29 May 2012

The Maruti Story and the RC Bhargava story

Business | RC Bhargava and Seetha

Well, The Maruti Story is not the autobiography, ghost-written or otherwise, of Mr RC Bhargava. Unlike many CEOs, Mr Bhargava does not write about himself. The entire book is bare of Bhargava anecdotes. About all you will get to know about him from the book is that he can mentally calculate faster than most people can manage even with calculators.
The Maruti Story
Hmm, not exactly all. You do get to know that he gives credit where due. Like having Seetha on the cover, and not relegated to the anonymous helping hack that most CEOs do. Like acknowledging a whole bunch of people who helped him find old documents to put the story together.

Oh, the book is great. It tells you about what Maruti does well, and a bit about what it didn't do so well. From my personal experience, I can say that you will get a pretty good insider (from the top) view of the company. It's written in a totally objective style, with very little personal viewpoint, but it bears his stamp, which is (you guessed it) a totally objective style. :)

So, I will write a couple of paragraphs on the still-unwritten The Bhargava Story instead.

Mr Bhargava is always considerate of junior people. He asked a young executive if she could stay beyond closing time to complete a piece of work, when he himself rarely left before 7.30. No other manager or director in Maruti used to do so; it was considered normal to spend an extra hour or two at work, and not to mutter and complain about it. Not that he'd usually ask anyone to stay back, anyway. He also made it a point to ask how she'd get back home, now that she'd missed her bus.

He put up a junior person who had worked on a project to explain Maruti's achievements to the public (journalists). The young man was featured in newspaper write-ups. However, the moment the journos started asking questions which moved the junior exec beyond his preparations, Mr Bhargava stepped forward to take the questions and shield him from stumbling. (Another MD of Maruti in similar circumstances once left the poor guy to face the wolves alone).

He never suffers fools, gladly or otherwise. He has patience, and uses it. But when he starts asking questions or making explanations v-e-r-y slowly, watch out. If he starts speaking simple Hindi, run for the hills.

He is awfully sharp, which you may guess from the fact that he was the IAS topper in the year he joined the service. He once spotted in 5 minutes the single error in a 60 page document, which two teams and three General Manager level people had checked, all no slouches in the brains department themselves.

And yet, people are surprised to find that he has no airs. When the GoI freed corporate salaries from the ceiling applicable till then (this was in the early 1990s), Mr Bhargava opined (I love that word!) that "Nobody is worth five lakh * rupees a year". The HR division had to gently but insistently explain to him that unless his salary as MD was increased, the rest of the Directors couldn't be paid more, either.

Mr Bhargava cannot stand liars and cheats. One person lost his job for exploiting the vague wording in some rules on indirect taxes. One lost it for lying about a project he had actually been going slow on, but claimed the papers were never with him. And yet, the CBI prosecuted Mr Bhargava for 'corrupt practices' till a sensible judge, albeit after fourteen long years, threw them out on their ears.

Anyway, I hope someday someone will write the Bhargava story, too. There is a lot we can learn from his life and times.

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