The Maruti Story by R C Bhargava & Seetha
Maruti is a marquee Indian story, a car that changed the way India travelled. For my generation Maruti was the first car we dreamt of owning. Most of us have fond memories of our fathers buying their first Maruti car and taking us for that proud ride around the town. It is a story that we have seen unfolding right in front of our eyes and Maruti probably has been a companion in our journey to become global citizens. So with such a strong content both from business perspective and from an emotional connect perspective, the story of Maruti is bound to be very strong and interesting. On top of it, it is literally coming from the horse’s mouth, the man who was at the helm of affairs for most part of the journey.
The story moves more or less chronologically and talks about the genesis of Maruti as we know today, telling tales of finding the right partner for developing a car for Indian markets, learning the tenets of manufacturing from the Japanese and then adapting them for Indian environment, ruling the automobile market for over a decade to taking on the challenge posed by the multiple car makers who entered the country with a wide range of cars. This is the story of a PSU which was making profit from the first year of its inception and went on to become a public limited company that everyone wanted a pie of.
There are many interesting anecdotes in the book like the one of how Suzuki became the foreign partner. While the team was actually looking at European partners and even in Japan they were looking at everyone else but Suzuki. Interestingly Renault and then Daihatsu were the chosen partners but Suzuki almost made a last minute entry and the rest as they say is history. Not many people may know that Maruti Motors Ltd was a company owned by Sanjay Gandhi which was nationalized after his death and then re-christened as Maruti Udyog Ltd, and that the first few models were launched on his birthday in December every year. When the first car came out, N D Tiwari looked at it and said, “Where is the hold all?” and it was duly put on the car and was later taken off, as it did not become popular.
There are lots of places where you can learn some good management lessons and also get insight into the evolution of Indian industry in general. The incidents describing the porting of Japanese manufacturing culture to Gurgaon also make an interesting read. Implementing simple things like punctuality also required a process to be defined and management had to pay attention to it. Quality is not something that Indians were very conscious about and driving quality must have been a huge challenge. The issue of where to establish the new plant, when the industries minister was from South and the whole management was from North and wanted the new plant also to be in the north because of logistics issues, also throws light on how politicians can change the course of things.
Since the author was a part of Maruti for a long period of time, he narrates the story from his point of view. He talks about the challenges faced because of being a Public sector company with a foreign partner. He talks at length about the people who were responsible for making this a success and is also candid about the people who he thought should not have been there. He talks about the character building of the organization, which was not a norm in the country at least to begin with. He talks in detail about the partnerships that were built with the suppliers and dealers and how they became a part of the success story.
Book could have been well rounded if a neutral person wrote it and views of the other protagonists were also taken. People like V Krishnamurthy and his other colleagues who came from BHEL played a crucial role in Maruti’s success and I think the book does not do justice to their role. Even Jagdish Khattar who drove the success of the company during the time competition emerged for it and maintained the leadership for Maruti has been mentioned only in the passing. I think the years post competition were as crucial for Maruti as they were during the first roll out of the car, but authors have not talked much about it.
Overall, it is an interesting book that tells you a story with some lesser-known facts, some insights and some lessons. Read it if you like Business History.
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