Tata Motors shares shed 5% after exec's Bangkok death

Corporate January 28, 2014 00:00

By Kingsley Wijayasinha,

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Tata Motors shares plunged by more than 5 per cent yesterday after the head of India's largest automaker fell to his death from a hotel room in Bangkok on Sunday, but police yesterday quelled concerns of foul play.

“We can rule out murder in this case,” Pol Lieutenant Somyot Boonyakeow said.
“Initially, we can only assume that he committed suicide,” he said. “The window was small and he had to try hard to get through it.”
Managing director Karl Slym, 51, led Tata’s operations in India and worldwide including Thailand. He attended a meeting of the board of Tata’s Thailand subsidiary in Bangkok and was staying with his wife at the Shangri-La Hotel.
An apparent suicide note, found at the scene, has been sent for analysis to confirm it was written by Slym, Somyot said.
Police believe his wife was in the room at the time of his death but said she was too “shocked” to answer questions yesterday.
“She still cannot accept what has happened,” Somyot said. The executive’s body was with forensic police, he said.
Slym’s demise creates a leadership vacuum at the maker of the famously inexpensive Nano car at a time when India’s passenger-vehicle industry is bracing for its first fiscal year of decline in more than a decade. Minari Shah, a Tata Motors spokeswoman, said she had no updates since Sunday’s statement and that no decision had been made on Slym’s replacement. 
Slym, who joined Tata Motors in 2012 after a 17-year career at General Motors, was in charge of the company’s India business and sought to spur demand for the Nano, once marketed as the world’s cheapest car, by repositioning it as a second vehicle. 
Ralf Speth heads the bigger and more profitable Jaguar Land Rover operations, which Tata Motors bought from Ford Motor in 2008 for more than US$2 billion. Tata Motors Thailand said in a statement that Slym’s death was a big loss not only for Tata Motors but also for the world’s automobile industry. 
Tata Motors Thailand, a joint venture with Thonburi Group, commenced operations in early 2008 with the introduction of the Xenon 2.2L diesel pickup truck. The company sold only 2,893 vehicles here last year, a sharp drop from 4,816 units in 2012. 
A major management reshuffle was made early last year after the resignation of the Thai executive team.
Tata Motors is the auto arm of the Tata Sons group, an empire headed by Cyrus Mistry that includes more than 100 companies in industries ranging from steel to call centres and chemicals. 
While Tata Motors was seeing a recovery in overall earnings – profit surged 71 per cent in the three months ended September and analysts estimate net income doubled last quarter – they were driven by the Jaguar Land Rover operations. 
Tata Motors’s standalone operations that were headed by Slym posted a loss during the latest fiscal half as products such as the Nano failed to attract customers. 
In an interview last year, Slym said he was seeking to breathe new life into the operation by adding improvements to the egg-shaped Nano and that Tata Motors had overhauled its manufacturing process to ensure fewer problems after cars roll off the assembly line.