Oh captain, my captain!!
The super boss at Maruti Suzuki, country’s largest car company, Osamu Suzuki makes atleast one scheduled visit to India every year–during Maruti’s annual general meeting in August-September. So it was for him this year when he came last week primarily for the AGM on Tuesday. There was a difference though…a major one.
Maruti had seen its worst labour unrest barely a month ago on July 18 when about 600 workers armed with sticks and rods went on a rampage for well over an hour at the company’s twin factories at Manesar on the outskirts of Gurgaon. The streak of violence left a senior HR executive of the company Awanish Kumar Dev dead and atleast 96 other supervisors and managers stationed at the factories severely injured.
The incident shocked the nation and made headline news for well over a fortnight. Maruti had to immediately announce a lock out at the factories while the errant workers were on the run initially. After playing hard ball with the state government for atleast 10 days, that lock out was lifted just in time before Suzuki’s visit on July 21. Suzuki arrived the following day and Maruti tried to show before its father how strong it was and that life goes on.
There was a lot expected from the father though in terms of strength, compassion and more importantly guile. As he makes his way back to Hammamatsu in Japan on Wednesday, the realisation is that he gave us nothing. Here is why…
Strength : His statements during the course of the visit were mostly politically correct but impassive and cold. It lacked emotion and the desperation that should have ideally been there after an incident of this magnitude. It is difficult to say what would have gone inside the hallowed portals of the company’s board rooms but it is unlikely he would have said anything beyond the fact that time shall heal everything.
To be fair, he did say that he would stay invested in India and that it was his second home after Japan. He also said that all Maruti employees were part of one big Suzuki family. But maybe he could have been more aggressive. He could have warned that a company that taught India how to drive cannot be taken to ransom like this. A lot of the employees of the company have been disappointed by the firm’s reactions to the violence…the fact that they were still clueless as to what led to the violence or the numerous reiterations that Haryana shall continue to get more investments. More so when it was clear that the state government had also been grossly negligent and callous about the whole issue.
Such aggression may not have been expected from the local Maruti management considering that they are subservient to the headquarters in Japan. But Suzuki is the owner and has a mind of his own. When he too toes the line of what is the politically correct thing to say and refuses to be inflamed by the incident, it must have sent the wrong signals to the employees of the company in general and to the victims of July 18 in particular.
Compassion : Thats something that is severely lacking in the man. And there is no hiding it now. This blog had spoken about how Suzuki chose to remain silent on the death of Dev earlier. His first statement to the Dev family came thirteen days after his death at his condolence meeting. It took him so long to wake up.
And he has gone back to his slumber again. He spent almost 7 days in India during which he cris-crossed the country to wine and dine with his new hero Narendra Modi again. He also met the Haryana chief minister, some members of the media, the workers at the Gurgaon factory, the employees, the shareholders, the Japanese ambassador in India and some of the component suppliers. But he could not find time to personally meet Awanish’s family. I shall reiterate, it is not everyday that a employee dies on the shopfloor of a company. A car factory is not a battle zone where lives and lost and wars are one. Like one of the shareholders said during the AGM, it is a temple of productivity and vitality. A death in a temple is rare and unforeseen. A visit to Dev’s house situated a mere 15 minute drive from Maruti’s corporate office in Delhi, and 20 minutes from the hotel where Suzuki had stayed would have endeared him to a lot many people. And made up for his delayed reaction last month.
At 80 plus, maybe the repeated bouts of drowsiness needs to be ignored.
Guile : This is where Suzuki has always been rated highly. A cunning shrewd man with a no nonsensical approach and a fox like demeanor. A case in point is his use of language. He has impeccable mastery over the Queen’s English but yet he chooses to speak in Japanese most of the time and uses the services of an interpreter. Part of it is to frustrate the person asking the question. The process of interpretation is often tedious. Part of it is also to get away with many thorny issues. At the meeting with the editors he remained rooted to Maruti’s line of answering that they remained clueless about the cause of the violence and are waiting for the investigative reports from the state government.
Ask him a controversial question especially on Japanese pride and honour though and he will take the question directly and answer in English himself. Ask him questions about the Tata Nano and he would chide you for your lack of understanding about the Suzuki way of life.
So much for the media, it would have been good if he had used this guile against the Haryana state government too. It is a well established fact that Haryana has been on the offensive in this matter despite their own weaknesses in administration. They had been warning Maruti to start operations at Manesar as soon as possible and had allowed the workers to run away on the evening of July 18.
Yet, the only words that Suzuki said about the state administration were of gratitude. Pulling out investments out of the state is obviously an improbable case but threatening to freeze further capital flowing into Hooda’s coffers could have been explored.
And why stop at state government alone? Maruti had seen three labour strikes in the same factories last year too. The repeat this year means there are lessons that the management refuses to learn as well. Not all the blame can be put on the workers alone. Some of it has to be shared by the human resource and industrial relations team of the company as well. For allowing whatever malaise there is between workers and the management to fester for so long. There is very little to suggest Suzuki took note of it and reprimanded the Maruti management for its fallacies. Infact, I would not be surprised if some of the executives who should be taken to task for lack of competence actually end up being rewarded for managing such a catastrophe so skilfully. Like it happened last year.
Sorry Suzuki san, but you left us disappointed. But rest assured there wont be any more in future. For the expectations are lowered now. Arigato (thank you).