We’ve been in India for about a week now and we’re starting to understand part of the secret of the success of this country of 1.23 billion, the largest democracy in the world. One of the key elements is the sustained and steady economic growth through the 1990s and early 2000s, which has made India the tenth-largest economy in the world and one of the G20 major economies.
“It wasn’t straightforward though,” says Maarten. “When you read about India in the 1980s, it was a very different picture: it was a closed economy with hardly any foreign investment and a rigid bureaucratic system that stood in the way of growth.”
“So what changed?” I ask.
“In 1991 the government decided to liberalize the economy and open it up to global markets.”
“But didn’t that create a massive competition from savvy foreign companies?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” says Maarten. “In fact, economists and experts predicted that Indian companies would disappear, be swallowed by large foreign corporations. I guess this was partly true but there were definitely also companies that held their own and proved that India is able to compete on the global stage.”
“Like Mahindra & Mahindra who we’re going to meet this afternoon,” I say. “You’ll see, it’s a fascinating story: under the leadership of their visionary chairman Anand Mahindra, the company has today become a rising star on the global stage.
“Anand is actually the third generation of the Mahindra clan. He’s been running the company since the 1990s. From what I’ve read he’s an incredibly versatile and creative guy: he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and then got an MBA from Harvard Business School, but he also studied film making and is a keen photographer. So, a true homo universalis.
“And I actually think it’s through his creative flair and vision that the company has risen so high. It seems that Anand Mahindra has the ability to see the bigger picture, perhaps because he studied in the States and was able to envision Mahindra as a global player.”
“How come?” Maarten asks. “What was the company’s focus before he took over?”
“When the Mahindra brothers, JC and KC, founded the company in 1945, it was basically a steel-trading business that manufactured cars. Since then, they’ve massively expanded their activities. Mahindra uses India’s growing global market presence in both the automotive and farming industries to push its products in other countries.”
“Well that may be the case, but I’m sure that’s not the main reason why we are going to meet them,” says Maarten.
“You’re right. First of all, Mahindra is still a family business. And we all know what that means: more heart for the business and more involvement with local issues – people and planet.
“Secondly, in recent years, the Mahindra brand has come to play an increasingly important role. They have created a very clear purpose and are determined to contribute to making India, and other parts of the world, a better place.”
“Interesting!” Maarten says as we arrive at the Mahindra offices, “let’s meet the man.”
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