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Who is Pallonji Mistry, the richest Irish citizen alive?

The new list of Forbes billionaires makes the 82-year-old our richest citizen, at $9.7 billion. But just who is he?

Tata Sons deputy chairman Cyrus Mistry (left), chairman Ratan Tata (centre) and Tata Motors vice-chairman Ravi Kant pose during a press preview at the India Auto Expo in New Delhi.
Tata Sons deputy chairman Cyrus Mistry (left), chairman Ratan Tata (centre) and Tata Motors vice-chairman Ravi Kant pose during a press preview at the India Auto Expo in New Delhi.
Image: Manish Swarup/AP

YESTERDAY’S UPDATED LIST of billionaires, released by business magazine Forbes, showed five Irish citizens among the world’s 1,226 billionaires.

Among those five, with better-known names like telecoms magnate Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond, are Campbell’s Soup owner John Dorrance and Martin Naughton, who is listed as making his fortune in heating equipment.

The richest Irish citizen on earth, however, is someone you’re unlikely to ever have heard of: an 82-year-old man whose shareholding in India’s largest private conglomerate means he’s worth $9.7 billion (€7.36 billion).

Pallonji Mistry, who lives in Mumbai, owns an 18.4 per cent stake in Tata Sons, a catch-all trading group with interests in everything from motors to construction, textiles, chemicals, communications, energy and hotels, and which owns Tetley Tea and Jaguar Land Rover.

His family is deeply ingrained in the Tata empire, with Mistry’s father having been an original investor in Tata Sons some eight decades ago. Tata Sons itself is a major shareholder in the Tata Group, which Forbes says brings in a whopping $83 billion each year.

Indeed, the business empire is so large that in India that the company has even entered into a partnership with Starbucks to open a new nationwide chain of coffee shops.

The Mistrys are send in prominence at the group only to the Tata family itself: the group’s longstanding chairman is Ratan Tata, 74, though Pallonji’s son Cyrus Mistry, 43, will take over that role later this year when Ratan retires.

The two families have links other than their common business interests: Ratan’s brother Noel, who is the chief executive of the Tata Group’s retail arm, is married to Pallonji’s daughter Aloo.

The ‘Phantom of Bombay House’

It’s not surprising that you may not have heard of Mistry, however: even staff at his group’s companies rarely see him, as he is rarely seen in public and never gives public interviews.

In fact, a Reuters report last year said the 82-year-old is occasionally referred to as the “phantom of Bombay House” (that being the name of the Tata Group’s Mumbai headquarters), such is his low profile and the quiet way in which he commands power.

Indeed, he keeps such a low profile that we couldn’t find a photograph of him for this article – instead having to use a snap from a recent auto show in which Cyrus helped to unveil a new Tata motor.

But what link, you may ask, does all of this have with Ireland? Well, that relates to a quirk in Indian law which means it is not permitted for an Indian citizen to also have citizenship of another country.

Mistry’s wife Pat was born in Dublin in 1939, and thus herself has Irish citizenship – and so in 2003, when Mistry opted to take up Irish citizenship, he forfeited his Indian citizenship and now only carries an Irish passport.

It was confirmed in the Dáil in 2007 that Mistry’s two sons, Shapoor and Cyrus, also have Irish citizenship by virtue of being the sons of an Irish mother – a fact which will make Cyrus one of the world’s top Irish businessmen when he ascends to power at the Tata Group in December.

And while the wealth of most Irish people is taking a dent, Mistry’s is on the up: his $9.7 billion this year is well up on the $8.8 billion fortune that Forbes gave him only twelve months ago.

Read: Five Irishmen make Forbes’ billionaires list as Carlos Slim comes top… again >

Previously: Irish supervillain Fowl ranks third in Forbes list of richest fictional characters >

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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