Business Today

Five lessons for Indian business from Hero Group founder Brijmohan Lall Munjal's legacy

Honda was not the only Indo-Japanese two-wheeler tie-up, but while other such partnerships like Kawasaki's with Bajaj, and TVS with Suzuki fell by the wayside, Hero Honda chugged along merrily.

Sumant Banerji        Last Updated: November 26, 2015  | 13:44 IST
Starting out with components and then slowly graduating to cycles and motorcycles, Brijmohan Lall Munjal is a success story of dreaming big.
Starting out with components and then slowly graduating to cycles and motorcycles, Brijmohan Lall Munjal is a success story of dreaming big.

Sumant Banerji, Senior Assistant Editor
Visionary, father of the Indian two-wheeler industry, the first true desi business giant, the man who gave the aam aadmi wheels. A plethora of such phrases has been used to describe Brijmohan Lall Munjal, the patriarch of the Hero Group, which is one of the largest two-wheeler firms in the world. Munjal passed away on Sunday night at the ripe age of 92. Starting out with components and then slowly graduating to cycles and motorcycles, his is a success story of dreaming big. Here are the five things that truly make him stand out.

Dream big, stay rooted

It has become a fad to brand any great man as humility personified. But in the case of Munjal, it is anything but a fad. Thanks to his humble rural upbringing, he became more rooted with time even as his company grew in scale and size. From the third tier component supplier to the store operator in his many factories, he has touched lives in unique ways - sometimes enquiring about an ailing child at home or sending a bouquet on a subordinate's marriage anniversary. Staying humble is perhaps the oldest template for a successful business, but Munjal showed us how.

Respect your partners

Hero's rise would not have been possible without the tie-up with Honda, but keeping it intact for 25 years was where he really deserves credit. This was not the only Indo-Japanese two-wheeler tie-up, but while other such partnerships like Kawasaki's with Bajaj, and TVS with Suzuki fell by the wayside, Hero Honda chugged along merrily. The secret ingredient was respect, which the senior Munjal gave to his Japanese counterparts. As a chief executive with Honda once said, "Even when we were just employees of Honda Motor and Munjal is the owner of Hero Group, he treated us on par. You can't ever expect it in Europe or the US."

Never rest on your laurels

Having cracked the code with cycles, a normal businessman would have only expanded and stayed put. Munjal thought differently, first venturing into mopeds and then into motorcycles at a time when scooters enjoyed a premium and a huge waiting period. His decision to get into motorcycles, fraught with dangers of failure, ultimately proved to be a masterstroke. So much so that Bajaj Auto had to change track and focus on motorcycles instead. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery and when it comes from an arch rival, it is even sweeter. The fact that he left us with an unfulfilled dream of making cars proves the entrepreneurial zeal was still burning in him.

Keep it within the family

Doing business in a country like India, where intellectual property rights are among the most lax in the world, can be dangerous. But Munjal came up with a unique way to insulate his company from that. In the cycle and, subsequently, the motorcycle business, he awarded contracts for making ancillaries to his immediate family members like his three brothers and fellow immigrants from Pakistan. This not only ensured lifelong loyalty of the suppliers to the Munjal family, but also a firmer management on the downstream industries. If the Japanese manufacturers preferred suppliers of their own nationality, Munjal created his own ring of extended family around his business.

Plan the succession well

Most businessmen from Punjab are well aware of the pitfalls of neglecting succession planning. Munjal was no different. In the latter part of his life, even as he stepped away from the limelight, he not only ensured a seamless disentangling of various cross holdings between the larger Munjal family (his three brothers O.P. Munjal, Satyanand Munjal and Dayanand Munjal), but also between his two sons Pawan and Sunil Munjal in Hero MotoCorp. A fight for the spoils in a company as large as Hero can be detrimental to its shareholders but Munjal senior ensured his investors need not worry. He leaves behind an enduring legacy and a blueprint to create a successful business empire in India.

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