Come on Suzuki, show some heart, or spine
Two terse press releases on their global website, a few frantic calls of ‘concern’, a couple of emails of shock and disbelief and by and large a Buddhist demeanour of whatever happens, happens for the best. That in a nutshell is Suzuki Motor Corp’s baffling reaction to the riots at its Indian subsidiary Maruti’s Manesar factories last Wednesday.
600 workers went on rampage that fateful day transforming themselves into a hydra headed Frankenstein destroying anything in its path–man, machine or debris. Almost an hour’s uninterrupted mayhem left senior executive Awanish Kumar Dev dead and a 100 more battered, bruised and scarred for life.
It has been 8 days since then and most of the culprits are still at large. The Haryana police has worked hard not to disappoint us…we would have been surprised if the culprits would have been rounded up by now. Neither have the politicians strayed from the script…they will do precious little besides paying lip service, waiting for the media and the public at large to get bored of this ‘hot’ topic and move on. But Suzuki? The owner of the company, the harbinger of automotive revolution in the country, the original creators of vehicles that drives this country. Where does Suzuki’s heart lie? And at the same time, where is its spine?
Sample this. A day after the tragedy, Suzuki issued a statement at its website.
If ever you need a crash course in terseness, this will help you. The statement is cold, factual and to the point. It merely mentions one person died, without identifying anything from 51 years of Dev’s life, the last two years of which were spent at Maruti. No tributes, no obituaries, no commiseration to the family of the man who died at Suzuki’s factory doing his duty the way Suzuki taught him. The Japanese way.
Worse, the only line where some emotion is forthcoming is when it states that there has been no damage to the plant facilities. The emotion is one of relief.
And just to prove the point that it was not a fluke nor was it drafted in a hurry, another statement was issued on Friday. This 6 line statement gives an update of the situation..that the operations at the factory is suspended.
Still no mention of Awanish, or strangely even about Kenji Saijo and Shiga Toshi Tori, the two unfortunate Japanese nationals who were hit so hard, they had to be treated in ICU at Artemis for three days. There is promise of future announcements but only of resumption of production. May the dead rest in peace. Amen.
Some say this is the Japanese way of communication. To not get emotional in matters of business. Or an unnecessary show of emotion in a public forum like a website. But how does one explain the silence of Osamu Suzuki, thecompany’s 82 year old owner, who has the health and the will to host Narendra Modi in Hammamatsu during the same week, but not to make a public appearance and convey his condolences to Awanish’s family.
Much worse, no delegation from Japan has come to India yet, either to offer sympathies to the dead or hope to the dying. For sure something is dying here, some of the survivors’ hope in Suzuki’s humanity.
“I am not surprised by what the police did, or what the politicians are doing or what our management should have done,” said a survivor who has been with Maruti since 1996. “I am only surprised by two things. One with the extremity of the reaction from the workers. And then by the heartlessness of Suzuki. My faith in the latter is shattered.”
Would the reaction have been any better if it were some other company? I would say the reaction would have only been better. God forbid, if something like this were to happen in a Jaguar Land Rover factory, Ratan Tata would have taken the first flight out to UK. Perhaps flown the plane himself.
Not Osamu or any of his senior officials at Japan. And that is not because they cant fly on their own. It is simply because they dont care.
But care they should? Maruti today accounts for half of Suzuki’s sales globally. It contributes a third of its profits and a fourth of its revenues. And India is the only market that loves Suzuki’s cars with such lack of ambiguity. Even in Japan, Suzuki is not revered like Maruti is in India. If the loyal employees at Maruti turn their backs on the company, Suzuki’s story worldwide, is as good as over.
And where is Suzuki’s spine? As the largest FDI investor from Japan into India, surely its words carry weight here. As a large multinational company, surely it has diplomatic channels that can be exploited.
Consider UK again, for example. The UK government has in the past often written to the bureaucracy here and in no uncertain terms complaining about various injustices. Be it the Vodafone retrospective tax tangle or the mess that Cairn Energy found itself in when it wanted to sell stake to Vedanta, diplomatic channels were used, often in threatening tones.
In these cases, it was a mere issue of profit or loss for these companies. In Maruti’s case it is an issue of a person’s death and the company’s survival.
And Suzuki chooses to stay silent.