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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

This might strike one reading now as just another instance of a scion of one of the premier business families of India taking over the mantle of running the family business, and carrying forward the legacy with utter ease. But, if one takes a closer look at the progress of the various companies under the group, one will be surprised, almost amazed- that it wasn’t anything like that when Mr. Venu Srinivasan assumed the responsibility back in 1979. The saga of the TVS Group, from a small family business running a rural transport service in the temple town of Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu growing into a $4-billion conglomerate with a wide range of business interests - from auto components, scooters and auto-rickshaws, to financial services and logistics, is a go-to book for all aspiring entrepreneurs. For it has traversed the path of growth and success like very few corporate entities, conceivably have. More so of Mr. Srinivasan’s emergence as one of the most inspiring leaders to have risen in India in the last three decades or so. The group presently has operations spread across India, the United States, Europe, Indonesia and China.

Early Days

With the advent of industrial India, following a spate of pro-business policies that were envisaged to foster growth and prosperity of the country, the group ventured into manufacturing of auto components by establishing Sundaram-Clayton Ltd in 1962.
By the time Mr. Srinivasan, (Born December 11, 1952), the grandson of TV Sundaram Iyengar – founder of the TVS Group and one of the very few entrepreneurial talents that pre-independence had seen- was ready to join the family business, it would seem as though everything was laid on a platter for him. Even if that was indeed the case, Venu Srinivasan did not think so. His idea was to get some hands on experience with the nuances of the field which he would ultimately get into. So, it is said, that instead of just waiting to assume office amongst the ranks, he set up a small garage while he was still pursuing engineering (Madras University). This was where he would, during vacations, put in some grueling hours as a mechanic to be able to explore and experiment with automobiles and auto parts. Once he was thorough with the nitty-gritty of the automobiles, he took the next logical step in his preparation for taking his rightful place in the family business after completion of his engineering – doing his Masters in Business Administration from Purdue University, Indiana (USA).

The Spark

Mr. Srinivasan became the CEO of Sundaram-Clayton in 1979. What set him apart from the other leaders of his time was his ability to quickly seize the situation, and act appropriately, even if it meant taking some tough and unusual decisions. Right since the early days of leadership in the company, and even after the TVS Motor Company (as it has come to be known since 2001 when its partnership with Suzuki ended) was founded in the same year, 1979; he had very keenly observed the day-to-day functioning of the company. His education and the experience thus far, made him realize that although the company had done reasonably well to sustain business the way it has been for over seven decades, it needed some changes in its running if it were to remain amongst the top automobile companies of India.

This meant that he had to take hard decisions and also look for practices that best-run business the world over were adopting to achieve quality as well as sustainable performance. The company which had relatively little worker-related trouble for so long had now encountered some in the form of labour unrest in a couple of the group companies, especially the TVS-SUZUKI factory, apparently propagated by the labour unions. This was anathema for the thorough-bred Mr. Srinivasan. So he dealt the situation sternly by shutting down the factory for a period of three months, thus forcing the unions to relent.

While that was one way of stamping his authority on the business, Mr. Srinivasan knew that the company also, perhaps, needed a re-structuring, if not a complete over-haul. That is when he set about re-structuring operations by upgrading plant machinery, investing in new technologies and implementing Total Quality Management Practices.

Torch-bearer for the Indian Industry

A re-structuring called for expert intervention, and Mr. Srinivasan sought the help of Prof. Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya of the University of Warwick as a consultant to provide guidance in this endeavour. This was also around the time when the company split, amicably, with Suzuki and, having obtained the capacity, started manufacturing on its own. And in just less than a decade after the separation from Suzuki, the company, now re-christened TVS Motor Company Ltd, made its mark as the third largest manufacturer of two-wheelers in India following the launch and success of ‘Victor’, which was then India’s first indigenously built four-stroke motorcycle, besides the launch of a handful of other models.

Not one to sit on laurels, and someone for whom excellence was intrinsic, Mr. Srinivasan was always keen to improve and work to strengthen the TQM processes within the company. So, it was no surprise then that he brought in the best in the business, so to say, the Japanese as mentors to bolster the various processes of the company. First it was Yasutoshi Washio, a Deming Application Prize Winner and globally renowned expert in Total Quality Management, followed by Quality Management Guru Prof. Yoshikazu Tsuda. Thus, he was the first one to think of, and to implement, the very successful and effective Japanese model much before any other entity in India, big or small, had not even so much as given it a thought. It was a manifestation of what Mr. Srinivasan had always been – a perfectionist and a visionary.

As a result, TVS Motors continued to prosper and by 2008-09 it was one among the top-ten two-wheeler manufacturers in the world. It makes for a great case study, especially for the kind of revolution it has brought about in the way personal commutation was happening, way back in the 1980s. Beginning with launching a simple, easy-to-use moped for the middle class in India in the 1980s to launching 7 new bikes in a single day (first time in the history of the automotive industry in the world), TVS has often taken the unbeaten path to innovation. No small achievement for a company that had relatively humble beginnings, one must say, and whose make-up manifested the culture of its country and yet was open to the wonderful possibilities that industrialization and modernization presented it with.

