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How Anand Mahindra built his $12.5-billion empire

How Anand Mahindra built his $12.5-billion empire

Dubbed as a takeover tycoon, the Mahindra and Mahindra vice-chairman and MD has not confined to acquisitions alone. Anand Mahindra's 360-degree view of life had management thinker C.K. Prahalad define his sprawl of businesses 'Fortress Mahindra' - an empire that spans not just a hundred countries but has valuable links in multiple industries.

Anand Mahindra Anand Mahindra
For many Indian businessmen, the reforms of July 1991 spelt the end of a cosy way of life. For Anand Mahindra, it nearly meant the end of his life. Striking workers of the Kandivali factory of Mahindra & Mahindra, or M&M, in Mumbai had gheraoed him in his plant office and were baying for his blood. Mahindra, then 36 and deputy managing director of a company known for its tractors and the Jeep, had said there would be no Diwali bonus unless workers stepped up productivity. Mahindra's ordeal lasted for nearly four hours, before the workers calmed down.

Mahindra, who had been brought in earlier that year from Mahindra Ugine Steel, another business controlled by his family, held his ground and the workers yielded, agreeing to increase productivity. The 1,230-odd workers at the engine factory in Igatpuri, 125 km northeast of Mumbai, who had decided not to make more than 70 units a day even if this left them enough time to play cards, also gave in.

Bharat Doshi, Group CFO, Mahindra & Mahindra
Productivity gains ranged from 50 to 150 per cent: Bharat Doshi on the gains after the 1991 strike
Three years later, around half that number were churning out 125 engines a day. "Productivity gains ranged from 50 to 150 per cent," recalls Bharat Doshi, Group Chief Financial Officer, who has been with the group longer than his boss.

Today, Mahindra does not worry as much about productivity as about what his next big project will be. Another passenger car, a sports utility vehicle, a truck - or an aircraft? Twenty Diwalis since that day in 1991, the group's businesses span all these - and holiday resorts, financial services and defence. When he does not want to start from scratch - which he did with the Scorpio utility vehicle in 2002 - he buys a company, as he did with the Reva electric car.

: Anand Mahindra on the new 'Rise' campaign

In the past four years, he has acquired Punjab Tractors (doubling M&M's share of the tractor market and making it a global leader), Satyam Computer Services, Reva, two-wheeler maker Kinetic, and South Korea's automaker Ssangyong.

Mahindra's goal seems to be global leadership for his group, which in 2010/11 reported a net profit of over Rs 4,800 crore on sales of nearly Rs 37,000 crore. In 1991, group revenues are estimated to have been around Rs 1,520 crore, based on a Prowess database search of group companies.

Keenly watching him will be the stock market, which has pushed up his flagship M&M's stock price by 995 per cent since Mahindra took charge, despite two stock splits since 2005. In the same period, the Bombay Stock Exchange's 30-share Sensex, which includes M&M, has risen 794 per cent.

In a report prepared after M&M's first quarter results, Mumbai brokerage Kotak Institutional Securities upgraded the scrip to a 'buy', citing robust demand for both the Scorpio and Bolero utility vehicles as well as the new Maxximo and Gio light commercial vehicles.

Mahindra's indigenous anti mine vehicle
Mahindra's indigenous anti mine vehicle
Look back across some 16 years, and the picture was not always so gung-ho. Mahindra's record in joint ventures has been far from stellar. In 1995, hungry for partnership with a multinational that would bring in much-needed technology and management expertise, his group tied up with Ford Motor of the US but the venture petered out in a few years after its first car, the Escort, flopped.

Since then, Mahindra has not had much luck with two other partnerships in automotives. M&M's venture with Illinois, US-based Navistar International has not gained traction because of delays in rolling out medium and heavy commercial vehicles and the competition from new, low-cost rivals such as AMW, the Gujarat-based truckmaker.

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Mahindra Navistar reported a loss of Rs 186 crore last year. A bigger setback for M&M has been the Logan, a mid-size sedan that is the offspring of its venture with France's Renault. The car flopped and the partners parted ways after four years of friction.

