In some ways, Noel Tata is an unlikely candidate to take over the Tata Group, India's most famous business conglomerate, which sells everything from steel to information-technology consulting to coffee and tea. The 46-year-old heads Trent, the group's retail unit, which had $27 million in revenue last year--a tiny share of the conglomerate's overall $11.2 billion revenue. But Noel has the right dynastic connections to take over the group, founded by an ancestor in the 19th century. His half brother Ratan is now chairman, and father-in-law Pallonji Mistry is one of the largest shareholders.
Noel's managerial record is good. Since taking over Trent in 1999, he has expanded its chain of Westside retail stores, which stock perfume, crockery and Westside's brand of upmarket clothing. Sales were up 33% last year, helping his case as unofficial front runner to succeed Ratan in 2008. Noel was also recently appointed to the boards of Titan, the Tata watchmaking unit, and Voltas, an air-conditioning giant.
Noel's challenge if he makes it to the top: to show that in the new India, dynasty and meritocracy can intersect. --By Aravind Adiga/New Delhi