Percy Barnevik called me from Hong Kong and said something totally unexpected. “Ravi, I am going to tell you something unholy, but you have to do this.” I was perplexed. “Volvo wants to set up operations in India and they want someone who understands the Swedish way. There was no one else I could think of but you.” I was working for Barnevik, who was considered a legend in ABB. What could I say if the super boss says go to another company? I was restrained in my response. “I have no clue about trucks and buses; I am an electricals person.” This was met by a quick response, “If you know a truck has four wheels, they’ll teach you the rest.” Matter closed. I was designated MD of Volvo India at 44.
In a couple of months, I found myself in Gothenburg, Volvo City. I was worried I was going into an industry I didn’t know much about, but that turned out to be an asset. When you work without the baggage of thoughts, you think fresh and you blend in the experience of other industries.
What a mind-boggling experience it was! We were introducing a concept such as a Volvo truck at a price 4x higher than rivals. Indians were used to antiquated trucks — it creaked a bit, broke down a bit, but it moved goods from point A to B, and that’s all that really mattered. And here I was, pushing some sophisticated foreign trucks with state-of-the-art technology and safety features that no one really cared for. Some people simply stopped taking my calls. “Are you nuts?” I was asked openly, even as I would say, “You don’t see the value.”
Right at the start, I had suggested to Volvo that we must introduce the medium range Asian truck, which will be more affordable, but they were clear they wanted to launch the best product globally. It was simply not the right product to begin with, but I went with the flow.
I thought the best way to cut the first deals would be through friends who could be persuaded to take that leap of faith. Transport Corporation of India had a fleet of some 5