Hemant Luthra, President, Systech Sector
We want to do to regional aerospace what our vehicles have done to rural transport: Hemant Luthra
M&M is selling the remaining units as its Verito, while Renault is trying to make its mark in a higher segment with Fluence. M&M's big non-auto joint venture, the one with British Telecom in software services, forged before Mahindra Ford, had a reasonable run before BT reduced its stake in 2010 to around 30 per cent.

Mahindra counts these setbacks among the invaluable lessons he has learnt. "Everybody enters a joint venture with a what's-in-it-for-you-and-what's-in-it-for-me attitude," he says. "[Before the venture with Ford] we had no experience in making a hard-top vehicle, or in modern methods of manufacturing." And then he drops the punch line: "The 300 people who put the Ford Escort together were the first ones to work on the Scorpio. It can be argued that we would not have been able to make the Scorpio without the Ford joint venture."

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Even with the Mahindra-Renault JV, Mahindra believes that both companies have benefited from the experience. The story of Scorpio, M&M's big-selling utility vehicle, is now a case study at Harvard Business School, where Mahindra did his MBA in 1981. (He had majored in film-making and photography from the same university.)

In addition to the learning from Ford, Mahindra knew he needed the right people for the Scorpio project. He turned to Pawan Goenka, who had come from General Motors in 1993 as General Manager for Research and Development but was on the verge of leaving.

Goenka, a specialist in engine technologies, was riveted by the audacious plan to develop a vehicle from scratch in India and bought into Mahindra's dream. He spent the next few years learning other parts of automotive technology and building a team of skilled young engineers.

In 2002, the Scorpio was born at a total project cost of Rs 550 crore. There were many remarkable things about it. First, Indian companies were not known to develop their own vehicles. Second, it was developed at a tenth of the cost that a large manufacturer would have incurred. And, the Scorpio has become a platform, first for the Xylo in 2009 and then for the XUV5OO, slated for launch in India and South Africa later this year.

 Mahindra acquisitions

In July, M&M buys 64.6 per cent of Punjab Tractors for about Rs 1,400 crore. Retains the Swaraj brand and turns the company around in two years. In 2008/09, just before it is merged with M&M, Punjab Tractors reports a profi t of Rs 200 crore. The Swaraj brand has increased its marketshare from nine per cent in 2007 to 12 per cent today. Overall, M&M had 42 per cent of India's tractor market in 2010/11.

Selling over 202,000 tractors a year, it is the world's largest tractor company by volume. Farm equipment is the single largest contributor to M&M's revenues.

M&M buys an 80 per cent stake in Kinetic Motors' two-wheeler business for Rs 110 crore. This is run as a separate company - Mahindra 2 Wheelers. In 2010/11, the company had 7.6 per cent of the scooters market, against 4.8 per cent the year earlier. Motorcycle sales have been poor, but Mahindra 2 Wheelers is the fi rst Indian company to take part in the MotoGP motorcycle racing series and has enjoyed some success in the 125cc category with riders Marcel Schrotter and Danny Webb.

Tech Mahindra, which began life as a venture with British Telecom and later became the information technology business of the M&M Group, buys Satyam Computer Services in June 2009 when the government puts Satyam on the block following revelations of an accounting fraud committed by its Founder-Chairman B. Ramalinga Raju. Tech Mahindra pays an estimated Rs 2,650 crore for a 51 per cent stake. Rebranded as Mahindra-Satyam, the new company declares a consolidated net profi t of Rs 225.2 crore for the April-June quarter of 2011/12, its fi rst since the takeover.

May 2010
Mahindra buys a 55.2 per cent stake in Reva Electric Car Co, most of it from Reva's (in the pic) promoter. It also brings in fresh equity. Even though Mahindra-Reva made a loss of Rs 28 crore in 2010/11, Pawan Goenka, President of M&M Automotive, feels that M&M will benefi t in the long run from Reva's electric vehicle technology, and the acquisition will revive M&M's own alternative propulsion projects. Mahindra-Reva plans to launch a new vehicle, NXR, soon.

