A recreated image of Shuva Mandal. (Image: BloombergQuint)

The Man Who Holds The Tata Brief

I wanted to be an investment banker when I was 20 years old, he said in an interview a little over a year ago. A leading newspaper had listed him as one of “India’s Hottest Business Leaders under 40”. In the year since, Shuva Mandal, corporate lawyer and equity partner at leading law firm AZB & Partners, has jumped a job and landed himself the big case of this decade. The Tata brief.

In both, investment banking and the legal services business, Mandal would qualify as a rainmaker. And October 24 put him in the top league of that top league of professionals.

October 24

On October 24, Tata Group holding company Tata Sons stunned the corporate world by sacking its chairman Cyrus Mistry. The media statement announcing the decision was frugal with words, almost clinical, giving away nothing about the drama that had been unfolding behind the scenes.

Tata Sons today announced that its Board has replaced Mr. Cyrus P. Mistry as Chairman of Tata Sons. The decision was taken at a Board meeting held here today. The Board has named Mr. Ratan N. Tata as Interim Chairman of Tata Sons. The Board has constituted a Selection Committee to choose a new Chairman. The Committee comprises Mr. Ratan N. Tata, Mr. Venu Srinivasan, Mr. Amit Chandra, Mr. Ronen Sen and Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, as per the criteria in the Articles of Association of Tata Sons. The committee has been mandated to complete the selection process in four months.
Tata Sons media statement (October 24)

Mandal was approached sometime in mid-September, says a person close to the developments. The firm he previously worked with, AZB & Partners, had handled several cases for the Tata Group including the Docomo matter, and Mandal was familiar with many of the group’s officials. Especially R Venkataramanan, also known as Venkat, the former executive assistant to Ratan Tata and now Managing Trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. Venkat is responsible for management and oversight of all the Tata Trusts, says their website. Two lawyers close to the developments describe Venkat and Shuva as ‘friends’.

It was Venkat, acting on behalf of Ratan Tata, who brought the case to Mandal.

Ambani Vs Ambani

Mandal is well versed with boardroom battles. When at AZB & Partners, he came to be involved in the Ambani family split. It was the biggest business family battle of its time. Several leading law firms and their lawyers were retained to help the two Ambani brothers, Mukesh and Anil carve up the Reliance Group, an industrial empire founded by their father Dhirubhai Ambani.

Amarchand Mangaldas (then undivided between brothers Shardul and Cyril Shroff) represented Anil Ambani as he took over new businesses and AZB & Partners represented Mukesh Ambani as he retained the flagship company. Shuva Mandal went on to become a Reliance Industries favourite.

When he moved firms in 2015, joining Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas as national practice head for corporate and mergers and acquisitions, Mandal had to give up the Ambani work. But in less than a year he bagged a bigger business group and an even bigger boardroom battle.

The Tata Brief

The first brief to Mandal was to advise on the removal of Cyrus Mistry from the Tata Sons board, said the person quoted above, adding that Ratan Tata instructed Mandal personally. Mandal devised the legal strategy, briefed the Tata Trusts’ nominee directors on the Tata Sons board and armed with opinions from three senior counsel was present in Bombay House on October 24 as the controversial sacking took place.

But Mistry refused to go down without a fight. Now Mandal, assisted by a team of approximately 15 lawyers and with at least 8 senior counsel on retainer, spends considerable time anticipating Mistry’s next move. He started the case as Tata Trusts’ lawyer, often working from its offices in south Mumbai’s World Trade Centre building, and now also represents Tata Sons. He’s at it “morning to night’ said the person quoted earlier.

To be sure, there are other lawyers and firms involved. Soon after October 24 Raian Karanjawala, well known Delhi litigator and often counsel to Tata Sons, was retained as well. Curiously, at one time Karanjawala was also Nusli Wadia’s go to lawyer. Now the two are on opposite sides of the fence.

More recently, Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas was also hired to represent the several listed Tata Group companies.

The Jamshedpur Connection

Interestingly Mandal and the Tatas go back a long time...to before his birth. His father is a career Tata-ite, having spent over 35 years at Tata Motors and Tata Steel. Mandal grew up in India’s first industrial city - Jamshedpur, founded by Tata Steel. He studied at Loyola School and went on to do his law at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore. After graduating in 2000, he joined AZB & Partners, spending 15 years with the firm before moving, in October 2015, to Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.

The Tata brief is a homecoming of sorts for Mandal.

An email seeking comments from Shuva Mandal and Raian Karanjawala went unanswered. The Tata Trusts spokesperson had no comment to make.