Tata statement throws succession race wide open

Ratan Tata's statement on Wednesday that his successor as the head of the Tata business empire could be from outside the group – and could even be a foreigner or Indian expatriate – has thrown up a whole range of possibilities, with previous bets having to be cancelled.

Speculation so far centred on Ratan's half-brother Noel Tata, with Cyrus Mistry - the son of construction magnate Pallonji Shapoorji Mistry - the other major contender. Mistry senior is the single largest shareholder in Tata Sons, the group's holding company, with an over 18-per cent stake.

The reclusive billionaire gave up his Indian citizenship in 2007 to become an Irish citizen. His son Cyrus, 41, is on the board of Tata Sons, while his son-in-law, Noel Tata, is chief executive of Tata group company Trent.

The Tata group has 98 companies with combined annual revenues of $71 billion (Rs350,000 crore) and 357,000 employees. Set up in 1868, it has only once been headed by a non-Tata - Sir Nowroji Saklatvala, who joined the group as a clerk in 1899 and rose through the ranks to eventually head it. (See also: Tata looking for successor: reports)