November 2010

M&M acquires a 70 per cent stake in South Korea's Ssangyong Motor Co for about Rs 2,100 crore, including bonds. It is the largest outbound deal by M&M, which now plans to introduce Ssangyong vehicles in India in 2012, develop vehicles jointly, as well as use Ssangyong's marketing and distribution reach in Russia, Latin America and Western Europe to realise its ambitions of becoming a global major. Ssangyong closed the 2010 Jan-Dec fi nancial year with a net loss of Rs 220 crore.

Other acquisitions
Mahindra Systech has been acquiring automotive component and aerospace companies aggressively since 2003. Several were privately held fi rms and no values were given. Among them: Schoneweiss (axle-beam manufacturer, Germany); Jeco Holding (forgings, Germany); DGP Hinoday Industries (castings and ferrites, India); Falkenroth (forgings, Germany); Stokes Group (forgings, Britain); Amforge Industries (forgings, India); Plexion Technologies (engineering services, India); Metalcastello (castings, Italy along with ICICI Venture); SAR Transmissions (gears, India); Engines Engineering (automotive, Italy); Gippsland Aeronautics and Aerostaff Aircraft Manufacturing (aerospace, Australia).

Anand Mahindra with a Mahindra Navistar truck
Anand Mahindra with a Mahindra Navistar truck
The Scorpio "did wonders for the Mahindra brand in urban India", says Mahindra. It also became the group's flagship for expansion into new markets. It is sold in several West European countries as the 'Mahindra Goa' and uses its Scorpio moniker in Africa, where it can be found from Cairo to Cape Town. It might be outsold by the older and cheaper Bolero in India, but combined with exports, some 60,000 Scorpios were sold in 2010/11. Though a plan to sell Scorpios in the US failed in 2010, M&M plans to make a fresh push in the world's largest vehicle market with the Scorpio and the XUV5OO shortly.

More than just sales and profits, the Scorpio platform has given M&M a huge boost as value-seeking customers turn to it. "In comfort, the Innova is far ahead for city driving but the Scorpio scores on mileage and cost, as also service quality at dealerships," says Ravinder Chauhan, co-owner of Delhi-based MS Engineering, a construction contractor with Indian Oil. Chauhan's family owns both an Innova and a Scorpio.

Back at M&M, Goenka does not personally design vehicles anymore, but is the top dog for the group's automotive and farm equipment businesses. One in two tractors bought today in India is badged M&M after the 2008 Punjab Tractors buy, despite several international players - New Holland and John Deere among them - having entered the market in the past few years. (See Mahindra Aquisitions) Two joint ventures in China, one with Jiangling and the other with Yueda Yancheng, have made M&M not just the second largest tractor maker in that country but also the biggest in the world by volumes. In the US, it sells tractors made by manufacturers in South Korea and Japan under its own brand. Next: Africa and global leadership.

Giving Indians wings

Millions of utility vehicles and hundreds of thousands of tractors wearing the Mahindra badge dot the country's roads and farms, respectively. Will Mahindra one day similarly own the skies? In 2008, Systech, the components arm of the Mahindra Group, bought Australia-based GippsAero. The Gipps Airvan, an eight-seater by GippsAero has had limited success since the acquisition, with about 60 planes sold last year. In 2007, M&M had bought Bangalore-based engineering services firm Plexion, which had several aeronautical experts in its ranks. This led to a 2008 tie-up between M&M and the National Aerospace Laboratories to build a four- to five-seater aircraft, the NM-5. It is expected to take its first flight before the end of 2011. The prototype is being developed at GippsAero's facilities in Australia.

Hemant Luthra, President, Systech, says the experience of making aircraft will also help it gain business in the burgeoning civil and defence markets for aerospace components. Anand Mahindra believes Indians would take to the skies in droves if flying became affordable. The NM-5 achieves to do just that, with a target price of around Rs 2 crore. The catch? India's civil aviation rules prohibit a single-engined aircraft from carrying four or more fare-paying passengers. That is why the Airvan and the NM-5 are not in Indian skies as yet. But Luthra is confident the rules will be changed, and Mahindra's vision of thousands of Indians crisscrossing the country in small planes will come true.

