An interview with Anand Mahindra

An interview with Anand Mahindra, MD – Mahindra & Mahindra.

Anand Mahindra, vice chairman & managing director, Mahindra & Mahindra, has won CNBC Asia‘s Business Leader Award for the year 2005.

The Asia Business Leader Award is CNBC’s prestigious honour, which aims at recognizing the outstanding performance by a corporate on the Asian continent.

Excerpts from an interview given to CNBC-TV18:

It is very fitting that you should win the award because this is the year when India has been going out — it has been a year of huge investments outside but for you personally what has it been? Has it been a year or two years where you have really seen unlocking value?

If we were to look back — then yes, that clearly would be the highlight of the last two years. Essentially it’s a promise made long ago that we finally kept. Back in 1994, when we actually developed this entire structure and sectors — we made two promises to the market and that was that we were going to really focus on these sick sectors that we were going to empower them.

Give them professional Presidents who would be running these sectors as we call them, and then we committed that each of these sectors would have a flagship company that would be listed. Therefore (we found a way) to unlock value, and to provide investors who wanted focused verticals in which to invest, with an avenue in which to share in the Mahindra Group’s wealth creation.

It seems pretty easy when you speak of it but were there difficulties and what took you so long to come to the decision?

It wasn’t easy at all. I will never make anything that is easy in business. But the fact is that we made that promise in 1994, we didn’t really think that it would take till 2006.

We thought it would be earlier but the fact was that our timetable was not predicated only on how the companies were doing. If that were the only variable, then we would have done it much earlier. It was also a function of the markets, external economic cycles, and receptivity to public issues.

So was it more external than internal, and you had to make sure that the market was giving you value that you wanted?

It was a mixed balance. Let’s take an example of Tech Mahindra or Mahindra British Telecom as it was called in the old days. At that point, there were two imperatives that needed to be filled before we went public. One of course was external market and you know we did file a Red Herring (prospectus) and then we withdrew because of market conditions.

But it was also a question of listing at a point in time when we felt that the company had diversified its customer base to an extent that would be appreciated and valued by the market, and happily both those converged.

In a sense, the market was actually quite passive when we launched and I dare say one of the things that give us greater satisfaction is that we are credited in some small way with actually having revived the IPO market. I think it was a confluence of both that made us really wait.

You have been going out and tying up your part of the global story. You have had two large JVs. What prompted you to go in for these JVs?

I could go on endlessly on JVs — maybe I should write a book at some point in time! Joint ventures in a developing economy have different benefits, different advantages, and different value at different points in time, over the trajectory of growth of an Indian company particularly with emerging Indian multinational and there are many of them, as you know.

Initially our first well known JV post-1991 was with Ford Motor. People forget at that time, I remember we didn’t even make a hard bodied jeep we had canvas top jeeps. So when a company that has no experience in making a vehicle, which even has a hard top, goes out and negotiates a joint venture it has a very different negotiating leverage and of course very different aspirations.

We used that venture as a way of getting a peek into modern technology — of dramatically leapfrogging in terms of our own production. So, it was a learning exercise and happily we were very clear with Ford. We told them — pun intended — we are your escort service into India. These are the things we want from the JV and the JV served its purpose.

When it outlived its purpose for both of us, we went our separate ways. Similarly this time, the Renault JV has its own purpose for both partners and there is a finite time that we think it will serve.

Where do you see growth coming for your Group, is it automobile, technology, real estate or the Club Mahindra holidays?

We are in a fortunate situation right now, where growth is coming from everywhere. There are no favourites because I see double-digit growth coming in every sector that we are in, and I don’t think we are in a minority or in a privileged position.

I think finally the Indian economy is on an upward curve. Everybody is facing the same optimistic future and the same challenges.

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