Face-off between Personal Brands

This morning while I was reading the newspaper as conventional, I came across the headlines which verbalized TATA’s sack Mistry. Immediate thought that came to my mind – was he not the one who was appointed as chairman of Tata group just a couple of years ago? Why was he suddenly asked to depart?  Subsequent news followed that he was not aligned with the Tata group policies. I wonder if he was not aligned to the company’s policies or to one individual. People verbalize it is one and equipollent. Not aligned to one individual (in this case Mr.Ratan Tata) designated not aligned to company. This set me cerebrating. Is the individual bigger than the company? I realised that it’s not the individual Vs the company. It’s actually the Image of the company Vs the individuals Image, in other words his personal brand. We all know that Mr Ratan Tata commands immense reverence and credibility. When this credibility and reverence is amalgamated with the company’s brand image it carries more weightage.

So does that denote Mr.Ratan Tata’s personal brand image is more potent than the companies brand image? May be, but I am sure this was not the case when he surmounted. The company was much more astronomically immense and he had no brand image of his own. He was yet to engender one. He faced lot of opposition from the industry stalwarts like Nani Palkhivala and Rusi Modi. When the 76 year old patriarch and head of the Tata Empire Mr.JRD Tata decided to abdicate his throne, there were lot of apprehensions and lot of contenders. The ultimate responsibility of choosing the next successor lay in the hands of Mr.JRD Tata. After lot of screenings and deliberations, he ultimately chose Ratan Tata. It was an arduous task. At that time TATA group was poised for more preponderate heights.   This sent shock waves across the industry. Many felt that this has engendered a dent on the brand TATA. For many in the business world felt that Ratan Tata was a little known personality. He was not flamboyant and was not associated with any public activities which one would expect if you are a head of TATA group. On the other hand Ratan Tata not only had to shoulder the responsibility of Tata group but had to shoulder the responsibility of the Image of the TATA group as well. This was a more immensely colossal challenge as JRD was successful in “presenting to the country an image that sizably voluminous  business can be unsullied as well”

To my mind inheriting an immaculate  and credible Image is a much  more immensely colossal responsibility than anything else. I cerebrate Mr.Ratan Tata not only inherited an unsullied company image, but he was additionally able to maintain that clean image over the years. In the process he engendered his own personal brand. Personal brand so puissant that today when we cerebrate of Tata, we associate the brand with Mr.Ratan Tata. Such is the puissance of personal brand. From not having a personal brand to engendering and building a most puissant and credible personal brand would make for an intriguing read. I am sure the peregrination was not easy for Mr.Ratan Tata. He might not have come across as flamboyant, but he definitely had qualities like humility and people management skills. These qualities I believe are far more superior and important than being flamboyant. It is these qualities that helped him cut across all the sections of the group. Mind you it’s not easy to lead a team of stalwarts who come with their own set baggage of opinions and experience. Gradually he superseded them by setting a retirement age. He got all the individual companies under one group – TATA brand. He set his eyes on globalization.

I feel towards the end of his vocation as chairman he exhibited his flamboyance –through acquisitions of Corus, Land Rover and Tetley. He was unstoppable during this time. May be he was in a hurry to establish TATA as a global brand before his retirement. He was quite successful in it except for Corus. These acquisitions proved that he was not averse to risk taking. In fact his personal brand image skyrocketed during this time. Probably it had become more puissant than the group as a whole. He was successful in aligning his personal brand to that of the groups brand image- that is of an unsullied and credible image.

Maintaining the image of an unsullied  and credible company is not easy. With it comes many challenges. Brands like individual personalities, are based on behaviours and characteristics. The stronger the characteristics, the stronger the brand image. Ratan Tata succeeded in maintaining these characteristics within his group. Probably he was keener on maintaining the immaculate and credible image more than profitability of the group companies.

Time had come for Mr. Tata to step down and pass on the mantle to someone deserving. The hunt begins for the chairman’s position. After months of selection process and deliberations, they promulgate Cyrus Mistry as the new chairman of Tata sons. Cyrus Mistry was an unknown entity. At least for commoners like me. He might have been a known entity within the industry circle. I did my bit of googling as to who this gentleman was who was suddenly given the responsibility of Tata sons. I gathered that he comes from a business family of Shapoorji Pallonji Group. In fact I was pleasantly surprised that a non-TATA was given this responsibility. After all, being chosen a successor to Ratan Tata is no mean feat. I am told that he is down to earth and candid.

Not much is known about Mr. Cyrus Mistry, but he definitely comes across as someone who doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. He has a mind of his own, is ambitious and a fast decision maker. He seems to be someone who dares to deviate from the traditional path if it’s in the interest of the company. He’s got a bigger shoes to fill up than what his predecessor had got. His personal brand Image is still not built. Cyrus had inherited the good and the bad of the TATA group. He has inherited many loss making companies along with few profitable ones.

One fine day we get to read in the newspapers that Mr. Cyrus Mistry has been ousted as a chairman. What follows is subsequent accusations and counter allegations on each other. Every day there is new twist in this corporate battle. I wonder if it is a battle of ideologies and values, a battle of individual Vs the group or it’s a straight forward battle between two strong headed individuals. I would say it’s a battle between two personal brands. One established and the other in its nascent stage. I don’t know who is right or wrong. All I want to know is who would survive a prolonged legal battle. At the heart of it lies the image of one of India’s oldest and respected companies. On one side we have a potent brand like Ratan Tata and on the other we have Cyrus Mistry who is just about building his personal brand. I am sure Mr. Mistry’s brand value has gained prominence during this time for taking on one of the oldest and established company head on. Amidst all this brand TATA has taken a hit.

It takes years to build a credible brand and one erroneous move, you fall back to the bottom with everything falling on top of you. Image is very dynamic. It takes lot of perseverance and will power to maintain the same. I firmly believe that one’s positive image will always help them tide over arduous situations. No matter who wins in the end, let’s hope the image of credibility is not tarnished.

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