Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Our Mistry billionaire – the richest Irishman you've never heard of
09 March 2013
John Costello

He's the world's richest Irish citizen with a staggering $10bn fortune, but the mention of his name would leave most of us shrugging our shoulders.

This is even though his company owns Tetley Tea and Jaguar Land Rover, not to mention a global multi-billion-dollar property portfolio.

And while the bank balance of Pallonji Mistry leaves Ireland's other billionaires firmly in the shade, little has been written about the man dubbed the 'Phantom of Bombay House'.

In the newly published Forbes list of the world's 1,226 billionaires, 82-year-old Mistry was named as the world's 103rd richest man after his wealth rose by almost $1bn last year, thanks to his interests in everything from motors to construction, textiles, chemicals, communications, energy and hotels.

The reason we can call him one of our own is down to his wife Patsy Perin Dubash, who was born in Dublin's Hatch Street in 1939. It was because of her the Indian-born billionaire was able to take Irish citizenship in 2003 and why their two sons, Shapoor and Cyrus, hold Irish passports.

And while Mistry still lives in Mumbai and has never revealed the reasoning behind dumping his Indian passport for an Irish one, Ireland's richest man does at least own a "mansion overlooking a spot where Ireland's rolling hills sweep down to meet the sea", according to Jehangir Pocha, editor of Business World magazine in India.

But like much of his life, little else is known regarding the location of this palatial Irish property, which he is said to frequently visit.

Swanky pads in Dubai and London, where his family generally spend their summers, also make up part of his property portfolio, as well as numerous weekend villas dotted around India.

It is a massive 10,000 sq ft White House-styled mansion in Mumbai where Mistry calls home. And it is here that he enjoys drinking expensive Irish whiskey on the balcony that overlooks a spectacular garden of marble statues, fountains and an abundance of flowers.

Despite living in the centre of Mumbai, the family maintain a very low social profile. His sons are the ones that throw the very rare house parties at the family home, while their father prefers to potter about the garden.

Indeed, even in his native India, few get a peak at the billion-dollar lifestyle that exists past the massive marble lions that guard their sprawling home in the wealthy district of Mumbai.
Indeed, when the Aga Khan asked if it were possible to stay at the house of the reclusive tycoon while the family were out of the country, "the signals sent out to him were fairly discouraging".

"Pallonji's being a recluse may well be a family trait because his father was known to be just that way, too,'' says Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, chairman of the Royal Indian Turf Club, who occasionally encounters the billionaire at the races.

The Mistrys, rarely seen at parties or on the social circuit, are passionate about horse racing and often spend weekends at their 200-odd-acre Manjri Stud Farm in Pune, south India.
And with no business dealings in Ireland, it is his family's passion for racing that offers a true
Irish connection over and above his wife's place of birth.

The eldest son, Shapoor, is such a racing enthusiast his father gifted him the stud farm for his birthday and Irish jockey Richard Hughes trains there during the winter. Hughes has even won several high-profile races racing Shapoor's horses.

Horses, however, are merely a hobby, and when they get down to business, his two sons help Mistry control his 18.5pc stake in Tata Sons, a company valued in excess of $100bn. This makes his family the largest individual shareholder in India's most diversified business conglomerate.

Employees at Bombay House, the headquarters of the Tata Group, where he is known as 'The Phantom' because of his rare public appearances, regard Mistry with a mixture of awe and curiosity.

"He's got that quiet air of authority," is how one employee once described him. "He makes it a point to go around the room for differing viewpoints. But the final decision would, of course, always be his."

Mistry has taken a back seat in the business over the past number of years, with rumours circulating of ill-health, but his youngest son, Cyrus (43), took control of the group in December, ensuring the family's influence remains the guiding force at the helm of Tata's multi-billion operations.

"Cyrus is a very low-profile person and though he did inherit quite an empire from his father, he has built on it, too," according to one insider.

So with his son now building a billion-dollar empire of his own, we can most likely expect another Irish passport holder to soon join the ranks on the Forbes list. And just like his father, it seems he will be another Irish billionaire we will know little about.

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