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 Greeneld 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 diversication 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 specic business problem I encountered was when I was in Mysore Kirloskar. Most of our revenue and prot sales to Russia and Germany and both markets collapsed in the same year. This was a very difcult 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.