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The Anand Mahindra Chat

We thought we had got the time wrong when Anand Mahindra did not appear on the horizon at 0600 hours on Independence Day. Just as a couple of colleagues took off in different directions in search of the young businessman, we spotted the headlights of a Mahindra and Mahindra Armada and a familiar visage inside. Mahindra was refreshingly candid, disarmingly informal and a pleasure to start a hectic day with. His responses were very interesting. Why don't you check them out?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:42 IST)
Good Morning and Jaihind.

Robina Ahmed (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:37 IST)
Is Mr Mahindra in? Do you think the fifty years of Independence is an occasion to celebrate?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:45 IST)
Hi Robina: I'm finally in. Fortunately, nobody asked me to punch my card because I'm fifteen minutes late. And in answer to your question, this is definitely a time to celebrate. It would be different if you asked me to take stock of the last fifty years. But there is always a time to party and a time to crossexamine yourself. We will leave it that way.

Ajit Donald (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:45 IST)
Anand, you are the new breed of industrialist. It is very obvious because you are here at 6 in the morning. Most people abroad believe that India can never be an economic dynamo like China. Do you agree with such a despondent hypothesis?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:49 IST)
Ajit Donald: I agree we can't be an economic dynamo like China. But I'm equally clear that we don't want to be equated to them. There are a lot of caveats that come with the Chinese context. The very fact that we are talking today on this medium and can say what the hell we like about Gujral et al, means we can't be an economic dynamo like China, but it also means China can never be as fulfilling for its citizens as India is for all of us. Amen.

Jeevan (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:43 IST)
Mr Mahindra: Is it true that your company was based in Pakistan before Independence? And it was called Mohammad & Mahindra.

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:52 IST)
Jeevan: Yes you are absolutely right. Except that it was Mahindra and Mohammed, but that's a matter of egotistic detail. Ghulam Mohammed, who was my grandfather's partner, unfortunately decided to join Pakistan after Partition and in fact became its first governor general. The folklore in our company has it that we couldn't afford to change the stationery, which already said "M&M" and thus came the name Mahindra and Mahindra!

princess (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:51 IST)
There is a lot of concern over the recession in the automobile industry, with unsold stock piling up etc. Yur Kandivili place must look like a junkyard. Do you see a turnaround happening in the near future? What will bring it about? Do you see the government as a stumbling block, by not allowing quick imports of ckds etc?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:57 IST)
Princess: With such an alluring name I'm surprised you are asking such a downbeat question. Please remember it's 6 am over here and I need more joy than a cup of black coffee. In any case I'm delighted to tell you that Kandivili is one of the few places that has empty stock yards because utility vehicles are the one bright spot in the auto industry right now. We are selling as many as we can make . This is because we positioned ourselves as a rural transport company a long time ago and our ten seater vehicles are the backbone of intra-village transport throughout the country.You may be aware that the current recession is largely urban-based and after 10 good monsoons in a row the rural markets are certainly not hurting in other words I'm not here this early in the morning because I'm out of work.

princess (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:56 IST)
that's an interesting lore about your grandfather's partner, but it is soooo incomplete. tell us, was the parting bitter? did it affect the partnership firm financially? what was the settlement? did it set back your plans? like india with pak being a superpower, do you think partition affected your company too adversely?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:2 IST)
Princess: Parting was very amicable. In fact there is an amusing story about how Ghulam Mohammed came back in the early 50s to N Delhi on a state visit and made a point of dropping in on my great grandmother who used to treat him like one of her sons. In spite of the panoply of power that accompanied him -- flashing lights on cars, bodyguards etc, she was unimpressed and the 80-year-old lady proceeded to browbeat him about why he hadn't visited her for so long and whether he was eating well in Pakistan! Very briefly, the business was too nascent at the time of his departure and obviously we did quite well even without him.

Salman (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:56 IST)
I am disturbed by the xenophobia in Indian business. You guys seem almost paranoid about competing with foreign business. After all this talk about a level playing field, it is clear that it is the foreigner who has a non level playing field. Comment!

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:6 IST)
Salman: Xenophobia is a rather harsh term and should be reserved for Korean businessmen. In fact, I think Indian industry should be complimented for being so open thus far to foreign investment. The occasional and sporadic opposition you'll find are the dying gasps of uncompetitive companies and you can't expect people to fade away without a death gurgle. You find that there are a lot of quiet and unsung success stories in new age businesses such as software, that are mushrooming all over the country that will have no problem in competing with the best.

A Trotman (Thu Aug 14 1997 17:45 IST)
One thing that turns most Westerners off about doing business in India is the corruption. How do you think this menace can be overcome?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:10 IST)
A Trotman: Alex, its nice to know that you wield a mean keyboard . Are you the same guy that innaugurated our Mahindra Ford joint venture last year? It is interesting that you ask about bending rules. Its well known that M&M seemed stodgy and slow during the last 30 years because it refused to play the Delhi game to get business. Ironically, that very handicap has translated into a resource today since most foreign companies seek us out because of our sterling reputation. It is slowly sinking into most Indian businessmen that being honest is simply a matter of enlightened self interest.

