New Delhi: In an interview, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd chief executive officer Kenichi Ayukawa talks about the company’s turnaround since the 2012 riot at the company’s Manesar plant. Edited excerpts:
There is a complete transition that you have managed to effect, especially after the incident in Manesar. How has that happened?
I think at that point... me and (Maruti chairman R.C.) Bhargava-san had this same view. Maruti has a very long history of 30 years and Maruti has to go through a transformation. We have to succeed in good things for future. In the 30-year history, we have to improve a lot of things. Those kind of things we have to try to delete. At that point, I discussed with our management people how are we going to do that?
They recommended that we needed more communication. That’s why we have tried to set up some communication. Right now, we have a weekly get-together of all the management team... Also, in the case of the 2012 riot, we recognize that one of the reason was mis-communication with the worker association. That’s why every month, I have a regular meeting with the union people—what are they demanding, what is their current situation, etc. Of course, I explain to them the company situation.
Where were you when the violence happened?
I was in Japan.
Does the violence have to do with the nature of a developing economy? Japan in the 1960s and 1970s was trying to become a manufacturing powerhouse.
I think so. In a country, there is some history between company management and worker associates. Sometimes, there are big disputed issues. But, after that, in case of Japanese companies, we had to collaborate between management and worker associations because... if a company becomes better, employees will get some benefits. If it is not successful, employees cannot get any kind of benefits. That’s why in Japanese companies, there is very good collaboration between management and associations. Unfortunately, India has not established that kind of a concept. That’s why what we have to do; I recognize we have to communicate to the workers. So, what they want to know we have to know. Still, there are some gaps and that is true. In order to bridge that gap, we have to communicate. That’s why every month I try to communicate and sometimes big arguments happen. But that happens peacefully.
The share price is up, market share is at its highest in 10 years. You have launched Nexa (a sales network for premium automobiles). When you took charge, what were the gaps in the day-to-day management that you noticed?
When I came here, I launched a new product. These products were being developed before I came here. The company had to transform a lot of things. My predecessor is a great person and he tried to encourage people. Unfortunately, that incident happened during his tenure. If I am successful under current situation, some of the part depends on what my predecessor did. After I leave, and if my successor is successful in the first 2-3 years, it will depend on what I do.
Do you see a difference in approach to work between you and your predecessor, Shinzo Nakanishi, who was Suzuki’s first employee in the India? He was more of a facilitator. Has that changed at Maruti? Have you tried to bring another approach?
If there are some differences between my and Nakanishi’s leadership, I would like to depend more on our core team. Of course, I have a responsibility towards the company. Originally, I am a marketing guy and, of course, I have experienced some HR and finance areas. But engineering, quality control, etc., is out of my range. That’s why we need strong support from the people. First, explain to me what is happening and what is the reason? I try to reason a proposal... That is very key if I have to decide something.
I understand marketing and sales meetings, which used to go on for hours, now end in minutes. So, there is a change in approach.
The point is a result is a result anytime. Even though it takes long time spent, there is no meaning. We have to create counter-measures in case of marketing. I expect some logic. I ask questions and if they could explain them, I am fine. In case of the Nexa set-up, I agreed with the concept, but they plan to execute it, I don’t instruct in that. Of course, there are concerns and there are risks for any new project. Through my experience, I can manage those kind of risks.
When I joined, I told them I want to rewrite the 30-year-old history. We have quarterly meetings, we reiterate that.
Growth of senior executives is a problem. They hit a ceiling...
Some people are of that view, but our company implemented the executive officer (EO) system. We have more than 15 EOs. Legally, we have to seek approval from the board but I feel the board is only for approvals. But, the actual arrangement is made by the EO team. That is the current situation in Maruti.
Do you feel there is a need for an Indian executive’s representation on the board?
Board members are limited. What is important is that board cannot decide everything.
We have to look at small, little things in order to manage the company properly. That’s why I feel that it is important to choose EOs carefully. Of the 15, five are Japanese. Actual responsibilities depend on Indians.
The top layer from the previous management is not in the executive function anymore. Some have left. Why has it happened?
We have executive officers in the age group between 50 and 55. We have to develop a new generation of leaders. That kind of a transformation is very important.
Since last year, we tried to implement a training programme for all the employees in order to upgrade their status. They need to have some training in order to enhance their capabilities, etc. We are trying to expand that programme. We are starting a work associate (worker union) training...