On Qual­i­ties That De ne Great Lead­ers


Born in Novem­ber 1958, Vikram S Kirloskar is part of a fam­ily that has en­trepreneur­ship in its genes. A grad­u­ate from the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy (MIT) with a de­gree in Me­chan­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing, Vikram started work­ing in the fam­ily busi­ness right after col­lege. Start­ing with Pro­duc­tion En­gi­neer­ing, he de­signed and de­vel­oped many pro­cesses and ma­chine tools early on in his ca­reer and was in­volved in open­ing the im­port li­cens­ing for cap­i­tal equip­ment while serv­ing on Gov­ern­ment’s De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil for Ma­chine Tools in the late eight­ies. He has also served as Pres­i­dent of The Cen­tral Man­u­fac­tur­ing Tech­nol­ogy In­sti­tute in Ban­galuru and con­tin­ues to be a mem­ber of the Na­tional Coun­cil of the Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­try. He is a part of the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia’s De­vel­op­ment Coun­cil for Au­to­mo­biles and the Na­tional Coun­cil for Elec­tric Mo­bil­ity. He is also the Vice Pres­i­dent at Au­to­mo­tive Re­search As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia and the Past Pres­i­dent of the So­ci­ety of In­dian Au­to­mo­bile Man­u­fac­tur­ers. Vikram is also in­volved in many ac­tiv­i­ties at MIT and serves on the Vis­it­ing Hu­man­i­ties Com­mit­tee and Ed­u­ca­tional Coun­cil.

A fourth gen­er­a­tion mem­ber of the Kirloskar Group started in 1888, Vikram, by his own ad­mis­sion, loves build­ing fac­to­ries. He is the Chair­man and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Kirloskar Sys­tems Ltd. and Vice Chair­man of Toy­ota Kirloskar Motor. He lives in Ban­galuru and is re­spon­si­ble for part­ner­ing the Toy­ota group and start­ing a ma­jor au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try in the state. For this, he has been recog­nised by the Gov­ern­ment and pre­sented with the Su­varna Kar­nataka award. Vikram has con­sid­er­able ex­pe­ri­ence in all as­pects of man­u­fac­tur­ing and has de­vel­oped at least 25 Greeneld sites over the last 30 years.

We dis­cover more in this ex­clu­sive tête-à-tête.

You come from a fam­ily with a huge busi­ness lin­eage. Did you feel the bur­den to per­form when you were start­ing out?

Of course there was a bur­den to per­form. I had just grad­u­ated from MIT and ex­pec­ta­tions were high. How­ever, at that time there was no great com­pe­ti­tion in In­dia as it was the li­cence

That way there was no com­pet­i­tive pres­sure. Back then, it was just that you did what you were told to do as a trainee and worked very hard. So that was it, un­like now when there is a lot of pres­sure from com­pe­ti­tion.

Do you feel that your ed­u­ca­tion helped you get a head start in your busi­ness?

Kirloskar’s busi­ness re­volves around en­gi­neer­ing and my ed­u­ca­tion at MIT helped me im­mensely. In fact, the rst four to ve years of my ca­reer were all in the fac­tory as an en­gi­neer and since I stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing and did a lot of prac­ti­cal work at MIT, so all that helped a lot. Also, I was in­volved in dif­fer­ent as­pects of man­u­fac­tur­ing in the ini­tial years so the ed­u­ca­tion came handy.

How did you man­age so many di­verse busi­nesses in the ini­tial days of your ca­reer?

I was a trainee in man­u­fac­tur­ing at Kirloskar Cum­mins in Pune when I started work. So I did not have to worry about any di­verse busi­ness. I was ex­pected to im­prove qual­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity on the shop oor. I put a lot of ef­fort in in­tro­duc­ing new in­no­va­tions and tech­nol­ogy. I was al­ways in the man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness all the di­verse busi­nesses that came up were the ones I started. So I never looked after two or three things at the same time, I was al­ways look­ing after one thing. How­ever, when I was in the ma­chine tool busi­ness it was quite tough and we started look­ing at dif­fer­ent things. We be­gan with tex­tiles along with Toy­ota and then I thought we must get into the car busi­ness as well. This was be­cause I felt that this is where we could see the best man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany in the world from the in­side and use the learn­ings in our own Kirloskar fac­to­ries. If you look at my whole busi­ness ca­reer, there is not much di­versication re­ally, it has al­ways been about en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing. Like I say, it is build­ing on strengths you have and mine lies in un­der­stand­ing how a fac­tory works, how to set it up and how to build it. I do not get in­volved too much in mar­ket­ing but I have a good re­la­tion­ship with my team, deal­ers, sup­pli­ers and the en­tire value chain. So, ba­si­cally, all this is me­tal man­u­fac­tur­ing not elec­tronic man­u­fac­tur­ing. And when you get into the au­to­mo­bile sec­tor it just be­comes very large.

What has been the most chal­leng­ing busi­ness prob­lem that you have faced and how have you dealt with it?

In hind­sight, there have been ba­si­cally two or three kinds of prob­lems. The sim­plest are the tech­ni­cal prob­lems which look big and very chal­leng­ing when one is im­mersed in them. But, they can be dealt with in a sys­tem­atic man­ner. The sec­ond specic busi­ness prob­lem I en­coun­tered was when I was in Mysore Kirloskar. Most of our rev­enue and prot sales to Rus­sia and Ger­many and both mar­kets col­lapsed in the same year. This was a very difcult sit­u­a­tion and we made ev­ery ef­fort in de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts to new mar­kets but never re­ally could solve the busi­ness is­sues in the long run. The third prob­lem is a chal­lenge that all busi­ness man­agers face all the time, that is, hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment and re­ten­tion. I have nally started un­der­stand­ing that the ba­sic way to work on this is­sue is through mu­tual re­spect.

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