The TVS Group is presently India's leading automotive component manufacturer, with an annual turnover of more than USD 4 billion, employing over 40,000 people in the 30 companies under its stable.

Another feather in the cap of the TVS Group, and TVS Motors in particular, has been its emphasis on bringing in new and relevant technology, particularly use of eco-friendly and recyclable raw materials. As a result, it was able to bring out -in 1996 itself- the first two-wheeler in India – TVS Shotgun - to use the catalytic converter. Not surprisingly, all the company vehicles are believed to be complying with world’s recyclability standards. This only highlighted the standing of the Group as a pioneer in industrial practices in India, coming as it did on the back of the fact that the TVS Group was the first in India to start an employees providend fund scheme and also the first one to pay gratuity to employees, long before any other enterprise in India could think of, and even before they were made mandatory by the Government of India. Also, it has been constantly exploring to bring out alternative-fuel based vehicles such as the electric scooter and factory-fitted LPG and CNG three-wheelers. TVS can proudly assert that 85% of all TVS vehicles are completely recyclable. All this on the basis of a very strong customer relationship with its customers built over decades and kept intact through various exercises to remain in constant contact with them.

Such foresight, dynamism, as also his penchant for perfection, and conformity to values have always kept the company focused on way to accomplishing its objectives. His penchant, almost obsession, for quality and excellence have brought in rich dividends to the group as Sundaram-Clayton and as well as the TVS Motor Company have both won the global quality benchmark – the Deming Prize in 2002 – the same year he assumed the Chairmanship of the TVS Motor Company, for achieving distinctive performance improvements through application of company-wide quality control. In fact, TVS Motors was the first company in the world to have received the Deming Prize. It is noteworthy that TVS was the only Indian manufacturer to have been considered eligible for Star of Asia 2002 (Awarded in 2003). It is these very aspects about the functioning of the Group that have, in a way, heralded a new era in corporate India which is also looking to keep up with world standards vis-a-vis quality management. No wonder then that apart from being one of the key functionaries on quite a few of the group companies, Mr. Srinivasan has also been entrusted with many other important responsibilities in various positions.

Some of the positions that Mr. Venu Srinivasan held, and successfully carried out his responsibilities, include:

*Director, Lucas-TVS
*Director, T V Sundaram Iyengar & Sons Limited
*Director, Southern Roadways Limited
*Director, Sundaram Fasteners Limited
*Director, Cummins India Limited
*Director, TATA Coffee Limited
*Director, Oriental Hotels Limited
*Director, TVS Energy Limited
*Chairman, TVS Credit Services Limited
*Chairman, National Institute of Fashion Technology, Government of India
*Vice Chairman, State Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, Government of Tamil Nadu, India
*President (Past), Confederation of Indian Industry, Delhi
*President (Past), Automotive Research Association of India
*President (Past), Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers
*Member (Chennai), PM’s Council on Trade and Industry

Social Responsibility

Always one for thinking differently and staying ahead of the pack, Mr. Srinivasan did not limit himself to the exigencies of corporate governance. He has always been one of the very few who work for the betterment of society along with their own, and in their own distinct way. Srinivasan Services Trust (SST), the social arm of Sundaram-Clayton Limited and TVS Motor Company, was established in 1996 with an aim to create self-reliant communities that are models for empowerment and sustainable development for rural communities. The Trust has primarily four focus areas - Education, Environment, Health, and Infrastructure - activities under which have expanded to almost about 1000 villages across the 4 States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. The efforts of the Trust have had a great impact in the target areas and the results are there for everyone to see. Today about 50% of the families (about 61500) in the project villages earn a monthly income of Rs. 10,000; morbidity due to communicable diseases has come down to less 5%; 72% of the children pursue higher education after completing schooling; about 72% (92500) of the households under the project areas have access to sanitation facilities, and about 162000 hectares in the Eastern Ghats covered under the afforestation drive. Now those are outstanding figures to achieve in a mere decade-and-a-half since the time it was founded as an extension of the Group’s responsibility towards the cause of the less-fortunate people of the country.

Like Mr.Venu Srinivasan, the Trust has also been recognized for its yeomen work for the society. It was awarded the Times of India Social Impact Award on Advocacy and Empowerment in September, 2011.

Awards and Accolades

*Business Week, Star of Asia, 2003
*Honourary Doctorate in Science for excellence in manufacturing, University of Warwick, 2004
*Jamshedji Tata Lifetime Achievement Award, Indian Society of Quality, 2004
*JRD Tata Corporate Leadership Award, All India Management Association, 2005
*Conferred with the PadmaShri by the Government of India, 2010
*Order of Diplomatic Service Merit, Government of India,2010

Quotes

*"The challenge is to make development sustainable, through the active participation of communities - the true agents of change."
*“It is imperative for Indian companies to have high-end technology to build brands to compete with global firms in the field of performance biking.”

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