It was late 2010, I had just returned to Thailand after completing my Fulbright Fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University, my research focus was the potential for Electric Vehicles. I was on a superhigh, all ready to move to a new assignment, possibly in the Group. Mr. Ravi Kant had dropped by to congratulate us on achieving his set sales milestone, he always kept his word unlike many of the leaders I worked with over the years. He asked to speak with me in private & requested that I come back to India and shift to Passenger Vehicle Business Unit to help with the turnaround. I was extremely reluctant, the role was very restrictive in definition & environment too political, I had been away from India since end 2003 and had grown at a pace which made many people very uncomfortable. But he played his trump card, you owe it to the Group, times are difficult for PVBU and we need your way of looking at things. You can never tell a true TAS that the Group needs you and expect them to decline.
I walked into the One Forbes office and was informed there was no room available for me on the main floor. So, they kindly opened a room which had been used as a storeroom for a while on the lower floor. Not that I thought too highly of dumb fairy tales even as a child, but the image of Cindrella did flash in my mind’s eye. It soon became obvious that we had a significant challenge on every front; leadership, product, understanding of the customer, marketing, talent, sales, customer care, quality, distribution network, you name it. Since Nano was in the eye of the storm, that’s what I had been asked to focus on to begin with. Those were the days when everyone had an opinion, wherever you went, people would let me know what I needed to do to turn it around. Any good business leader speaks less & listens more; I have always practiced the art of picking signals in all the noise. After a few weeks, I was asked privately what I thought, I stated I had heard all the views and agreed only with Tommy the Dog, the stray who sat in the Bombay House lobby. The ones who know my style tend to be comfortable with my sense of humour, it is what keeps me going. The months that followed put me in the path of many ‘powerful’ people who didn’t particularly like my fearlessness in fixing what I felt needed to. The hierarchy was stifling and the name dropping common, I quipped in a meeting, at the rate you are adding people for approval, my Magnificent Seven approval bench will become Ocean’s Eleven. Overnight, a change was made and that’s when the true transformation of PVBU started. A small group of focused leaders at my level who respected each other and held each other accountable took over the transformation. We faced many challenges through the years with several new management being brought in but somehow, we stuck to the original plan and kept our ear to the ground, keeping our customer & their changing aspirations at the heart of every decision. I am delighted that two of that original team head the company now, our story ended well.
Today I was reminded of this phase when listening to a young set annoyed about the workload and lack of work life balance. I do not promote illogical workload nor exploitation but I do believe that stretch assignments bring the highest learning. Those days none of us even thought of complaining, it was a mission for us, we cared about the countless white & blue collar employees and their families, vendors, dealers, customers who depended on us to get it right. I remember completing work at 1 a.m. on 31st Dec and next morning at 5:30 a.m. getting into the car to get to the factory to discuss the product development plan for the next decade. The day was more symbolic as a start of something bigger than us. This intellectual yet people centric result-oriented base is what has given me the freedom today to get the true long-lasting work-life balance. Exit the Matrix, but first make sure you know how to thrive outside of it.