Pawan Goenka, President, Automotive & Farm Equipment Sectors
We have appointed only six people from here in Ssangyong and the CFO is the only top Indian there: Pawan Goenka
Each of M&M's automotive acquisitions over the last three years was significant in its own way. Reva, the Bangalore manufacturer of electric cars that it acquired for Rs 150 crore, is a technology play. "They have competent technology, a well-regarded product and ambitious plans. But they did not have the resources to go forward," says Goenka. The beginning has been good. Soon after M&M bought Reva, the government announced tax breaks for electric cars, something that Chetan Maini - whose dream Reva was - kept moping about but never got.

To be sure, there has been no such happy beginning for Mahindra Two Wheelers, the new name given to Kinetic. While overall scooter sales doubled last year, they still account for just a fifth of total two-wheeler sales in India. And, Mahindra motorcycles - the company launched five models, including relaunches within a year - has not taken off even though the market is growing and the brand is backed by Aamir Khan and Kareena Kapoor, actors known for their Midas touch in movies and endorsements.

Anand Mahindra
...we would not have been able to make the Scorpio without the Ford joint venture: Anand Mahindra
In a recent interview to a television channel, Mahindra agreed that he came into the market with the wrong product, but vowed to strike back with a relaunch soon.

The really big bet at M&M is being played out in Seoul. China's Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, or SAIC, had acquired 49 per cent equity in South Korea's Ssangyong in 2004. But sales collapsed as fuel prices shot up, emission standards in its export markets became stringent, and the global financial crisis erupted.

Faced with strikes and unable to cut costs, Ssangyong filed for bankruptcy in January 2009. SAIC diluted its holding to 3.79 per cent in July next year. When M&M first announced its intent to acquire Ssangyong, it was not without reason that its shares fell. But unlike Tata Motors' acquisition of Britain's Jaguar Land Rover, or JLR, in 2008, which took time to turn operationally profitable and left Tata with a pile of debt, the Ssangyong deal was smooth.

The target was free of debt, its operations profitable and it trimmed its workforce before M&M came in. And M&M paid $463 million - some 60 per cent less than what SAIC had paid in 2004.

Now, Mahindra's task is to win over the unions. "We have appointed only six people from here in management roles in Korea, and the chief financial officer is the only top Indian executive," says Goenka. The idea is to get the Ssanyong employees to believe in themselves. Of the 120,000 vehicles Ssangyong produced last year, 65 per cent were exported. But it is not just entry into new global markets, M&M will also develop all major platforms in the future with Ssangyong and plans to start selling products from South Korea in the Indian market next year.

As Mahindra strives to get Ssangyong back on the rails, he can take inspiration from his success with Satyam Computers. Tech Mahindra, the Mahindra-BT joint venture, won Satyam in an auction by the government, which had taken control after Founder and Chairman Ramalinga Raju was accused of overstating key financial numbers. Mahindra had actually reached out to Raju just weeks before the scandal broke. "He did not respond," he says, tongue in cheek, "for now very-well-known reasons."

Rajeev Dubey, President, Group HR & Aftermarket Sector, Mahindra & Mahindra
We took difficult decisions at Satyam but we made sure that everybody was kept informed: Rajeev Dubey
Apart from dealing with tax issues, handling employee morale at Satyam was the biggest challenge. As Rajeev Dubey, M&M's head of Human Resources, says, Satyam employees had no idea what the future was going to be. "Yes, we had to take some difficult decisions, but we made sure that everybody was kept informed; communication was vital." No one will talk about it, but the next step in harvesting synergies among the Mahindra group tech businesses is to combine Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Satyam in the future.

A management consultant who has worked with Mahindra closely says he has not seen an Indian businessman with "a better left brain, right brain" combination - creativity in business combined with a feel for numbers. In 2000, when Indian groups started buying global assets, the Mahindra group was much smaller, with revenues of about $1 billion. "Not only was he smaller than the Tatas or Birlas, his family's shareholding in group businesses was relatively low making him more vulnerable than them," says the consultant. The consultant, who works at a US management firm, requested he not be named.

