Why I Love Jagdish Khattar

22 05 2008

By all accounts, Jagdish Khattar, who retired recently as the Managing Director of Maruti after a successful stint of eight years, has had an exceptional career. If Maruti continues to be the market leader with over 50 % market-share even today, a lot of credit should go to the leadership provided by Mr. Khattar.  


Mr. Khattar joined Maruti in 1993 as Marketing Director. Maruti then enjoyed 80% share of the passenger car market in India.


Unfortunately, Maruti’s brute market dominance had engendered a culture of complacency bordering on arrogance. As a Joint Venture between Suzuki Corporation, Japan and Government of India, it was a hotbed of conflicts involving ownership and management control issues.


 The relationship between Suzuki Motor Company (SMC) and Government of India (GOI) became particularly strained in the 1990s. The GOI nominee, R.S.L.L.N Bhaskurudu who took charge as the MD in 1997 for five years, was considered incompetent by SMC. The directors nominated by SMC voted against him.


In 1999, this impasse was broken, when the newly elected NDA Government nominated Mr. Khattar as MD replacing Mr. Bhaskurudu. Mr. Khattar had his baptism by fire as a slew of new car launches like Santro, Matiz and Indica brought down the market-share of Maruti to an all-time low of 45%.


Maruti made its first ever loss in 2000.


While Mr. Khattar was readying to meet the challenges of the marketplace, a big crisis erupted inside the organization.


 In October 2000, Maruti had a major strike by its workers against the management’s move to link incentives to productivity. Mr. Khattar displayed sterling leadership qualities in handling this strike. He did not buckle under the pressure from the labor union.


Mr. Khattar took a gutsy and innovative decision. He got the employers of Maruti’s vendors to chip in along with those employees who defied the union. Within seven days the factory output bounced back to full capacity. The labor union finally gave in to the management after trudging on fruitlessly for 90 days.



By implementing a voluntary retirement scheme and a new incentive policy, Maruti was able to increase its productivity by two-and-a-half times. On quality parameters too, Maruti made radical changes shifting from internal standards to global benchmarks.


On new products launches, Mr. Khattar had a mixed record. Alto, Wagon R, Swift and SX4 have all been unqualified success, whereas Versa and Baleno failed miserably. But on the whole, Mr. Khattar’s strategy of offering a model at critical price points has worked well. Despite the entry of almost all the car majors of the world into the Indian market, during Mr. Khattar’s tenure the market-share of Maruti has never dipped below 50 %.



Under Mr. Khattar, Maruti transformed itself from a manufacturing- led organization to a customer focused one. Maruti increased its distribution network from 50 dealers and 60 showrooms to 250 dealers and 400 showrooms. Maruti through its dealers started offering an all encompassing bouquet of customer services including insurance, finance, pre-owned cars ( True-value), accessories and extended warranty service.  


 On customer satisfaction, Maruti’s success can also be judged by its winning the J.D.Power Customer Satisfaction Award five years in a row. Mr. Khattar himself has received the J.D.Power’s Founder’s Award for his distinguished service to automotive consumers in India. The stature of this award can be gauged by the fact that only 20 companies or individuals have received this award worldwide.



It is not that Mr. Khattar’s success stories are limited to Maruti. Mr. Khattar in his long stint as an IAS officer, served in various positions such as the Head of Tea Board and also as the Chairman of UP State Transport Corporation ( he discovered his passionate interest in the transport industry during this stint).


He has left a mark at all his assignments. By his own admission in 1993 when he left IAS, the then Cabinet Secretary, had hinted that he had a good chance of rising up to become the Cabinet Secretary, the highest position  a civil servant can attain in India.


Mr. Khattar’s flair for marketing came to the fore when he served as the Director of Tea Board in London from 1979 to 1983. At a time when India was exporting 10 million kg of Darjeeling tea, UK was selling 40 million kg of Darjeeling Tea. Obviously, a lot of other teas were being sold under the guise of Darjeeling Tea. Mr. Khattar launched a multimedia campaign  (Sunil Gavaskar and Ian Botham starred in the TVCs) against spurious varieties of Darjeeling Tea. 


Capturing the essence of his pragamatic management style once Mr. Khattar said, “In my 37 years of management experience, I have learnt that good management is not learnt through text books or through some form of divine right to manage. I have learnt the most through my employees and colleagues and I invariably have found that sharing and discussing work problems honestly and clearly with my staff bring about the best results.” Incidentally, Mr. Khattar, a non-MBA,  is an arts graduate from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.


Mr Khattar’s entrepreneurial  streak ( what a contrast to a typical IAS officer’s mindset!)  is borne out by his post-retirement launching of a new venture which will be India’s first independent , all-India, multi-brand auto sales and service network on the lines of Auto Nation, USA.



For someone who tasted public adulation early as a child actor made famous by the Naushad score “Nanha munna raahi hoon…”  in  Mehboob Khan’s 1962 hit  Son of India, Mr. Khattar has never stopped performing.


How many corporate honchos can boast of such a varied and productive career?


– G. Mohan.




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