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Q & A: Anand Mahindra, Chairman of the Mahindra Group
The largest tractor manufacturer in the world, Mahindra, has aggressive plans for the U.S. market. The India-based company plans to double employment and revenue in the U.S. in the next five years. Mahindra specializes in lower horsepower equipment and is really a federation of many companies, including automotive, IT, hospitality, and more. It employs 3,000 people (hoping to grow to 7,000) and wants to boost revenues from $2.5 billion today to more than $5 billion.
“The game tomorrow is about brand,” says Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group and grandson of the cofounder. “We intend to be disrupters.”
SF: Will Mahindra move into higher horsepower tractors?
AM: We have to do what customers want. What’s my perspective on what customers want? First of all, I think this very large (rig) tractor market is not the high-growth segment.
The high-growth segment is actually where we are – for a variety of reasons. It’s about the changing nature of agriculture itself. If you look at things like organic farming, for example, which is booming. I used to ask our team when we started supplying to hobby farmers how long that trend could continue. Will yuppies want to go back to the land? When will that be? It’s just actually increased.
The more people find urban life to be sucking the soul out of them, they look more for returning to their roots, but they don’t buy big farms. So there is a huge high-growth area that we are already smack in the middle of, and I suspect that will remain a focus.
My view is that as we answer the needs of customers who want higher horsepower tractors, we must do things differently.
SF: What is the advantage of the federated companies?
AM: We are organized as a federation of many independent businesses. The way we create synergy and leverage that is by the collision of these different verticals. The collision here, for example, could be Tech Mahindra, our IT company, and the ag company.
When you look at autonomous tractors, for example, when you look at connected tractors, I would argue that, more than anyone else in the ag equipment landscape, Mahindra is better positioned to address the needs of high-tech-connected tractors because of the competencies in the group.
SF: Do you have autonomous vehicles now?
AM: We have autonomous vehicles under trial right now via our associate company, Mitsubishi Tractors in Japan. So there’s an effort going on in our entire R&D network, which is together collating all the individual activities of our various R&D units. So Mitsubishi Tractors is well ahead of the game, and we’re going to leverage on that experience. Our R&D center in India is already engaged in this.
We fully intend to be out in front of the pack when it comes to autonomous tractors. Two years ago at our annual shareholder meeting, when everyone was clamoring for autonomous cars and asking what our opinion was, I said, “Look, the first things that will go autonomous will be tractors. They don’t face the kind of problems in terms of needing data to build a truly safe autonomous car out on the street. Since tractors are in a much safer environment, it’s much easier to make them autonomous.
SF: How do you use social media?
AM: To me, it’s a business tool. I think any CEO who doesn’t understand the power of social media as a device to communicate, as a device to learn, is, frankly, stupid. You have to work at this.
The key is that you have to have followers. So you have to do more stuff. Followers are not going to follow you if all you are doing is being a billboard for your company. They get bored very quickly, so you have to share about your life and what you’re doing. You have to be sharing amusing things.
When you do that, you get followers. When you get followers, you get information. And it comes free. You don’t have to pay a thing for it.
Name: Anand Mahindra
Born: May 1, 1955, in Mumbai, India
Title: Chairman of the Mahindra Group
Background: He is the grandson of the cofounder of Mahindra & Mahindra.
Family: Wife Anuradha is the editor and publisher of Verve magazine and The Indian Quarterly.