, NEW DELHI, Apr 14 – India\’s Tata chief Ratan Tata has confirmed for the first time that his half-brother Noel Tata is in the running to replace him as head of the giant steel-to-telecom conglomerate.
Ratan Tata, one of India\’s most powerful industrialists who has propelled the group\’s global expansion, is to step down in December 2012 at age 75 and the question of who will succeed him has been a subject of intense speculation.
Noel Tata, a senior Tata executive, "is one of the candidates that are being considered," Ratan Tata told CNN in an interview aired Thursday,
"I hope by the first half of this year, we\’ll be able to define a suitable candidate with who one can overlap for a short period of time before I move away," he added.
Last August, the group named a five-member panel to seek a successor to Ratan Tata, credited with transforming the sprawling conglomerate that includes India\’s largest software house, biggest vehicle maker, a steel manufacturer and a ritzy hotel chain, into a focused and profitable organisation.
There are eight in the race — five from within the group, according to media reports. Others contenders mentioned include Arun Sarin, ex-head of British phone giant Vodafone and Nuslia Wadia, chairman of Indian textiles giant Bombay Dyeing.
Ratan Tata, who until now has not mentioned the names of any contenders, said he has stayed away from the search process because "the committee should operate independently."
For years, his half-brother Noel Tata, 53, toiled out of the limelight, heading the group\’s retail unit Trent, which contributes a small percentage of the multinational\’s $75 billion annual revenues.
But last year he was put in charge of Tata International, the group\’s global trading arm, which has 42 offices around the world. At the time, Indian media suggested the promotion put Noel Tata, who holds an MBA from prestigious French business school Insead firmly in the running for the top job.
The Tata group, India\’s oldest business house, has been steered by a family member since its 1868.
Ratan Tata, who testified this month before a parliamentary probe into a multi-billion-dollar telecoms graft scandal, added he was leaving behind a company that with "hand to my heart" had not "partaken in any clandestine activity."
Neither he nor the group has been charged with any wrongdoing in the scandal which has buffeted the Congress government and led to soul-searching about India\’s growing corruption menace.
But an independent lawmaker has alleged the group\’s telecom unit benefited from a change in the way mobile spectrum was allotted.
Investigations underway should lay the truth "on the table," said Tata, who enjoys a towering ethical reputation in India.
The country has "many honest businessmen," he added. At the same time, he said, "there are many that bend. I\’m happy that I have not bent."
He said he wanted his legacy to be a group that functions "in an exemplary manner in terms of ethics, values.
"I hope my successor will be as committed to that."