Being born in the early 1980s, I have been a witness to Maruti’s slow takeover of the automobile market in India. I faintly remember sitting with my cousins in the trunk of our first Maruti-800 that my father & uncle bought together. It had the glass panel lifted so that we could avoid our heads banging into the glass each time the car hit the brakes or a pothole.
My family had to sell the car due to a serious loss that the family business suffered, but in 1989 we bought a new car that stayed with us for a decade. A cream coloured Maruti-800 with the registration number MKO-1044. I have vivid memories of sitting in the front seat of that car while my uncle would drive me around town. This was also the car I learnt to drive in and the one I had my first driving mishap in. Once, while trying to park the car, I turned too sharply leaving me only cms (notice how I didn’t say inches because I was that close) away from a wall. In an attempt to help me avoid scraping my car, 4 watchmen from my building picked it up with their bare hands and hauled it into my garage. A few years later, that car got stolen, but by that time the family had bought a Maruti Esteem and also gifted me a Maruti 1000 to drive to junior college. We have owned many a car since then but a Maruti continues to hold a special place in our memory, all of which came flooding back when I read about the painstaking efforts and risks that individuals like RC Bhargava took in bringing a true “people’s car” to India through The Maruti Way.
The book is narrated from the viewpoint of Maruti’s current Chairman, RC Bhargava, someone who has served the company since its incorporation in 1981. He tells the story of how an impossible project, provided with an impossible timeline was completed in a hostile business environment. The book narrates detailed stories on the various issues that Maruti faced e.g. import constraints, labour issues, political pressures, infrastructure constraints, etc. and how it solved these issues by utilising Japanese management techniques coupled with a dose of Indian pragmatism.
Maruti’s management was treading on a thin line since it was a government sector company. had Despite being denied the freedom that private companies had, Maruti was expected to churn a profit and grow rapidly. How Maruti achieved this improbable task and became India’s most valuable automobile company kept me hooked throughout.
What did I love about this book?
An automobile company has various moving parts (repair shops, suppliers, spare part stockists etc) within and outside the company, therefore there could be various issues that have conflicting motivations when looked at from different vantage points. The solution to those issues could pit two parties against each other unless the issues were fully understood, and all the stakeholders bought in on providing a solution.
There are many things to learn through the book as Mr Bhargava divides different issues into specific chapters, explains the problems from various vantage points and exhaustively describes how these problems were successfully resolved by Maruti’s management.
The chapter on “People” boldly stands out from the rest of the book. It is a chapter I can read again and again. I rate this book alongside Simply Fly & the Virgin Way in my list of best books for an entrepreneur starting the journey in the Indian entrepreneurship space.
What did I not like about the book?
The book provides vivid details on how most of the problems were solved but very little depth on their failures. It felt as if I was reading a management book on the best practices to start an automobile company in India.
Similarly, there were a lot of details about how Maruti 800 was chosen to be the first car to roll off the production line but surprisingly, provided very little information on the automobile launches that bombed e.g. the revamped Maruti800 in the early 2000s, the Omni, Gypsy, and even the first edition of Baleno.
Who is the book for?
This book is apt for all entrepreneurs & founders. Since Mr Bhargava was a co-founder of Maruti, most of the challenges that he describes are easily relatable to, by founders. It is the way in which he finds creative solutions to resolve these problems and persistently continues to drive growth, that can be a lesson to all.