Mewar (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:0 IST)
Did you become MD in March because of your ability or because of your last name?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:15 IST)
Mewar: Let me tell you straight that I would be a moron if I claimed that my becoming MD had nothing to do with my last name. It is also a fact, however, that I worked hard at accumulating some credentials. Forgive my modesty, but in answer to your honest question I'll have to tell you that I graduated first in class in high school and was a national scholar; was on full merit scholarship as an under graduate at Harvard college and didn't do too badly while getting my MBA at Harvard Business School. Having said all that it is true that my last name got me the job, but it is equally true that how well the company does from now on will decide whether I retain the job.

princess (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:6 IST)
if you are not here because you are not out of work, how come you are here? oh i get it, on the way from your constitutional on marine drive, isn't it? so are you a health freak? and yes, for an indian businessman, you are very articulate (words like panoply, i mean. very impressed sir). are your peers in the pantheon too like this only?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:19 IST)
Princess: You sound a very, very, cool princess and I think you and I could almost get illegitimate over the Net. But I think I'm going to have to start answering some other princes, queens and noblemen. My last answer to you is that I don't jog on Marine Drive. Thats almost a steeplehase jumping over all the shit that litters the Drive. I prefer to work out in my modest gym at home!

Salman (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:13 IST)
The chaebols may be xenophobic in your opinion, but look where they are. Daewoo, Hyundai and Samsung are global players. I doubt if five Indian companies will be gps when we turn 60! I think Indians suffer from this vision defect. be it in politics where we dont't have one politician articulating a clear agenda for the future or in business.

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:25 IST)
Salman: I am an avid student of the chaebols and like you am impressed with what they have achieved. But look closer at how they did it. The very circumstances that allowed them to thrive i e government protection, cheap credit (20-1 debt equity!) and controlled labour markets are the very things that have been denied, and rightly so, to Indian businessmen post-liberalisation. Anyone who has the temerity to ask for such circumstances in India today is immediately branded a wimp and a member of the Bombay Club. I also think you are not au courant with the situation facing the chaebols today. I suggest you look into what's happened to Sammi Steel, Hanbo Steel and to Kia Motors. Most investment analysts feel that Korean businesses are uniquely ill-equipped to deal with globally competitive environments once the barriers to their own markets are lifted.

Jeevan (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:8 IST)
Mr Mahindra: Let's not talk all about business>> What are your hobbies, do you like to play cricket or soccer?:?

sandy (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:24 IST)
Mr Mahindra: YOur hobbies please??

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:31 IST)
Jeevan/Sandy: Aah! finally some renaissance people with some renaissance questions. I was tiring of the business talk myself. My undergraduate major was in film-making and photography. And I retain that interest even today although I only watch films and don't make them anymore and I must admit that my photography is largely confined to portraiture of my wife and kids. But my wife is a knockout and photographing her can be a full time job.

Mewar (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:28 IST)
Thank you for your candour. It is so refreshing in Indian businessmen who are so politically correct. I don't doubt your intelligence, what I am asking is: Are you ready to redefine the rules of the game or just staying with a safe pair of hands?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:37 IST)
Mewar: I apologise if I got overly defensive about my intelligence, but as you could imagine I have grown up defending myself against people who presumed I had been gifted all the good things that happened to me. As far as playing safe is concerned let me tell you that the good thing about being born with that last name is that I'm not in it for the money. I'm here to be creative and to make a difference. Otherwise, I'm very clear that film-making was much more fun and if I couldn't do something special with our companies, I'd pick up my Arriflex camera anytime. (Although the way the film industry is being preyed upon by the Bombay's underworld, being a businessman seems a better guarantee of longevity!)

Mewar (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:41 IST)
I believe you went to Harvard to study cinema. Was that not unusual for Harish Mahindra's son? I mean was it not obvious that you would at some point take over the family business? Also, did you ever encounter Bill during your peregrinations on the campus?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:50 IST)
Mewar: If you remember my last answer to you I admitted my defensiveness about my intelligence. The real reason I decided to study something so different from business was because I got tired of people presuming I would slip seamlessly into daddy's business and I guess I was out to prove that I could excel in a field where daddy obviously had no influence whatsoever. Once I received a summa cum laude for my thesis film, it was like a catharsis and I had nothing to prove anymore. It is interesting that you asked about Bill. He was in the same undergrad class that I was in -- 77. However in his two years at Harvard, he resided in the nerd dorms up at Radcliffe, and I don't recall ever bumping into him. However when he came to India recently he had a private meeting with me partially because I was a classmate of his. I started the conversation by saying that I had a grudge against him. He looked startled until I told him that because of him, my daughters will always view me as a failure in comparison to this illustrious batchmate of mine!

princess (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:32 IST)
I am determined to be a pest whether you like it or not! i see you have deftly sidestepped questions (mine, trotman's) about your wife etc. any special reason apart from refusing to bare your personal life to strangers? i think i will tell the attractive publisher about you making a pass on the net

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:52 IST)
Princess: I'm shipping out as well so I suggest you do as well. Let's keep our dangerous liason secret, shall we? When we next meet I'll make sure Anuradha is there as well.

Rediff (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:46 IST)
Question for Mr Mahindra from Sudhir: Mr Mahindra, why doesn't some leading industrialist take plunge into active politics and try to run the country by bring your vision, ideas and the management skill?

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:59 IST)
Rediff: It isn't as if industrialists haven't tried to enter politics. Viren Shah, Kamal Morarka et al. But they haven't been particularly successful and they haven't done what I think is essential -- give up their business career. Today, institutional investors want focussed CEOs in charge of their money, not dillettante politicians. There is also a vestigial stigma against businessmen which handicaps them from seeking a popular franchise. I would, however, look more seriously at a later point in time, at a job in the bureaucracy to make that cadre more dynamic. After all, they are the implementers.

A Trotman (Thu Aug 14 1997 18:48 IST)
Anand: at the Red Fort, I can see only Ambassadors... no Commanders or Mahindra Fords...

Anand Mahindra (Thu Aug 14 1997 19:3 IST)
Hasta La Vista people. By the way Sir Alex, I think you missed the 75 Mahindra vehicles that carried the freedom fighters, led by the first one in a shiny red Classic. As you can see we were carrying the really important passenger load!

Questions that Anand Mahindra did not answer