Gods of big things

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 14, 2015 15:36 IST

Suhel Seth has coaxed India's biggest CEOs including Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani to part with their success mantras for his new book. An excerpt from the chapter on Anand Mahindra.

When Narendra Modi's grey Scorpio entered the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan for his swearing-in ceremony on 26 May 2014, Anand Mahindra was elated.

The chairman and managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra Limited (M&M) tweeted: 'On behalf of the Mahindra Group, I express enormous pride that Modiji chose our Made-in-India-with-Pride chariot to ride to Rashtrapati Bhavan.'

The Scorpio might be Anand Mahindra's biggest success, but in the past twenty-six years, he has evolved the Mahindra group into a federation which, he thinks, should keep growing by leaps and bounds even when he is not around.

M&M wasn't always this big. Two years before Independence, it was started as a steel trading company in Bombay under the name Mahindra and Mohammed by two brothers and another collaborator. After Partition, in 1947, one of the founders, Ghulam Mohammed, moved to Pakistan as its first finance minister. The two brothers, JC and KC Mahindra, continued to run the company, which was renamed as Mahindra & Mahindra. The manufacture of the iconic Willys Jeep in India, back then, was a starting point to making their own vehicles.

Today, M&M is valued at $16.5 billion; it employs over 180,000 people around the world and operates in industries such as automobiles, defence, aerospace, information technology and BPOs, financial services, hospitality and retail. And this is, in a large part, due to the strategic planning and derring-do of Anand Mahindra.

...Since he took over the company in 1989-even though his uncle, Keshub Mahindra, was still the chairman - Anand has launched a series of ventures in India with international players. One such venture was with the American car manufacturer Ford, to launch the Ford Escort in India in 1996. The car flopped, but for Anand, it was a great learning experience. The team of 300 people who developed the Escort were the ones who worked on the first-generation Scorpio.

'If you want to lead a large, complex and multi-business organization, you have to know when and how to let go, and empower others. Empowerment is the algebraic outcome of curiosity and humility. You have to know, and believe in your gut that you are not the smartest person in the room, and that optimal strategies emerge from conversations and collaboration,' says Anand.

Had he not trusted and empowered those 300 employees and let go of the failure of the Escort, perhaps he would never have been able to create the Scorpio... And if Anand would have ridden solely on the success of the Scorpio, he would perhaps not have got the title of 'Renaissance Man'2. 'Success requires, above all, a deep desire to excel, and be the best that you can be, given the cards that you were dealt when you came into the world,' says Anand.

The M&M that we see today is an outcome of these mantras.

In 2011, M&M bought a majority stake in Korean automobile manufacturer SsangYong Motor, which helped it leapfrog into the premium league of SUVs. The number of SsangYong vehicles sold in India is small, but the company has a significant presence in the Latin American and Southeast Asian markets. Anand also acquired Reva, the electric car company, in 2010, which is now called Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Pvt. Ltd...

But Anand's most audacious investment by far was buying Satyam Computer Services in 2010... not only did Satyam make a spectacular turnaround, but the acquisition and merger made TechM the country's fifth-largest IT company - after TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL Technologies (Cognizant Technologies, which is bigger than TechM, is listed abroad)...

This is where Anand's success mantra finds its best place. 'In an increasingly complex and confusing world, I find that I can rely on my internal "GPS" system for directions in large measure because of my liberal arts education. What that provided me was the capacity to leverage right-brain thinking and see the forest beyond the trees. Larger patterns and opportunities emerge, even when seemingly confronted by a maze of overgrown hedges in the immediate foreground.'

Success requires, above all, a deep desire to excel, and be the best that you can be, given the cards that you were dealt when you came into the world.

Leverage [your] right-brain thinking and see the forest beyond the trees. [This way] Larger patterns and opportunities emerge.

Step back and let the right individuals lead and ‘own’ their specific sectors of business. […] with any luck, leadership within your group can grow like a benevolent virus.

You need enormous... curiosity. About everything... Curiosity is the principal enabler of learning. Even if you’re not as gifted or intelligent as you’d like to be, you can outstrip those ostensibly smarter than you simply by letting your mind be a sponge for information and knowledge...

Mantras for Success; India's Greatest CEOs Tell You How To Win
Suhel Seth with Sunny Sen; Rupa
Rs 394; PP272

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