became a showpiece of Indian capabilities to the world.

This also provided a launching pad for SP to consolidate its presence in the Middle East and foray successfully into Africa, where it has executed several landmark projects such as the Presidential Office of Ghana, the National Assembly of Gambia, and the Ebene IT Park in Mauritius. All these projects have won recognition and accolades internationally and provided employment and exposure to Indian labour and engineers. Under Pallonji’s chairmanship, the company grew substantially in the later decades of the last century.

Pallonji also acquired strategic stakes in other companies and brought them within the fold of the SP Group, companies such as Sterling & Wilson, United Motors, Forbes Gokak and Afcons Infrastructure. Over the years, he served on the boards of several companies and organizations, namely Union Bank of India, W H Brady Group of Companies and ACC, of which he was also Chairman for several years, and Tata Sons Ltd.

In early 2012, Pallonji stepped down as Chairman of Shapoorji Pallonji and Company Pvt Ltd, the operating and holding company of the SP Group, and handed over the chairmanship to his elder son Shapoor Mistry.


According to corporate observers, he embodied the Zoroastrian virtues of ethics, integrity, fair play in all dealings and being sympathetic and generous to those sections of society less fortunate and in need of any manner of help.

The Shapoorji Pallonji Group, established in 1865, celebrated 150 years of its existence in 2015.

Cyrus Mistry and SP group


On October 24, 2016, the board of Tata Sons – controlled by Tata Trusts headed by Ratan Tata — removed Cyrus Mistry as its Chairman, nearly four years after he took over the reins of the salt-to-software conglomerate amid allegations of mismanagement and mistrust. Mistry, who was a director on the board, was appointed Deputy Chairman of the group in 2011 and then promoted as Chairman in 2012.

Meanwhile, the SP group was forced to consider asset sales as it faced a cash crunch, rising debt and even a payment default two years ago as Covid-19 pandemic hit its core real estate operations. In October 2021, a Reliance Industries firm agreed to acquire 40% of Mistry’s Sterling & Wilson Solar Ltd. Cyrus Mistry also set up a venture capital firm Mistry Ventures LLP.

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First published on: 29-06-2022 at 06:31:35 am
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