"We’ll have an abacus in our left hand and come out punching with our right. We don’t need to compromise.” This was the belligerent Osamu Suzuki’s comment to a Japanese reporter in 1997 at the peak of Suzuki’s fierce battle with the Indian government over the appointment of RSSLN Bhaskarudu as the managing director of the erstwhile Maruti Udyog, instead of Jagdish Khattar, who was groomed to take over the mantle by the then-outgoing RC Bhargava.
An eventual compromise came about during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, followed by the complete exit of the government in 2007. Thanks to the determined doggedness of Osamu, the chairman of Suzuki Motor, Maruti Suzuki escaped the fate of Indian PSUs by not only emerging as the country’s biggest passenger carmaker, but also the jewel in Suzuki’s crown — contributing 50% to the parent’s consolidated profit.
While Bhargava, a former IAS officer, continues to serve Maruti as its chairman — a near four-decade long association — Khattar retired from the company in 2007. Even today, the mentor and mentee believe the carmaker will continue to rule the Indian passenger car segment.
“At the peak of our socialist economy, manufacturing of cars was at the bottom of the priority list. We lived through the licensing era, survived with forex restrictions; we never gave speed money, rubbing a lot of people the wrong way; and also traversed the technology landscape,” narrates 84-year-old Bhargava, who had joined Maruti in 1981. Khattar, now an entrepreneur running a multi-brand automotive sales and service company, Carnation Auto, concurs. “When I was stepping down, many people asked, “Mr Khattar, so many players have entered the country, what will Maruti do?” I had replied, “More the players, the stronger will Maruti be.” They used to laugh when I said this, but today, concede that’s indeed the case,” says the former bureaucrat, who joined Maruti in 1993 as director of marketing.