Karl Slym, MD, Tata Motors (TaMo), died after falling from his 22nd-floor hotel room to the fourth floor of Shangri-La in Bangkok on Sunday. Police said on Monday his death could be possible suicide.
Slym, 51, had attended a board meeting of TaMo’s Thailand unit and was staying with his wife in the hotel room. “We didn’t find any sign of a struggle,” police lieutenant Somyot Boonyakaew, who is heading the investigation, told Reuters.
“We found a window open. The window was very small so it was not possible that he would have slipped. He would have had to climb through the window to fall out because he was a big man. From our initial investigation, we believe he jumped.”
The police found a three-page note, written in English, which they were translating into Thai. An autopsy on Slym’s body was conducted on Monday, the police said, without giving any details.
A TaMo spokeswoman declined to comment on the possible cause of Slym’s death. A company statement said Slym had provided leadership in a challenging market environment.
Slym was driving a turnaround in the company’s domestic operations. Investors worries about potential delays to these plans sent TaMo shares down over 6% on Monday even as the BSE Sensex fell more than 2% (read the report below). “He had been given a sort of free hand. For another professional to step in and enjoy the same confidence, with this same management, is difficult, it will take time,” said Deepesh Rathore, director of Emerging Markets Automotive Advisors.
Sadly his demise means that Tata Motors has been hit badly at a phase where so many of the initiatives worked on and supported by Karl are about to come out into the open.
Rallying the workforce was his biggest driver which not many outsiders would know; but it is for his high profile HorizonNext gameplan to focus on new cutting-edge products that we would hear about even more from now on.
It has only been a few days since his big efforts at Tata Motors have come to light, including a revolutionary new petrol engine family — Revotron, the new Indica (aka Falcon), a couple of mighty concepts ready for production (including a small compact SUV) and, of course, for giving the mighty Nano a stab at making its presence felt with proper price positioning in the market.
Being very keen on performance, he let himself force the pace with the rather innovative Tata T1 Prima Truck Racing Championship. While even more is to be unveiled at the 2014 Auto Expo in the coming week, sadly, Karl will not be with us and we won’t have that moment to share with him.
My memories of Karl include a long unwinding session at Goa during the launch of the Chevy Beat Diesel where we spoke about small cars, the challenges of how much technology for technology’s sake needed to be brought in in the context of the Indian operating scenario and also how customer connect was to be just as exacting a task as product development.
However, the most pleasant interaction was at the 2013 Cartier Concours dÉlegance in Mumbai just about a year ago when he took immense delight in looking over my 1949 Fiat 500C Topolino (photo on Page 15) and trying to get behind the wheel. Being a very tall sort, the contortion he went through to get in was the easy part, to extricate himself from the tiny mouse was a hilarious exercise altogether!
He loved India and its people and his engaging discussion on Indian customs with my better half for well over the evening marked him out as a good
soul. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with his family and they will be remembered in my prayers. Karl, R.I.P.
Demise of an MD and how corporates need to cope:
Karl Slym’s sudden demise has shocked both India Inc and equity markets. TaMo derives most of its sales and profits from JLR; other operations have failed to gain traction. Slym’s passing, therefore, may not impact TaMo’s financials much; but some impact can be expected on TaMo’s turnaround strategy that Slym spearhead.
Similarly, thanks to the strong organisational structure and administration policy of the Tata group, TaMo may not suffer in terms of continuity. Already, there is talk that vice-chairman and former MD Ravi Kant may take charge again as MD until a suitable successor to Slym is found. Slym’s death focuses attention on succession planning at Indian corporates. Slym’s international experience proved significant as the Tata group’s tradition has been to reward loyalty that saw trainees morphing, over a number of years, into veterans who could not quite go past the so-called standard operating procedures. Slym’s exposure to troughs and crests at the global level helped reduce the response time to economic cycles.
So, a sudden demise, as in the case of Slym, or a forced resignation, as in the case of Vikram Akula of SKS Microfinance, is bound to create a void that might prove difficult to fill in the short term. Grooming future managers to avoid such pitfalls should become integral to most corporates’ long-term strategies to maintain continuity and buoyancy.