Billionaire Pallonji Mistry, Indian Construction Pioneer, Dies At 93
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India-born billionaire industrialist Pallonji Mistry, who died on Tuesday at age 93, led the 156-year-old Shapoorji Pallonji group that built such landmarks as the Reserve Bank of India building in Mumbai and the palace of the Sultan of Oman.

Mistry chaired the SP Group, with interests ranging from construction and real estate to energy, until 2012, when he handed over charge to his older son Shapoor Mistry. The group employs more than 70,000 people.

Mistry, who belonged to the Parsi community, drew the bulk of his $15 billion fortune from being the single largest shareholder with an 18.4% stake in Tata Sons, the holding outfit of the Tata group. The sprawling conglomerate, with 30 companies, had revenue of $128 billion in the year ended March 2022.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Mistry “made monumental contributions to the world of commerce and industry.”

Smirti Irani, India’s minister for women and child development, tweeted that it was the “end of an era.” She added that “one of life’s greatest joys was to have witnessed his genius, his gentleness at work.”

The SP Group said Mistry “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.”

Mistry began his 65-year business career when he joined his family’s construction business in 1947 at the age of 18. In the late 1960s, Mistry expanded overseas when he won the contract to build the palace of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said in Muscat. In 1975, when the palace was showcased to the world it, “became the gateway of trust and opportunity for other Indian companies to dare to venture abroad,” the SP Group said.

In 1975, Mistry took charge of the company after his father’s death and continued the overseas expansion. Mistry entered Africa and is credited with several iconic projects there, including the president’s office in Ghana and the Ebene IT Park in Mauritius.

Vaccine billionaire Cyrus Poonawalla, a friend of the Mistry family and a fellow Parsi, said Mistry “had an illustrious business career marked by a pioneering spirit. He built on his family’s legacy to establish the group’s presence overseas. Despite his achievements, he remained a low-key person.”

Mistry’s twilight years were marked by feuding with business legend Ratan Tata, who had chosen Mistry’s younger son Cyrus to succeed him as chairman of Tata Sons in 2011. Until his son’s appointment, Mistry had kept a low profile as a friendly investor in the group. He came to be known as “The Phantom of Bombay House,” a reference to the Tata Group’s headquarters in South Mumbai.

The chemistry between Tata and Cyrus Mistry didn’t work, and Cyrus was ousted in 2016. This was the start of a legal battle between the Tatas and the Mistry family. In March 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal was fair and set aside a National Company Law Appellate Tribunal order of 2019 to reinstate Cyrus Mistry as executive chairman.

The pandemic proved be a challenge for SP group, which was weighed down by borrowings and sought to restructure its debt. That forced the group to sell off stakes in some core assets such as consumer durables business Eureka Forbes and renewable energy outfit Sterling Wilson Renewable Energy. It emerged from restructuring in April 2022 after paying 120,000 million rupees ($1.6 billion) as a one-time settlement to 22 creditors.

In 2016, the Indian government gave Mistry the Padma Bhushan award for his contribution to Indian industry. He is survived by his wife Patsy, his two sons and daughters Laila and Aloo, who is married to Noel Tata, Ratan Tata’s half-brother. Mistry gave up his Indian citizenship in 2003 to become an Irish citizen and was listed under that country in Forbes World’s Billionaires List.

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