By Rajiv Bajaj
A COUPLE of WhatsApp groups that I am a member of should be renamed China problem group. Some 90 per cent of discussions therein is on how China hijacked the world economy and how they do not deserve to do so and how all politicians have let us down and how they are stealing all intellectual property and how we are doomed if we do not stop downloading tiktok.
All true. And no, this article is not about disagreeing with this narrative. This article is not about the fact that an average Chinese student in US beats the shit of all other students (including Indians) in terms of hours she works and the only disadvantage she has is that her English is not good enough, but she is getting there. No this article is not about the fact that the people of China worked their butts out while Italians holidayed and French wanted a 4 day week.
No this article is not about the fact that you cannot hire a decent machinist or a forger in India because all of them are sitting in call centers answering questions from technically challenged Americans. Of course, I agree and support the view that China and it’s people do not deserve the place they have reached (I don’t want to be trolled). They are thieves, they do not take 4-week holidays. They should be punished.
So what is this article about? This is about an industry where China has been beaten by India. It has been shown that it’s not the government, neither the people, it’s really the companies that compete. And as far as India is concerned the people responsible for the demise of manufacturing are these companies.
Year 1983, I pass out of Engineering college in Mumbai considered to be one of the best. Irrespective of the branch that you have studied—Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, Production, Textile, 80% become coders for the software industry. Year 2000, I am at Bajaj Auto as HR head (after working for 15 years as a technical person), and am off to conduct campus interviews, to hire 100 Engineers who will build the 100-cc engine of a motorcycle. I am day 5 in VJTI and all other RECs.
I end up hiring 10 people from 15 colleges. In every college I am told by the Training and Placement officer (TPO) that technology companies get preference. I say I don’t understand, is building an Engine not technology? No that’s manufacturing. Writing Cobol code for a bank in New York by a TCS employee is technology. May be the Chinese forced us to do this.
Next year I write to all colleges. I want to be day 0 in your campus. I will give three times salary of the best “so called technology company”, but only if I am day 0. Hiring 100 Engineers at three times salary was no problem for me as compared to TCS, which had to hire 2000 “Bodies”. They could never match that salary.
And that’s how Bajaj Auto built its R&D. Batch by Batch. Making designing and manufacturing of motorcycles sexy and paying for it. The selection ratio was 1:15. Most of the IITS, RECS, and VJTIS had toppers who were absolutely useless. They could not draw a Carnot cycle, could not tell the difference between a diesel and petrol engine. Give them an elevation and plan they could not draw the side view. Most of them were focusing on writing code. But we found gems, we found guys who were passionate and knowledgeable but could not express in English. I started conducting interviews in Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil and so on.
There was another company doing the same TVS. South based they also built a great R&D.
Year 2005, Chinese motorcycles attacked India with products which were 30% cheaper. Many dealers started selling them. Press predicted demise of Indian manufacturers. Within 6 months they went broke. Their quality was no match to Indian motorcycles. They never came back again.
Bajaj then stared attacking them in Africa. Africans had two choices; buy expensive Japanese motorcycles or cheap Chinese. Chinese motorcycles used to come in a box. You buy the box and take it to a mechanic and he will assemble it. In Nigeria motorcycles are used as taxis. So no one is going to pay you a dime more. In such a market Bajaj launched it’s fully assembled motorcycle. Priced more than Chinese less than Japanese. And worked hard. Today Bajaj is a market leader.
TVS is number two. Chinese have been driven out. You can see videos of the love that the Okada (taxi drivers) have for Bajaj Bikes. Country by country in Africa, in South America Indians captured the market driving the Chinese out.
In 2018, India became the largest manufacturer of two wheelers in the world (twice the size of China). Indian companies have started buying out European Brands. The market leader of motorcycles in Europe is not BMW, its KTM owned by Bajaj. China is slipping fast not only in the manufacturing of Bikes also in the manufacturing of components. Indian suppliers are beating them hands down. Between three Indian Companies Hero, Bajaj and TVS India today dominates the world market. Honda a Japanese company has shifted most of it’s R&D to India.
Why was this not done in TVs, in Computers, in Mobile phones, in Pharmaceuticals and other industries? The same country, the same labor laws, the same infrastructure but not the same entrepreneurs. Indian businessmen are characterized by a myopic vison—it’s both short term as well as geographically limited. Of course, the government also does not help. So, who is responsible for the Chinese dominance—the government, the people or the Corporates?
I think it’s all the three. When even ITI trained turners and fitters refuse to work in a shop floor, when a Stock Broker is paid more than an Engineer, when typing code is mistaken for technology, when governments refuse to amend antique labor and land laws when corporates think local and not global and finally when you, yes you, will not send your son to work on the shop floor, each one of this factor is as responsible for the Chinese dominance as much as their “Ethical Corruption” We have been looted because we left our doors and windows open.
No this article is not supporting the Chinese. How dare they work so hard? And how dare they obey a communist government? We should stop buying all their goods and we will make every thing in our country. But we will work nine to five with a three- day weekend. We will overcome. One Day!!
–The writer is managing director of Bajaj Auto. This article is adapted from a social media posting by him. IHN-NN
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