Being the eldest son of the industrialist Rahul Bajaj, Rajiv, 45, got the world’s fourth largest two-wheeler firm as part of his inheritance. But in 2001, barely a year after he unofficially took over the reins of the firm, he saw Bajaj Auto slip and lose its No. 1 position in India for the first-time in 45 years. Under his leadership, the company has transformed from one of the largest scooter manufacturers in the world to a potent motorcycle maker. Excerpts from an interview:
How do you define a leader?
A leader is the chief custodian of the brand-force of the organisation, the equivalent of what a doctor is to the immune system of a human being.
What are a leader’s crucial traits?
To understand how the market outside is evolving. To adapt the organisation to this evolution. And to ensure that the entire organisation remains aligned and does not fall apart while adapting.
As the head of the nearly Rs. 20,000 crore Bajaj Auto, how do you cultivate leaders?
Thankfully, I don't have to. They shine through. When I observe one I merely empower them.
Can leadership be learnt? How can a manager become a leader?
Sure! An attitude of leadership can be cultivated by anyone by understanding the weakness in his area of work and then making improvements to overcome them. Leaders demonstrate leadership through their performance.
What is the role of a professional leader in a promoter-driven company?
Its the same as any other. In team work, work is more important than team. In a family business, business is more important than family. Leadership is not a matter of aristocracy but one of meritocracy even in a family business.
What is the role of a leader in uncertain times like today’s?
It is as Al Ries defined: to find the future in current activities of the organisation. Not to defocus it to derisk it.
Why has the role of business leaders come under cloud of late?
Because corporate greed has reached new highs.
What role can good leadership play to counter balance this image?
Good leadership is not corrective but preventive; it should prioritise the bottom line so that the organisations don’t run amuck chasing profitless growth.
Your one-line leadership mantra?
God is in the details, profit in niches.
If your children were to join the family business, what would be the one guiding principle you would give them?
It would be Charles Darwin’s wisdom: its not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survives, but the ones that are the most adaptive to change.
Who are leaders that have inspired you?
Homoeopath Dr Rajan Sankaran of Mumbai, Yogacharya Guruji Bks Iyengar of Pune, marketing strategist Jack Trout of the US.
Homeopathy and leadership?
Yes, contrary to looking at things as piecemeal, like the blind men and the elephant I found that if one looks at things more holistically as homeopathy does, one is likely to achieve far deeper solutions and solutions that are sustainable over time. This approach has reaped good We have not gone down the MBA route in how we approached our business, we’ve gone down the homeopathic route and so far it works for us.
What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learnt?
That most important truths are often contra-intuitive. For example, to sell volumes you must market a niche. Or that we don’t manage our brands, our brands manage us.