Tata Sons Ltd have announced that they will actively be looking for a successor to the throne of company chairman Ratan Tata. Ratan, 72, has once said that he wouldn’t want to go out of the company in a wheelchair, and has arranged to retire at the end of 2012. Hot on the lips of everyone is his possible successor, a position to be decided by a five member committee.

Ratan, who never married, has no children. Indian media have speculated that Noel N. Tata, Ratan’s half-brother and son in law of Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, who also happens to be the largest shareholder of the company, may be the man groomed for the job. Noel will join Tata International Ltd, the group’s overseas unit, as MD after stepping down from the same post at retail arm Trent Ltd.

The successful candidate will control a huge conglomerate that has 96 companies making cars from the $72,500 Jaguar XJ to the $2,500 Nano, producing steel and growing tea, among other things. The company creates revenue of over $70 billion and accounts for almost 7% of India’s gross domestic profit. Ratan, who is a Cornell University-trained architect, took the hot seat in 1991 and charted Tata’s growth via at least 35 overseas acquisitions, including steelmaker Corus Group Plc and Jaguar Land Rover.

It’s never easy when a family empire passes from one generation to another. Let’s hope that this one goes smoothly!