This explains the heightened sense of caution with which M&M goes after acquisitions, especially those with a higher degree of risk or of a size that may be difficult to digest. An example is the group's decision to drop out of the race to buy JLR.

The Tatas, who had deeper pockets, bagged it. A strategy Mahindra uses to pare risk is to rope in private equity, as in M&M's acquisition of Italian auto component maker Metalcastello along with ICICI Venture. So too, it acquired Australian airplane maker GippsAero along with Kotak Private Equity.

A takeover tycoon he may be, but Mahindra is not done with entering new areas on his own. Looking at the promise in defence equipment, M&M has developed an urban patrol vehicle, the Marksman, based on the Scorpio. Kutub Hai, a former Brigadier, who is the Chief Executive of Mahindra Land Defence Systems, a joint venture with British Aerospace, says the company can hope to get up to 20 per cent of the $100 billion defence market in the coming decade.

The rise campaign
The rise campaign
Rising to the top
How Mahindra's 'Rise' campaign came to fruition

In mid-2009, Scott Goodson, the founder and creative head of StrawberryFrog, a boutique American advertising agency, met Anand Mahindra in Mumbai. Mahindra had appointed Global Vehicles as distributor for its Scorpio sports utility vehicle in the United States, and Global had roped in StrawberryFrog.

Goodson, who specialises in 'movement marketing', wanted to understand what Mahindra & Mahindra was all about. He had been surprised by what he found. Most Mahindra's managers, he noted, felt they were working for a higher purpose but seemed unable to articulate it. Goodson told Mahindra boldly, "You yourself do not understand what kind of company you are running."

Following months of research and interviews with all stakeholders, the 'Rise' slogan was born. It emphasised three core principles - accept no limits, think alternatively and drive positive change.

But Mahindra wanted this to be more than an advertising campaign. "Our core purpose earlier was to prove that Indians are second to none," he says. But later M&M, having acquired thousands of employees in Germany, Korea, China and elsewhere, needed to redefine this.

Mahindra admits that not every employee will buy the 'Rise' idea. Surprisingly, employees of Mahindra-Satyam were the biggest supporters of 'Rise', presumably because they had suffered a serious identity crisis when their company's founder perpetrated a scam.

Ironically, Mahindra's plans for a US launch were scuppered by legal issues with Global Vehicles. So while StrawberryFrog never got around to doing the advertisement it was intended to do in the US, it has done a massive campaign in India.

Even more bullish is Hemant Luthra, President, Systech Sector, who heads the group's component side and oversees the entry into aerospace. In 2007, he masterminded the acquisition of Australia's GippsAero, which makes small commercial aircraft. Luthra has also taken the company into a joint venture with National Aerospace Laboratories, Bangalore, to develop a small aircraft.

Scheduled to take to the air soon, it is expected to be priced at Rs 2 crore. The cheapest such offering in the market today costs Rs 5 crore. "We want to do to regional aerospace what we have done to rural transport," says Luthra. Mahindra shares his vision of scores of small planes taking off from towns across the country, with fares slightly higher than the highest railway fares. That would fit in with M&M's new campaign: 'Rise - No Limits, Positive Change, Alternative Thinking' .

Mahindra's 360-degree view of life - he has 350,000-plus followers on Twitter and adds 2,500 every week - had management thinker C.K. Prahalad, about a year before he died in April 2010, dub his sprawl of businesses 'Fortress Mahindra', an empire that spans not just a hundred countries but has valuable links in multiple industries.

Despite aggressively expanding the contours of his conglomerate - he prefers to call it a federation - Mahindra, now 56, makes you feel that he has not really forgotten the day he was confined to his office 20 years ago. "When you have stared down the abyss, you get a sort of confidence," he says.

Edited by Suveen K. Sinha and Somnath Dasgupta

Published on: Sep 14, 2011, 1:10 PM IST
Posted by: Navneeta N, Sep 14, 2011, 1:10 PM IST