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Death of a PR Man

A mild-mannered PR person working for the Tatas hanged himself recently. How high are the stakes for companies?

A rather chilling blog post, reproducing a letter from nine journalists (including the Forbes India ex-editor and president of the Press Club of Mumbai) to Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry, chairman of the Tata group, has sent shock waves among journalists. After all, it involves India’s most blue-chip group and the suicide of Charudatta Deshpande, a former journalist colleague, who successfully switched to PR over a decade ago.

 

The mild-mannered Charu (as he was known) joined Tata Steel a year ago after a long stint with ICICI Bank and Mahindra & Mahindra. He had resigned from TISCO a month before his suicide on 28th June. The letter says that Charu was accused of ‘leaking’ confidential documents to journalists for a Cover Story titled “Remoulding Tata Steel”; that he was confined under virtual ‘house arrest’ for two weeks in Jamshedpur and repeatedly threatened. The journalists allege that there was a concerted attempt by “Tata Steel officials and the PR agency to pass off his death as a heart attack, and not a suicide.”

Interestingly, there seems nothing in the Forbes Cover Story to warrant such an extreme reaction from the Tatas. Chairman Cyrus Mistry has responded to the journalists’ request to ‘institute a proper inquiry’ and assured that he has put in place an ‘appropriate mechanism’ to look into their allegations and take necessary action. But this is clearly a test for the new chairman.

 

Ratan Tata was always hypersensitive to media criticism, a fact that even the Tata group’s high-profile lobbyist Niira Radia is heard acknowledging in a leaked phone conversation. Cyrus Mistry is very low profile and little is known about him as a person.

 

The Tatas have not exactly covered themselves in glory in the 2G scam and will be subject to close media scrutiny in the future too. Cyrus Mistry’s actions in connection with Charu’s suicide will indicate whether the Tatas are now even more paranoid about the media. Or will they make amends after what happened with Charu—if it was a tragic aberration—by turning more open and practical about negative publicity or criticism, when warranted.

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COMMENTS

ABHA CHAWLA MOHANTY

4 years ago

MR CHARUDUTTA DESPANDE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BOLD IN EXPOSE,....RATHER ,THAN SILENCED EXIT??...,WHAT HAD, HE, TO LOSE????.....FAIT ACCOMPLI!

nagesh kini

4 years ago

The Tatas, post-JRD, in 'getting rid of the so-called straps' have not covered themselves with glory.At the immediately following AGM thery couldn't provide satisfactory answers to questions of propriety posed by me,this was front paged by ET and FE.The recent Fortune magazine's 12 page expose of the downfall of their diamond in the crown the Taj Hotels aka Indian Hotels Co. Ltd high lights the gross mismanagement by the new "gang" of RNT's coterie who know nothing of the hospitality business - a coffee brewer put to run an international chain went into haphazard acquisition esp. of Oriental Hotels in the US, turning IHCL into the red.
In UK the JLR is mired in labour problems.
There is much more than meets the eye in their top PR man taking his own life.
What on earth happened to the "invasion of privacy suit" filed by RNT post Niira Radia expose in 2G? Why is it suppressed even by the media? Has it got any thing to do with Charu's suicide? No coincidence by any chance?

Rajesh Kothari

4 years ago

There has been steady decline in value system of even well regarded corporate houses, in last 25 years. Tata is no exception. And I'm saying this from first hand experience.

Time has come when world has recognized that intelligence and smartness are not good enough. Man of Character is required to steer corporates and countries out of the difficult situation we all are in.

ramchandran

4 years ago

Hope the new chairman changes the ways of working. Such incidents are indications of the quality of senior management operating in these companies. Autocratic, oppurtunistic & intolerant !!!

Veeresh Malik

4 years ago

From not being able to tolerate the least bit of adverse feedback to seeing every indication of bad weather ahead as criticism to being surrounded by sycophants and yes-persons appears to be the fixed trend in corporate bodies in India as they run through their typical 3 maximum 4 generation cycles from boom to doom. The Tatas, despite all outward indications towards high levels of integrity and that undefined word "professionalism", are no exceptions. Corporate bodies in India need to learn before it is too late that mirrors do not bring bad news, they only reflect it, so why break the mirror?

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