Meet Sulajja Firodia Motwani, joint managing director, Kinetic Engineering, and director, Kinetic Motors (www.kineticindia.com), who does a neat fast volley at Q&A sessions, just like she used to on the Maharashtra state badminton circuit during her younger days. ''Sports taught me to treat both success and defeat with equal importance,'' says this marketing and finance MBA.
The nimble-footed Motwani, 32, applies what she has learnt on the badminton courts in spearheading the group. The two-wheeler business of the Kinetic group is divided between Kinetic Motor Company (manufacturing and selling scooters and scooterettes) and Kinetic Engineering Company (making motorcycles and mopeds). Known primarily as a two-product group - Luna, the moped, and Kinetic, the ungeared scooter - the past five years has seen drastic changes for it.
And Motwani was at the thick of it all ever since she joined the business in 1996. Born into a business family - grandfather H K Firodia started Kinetic Engineering and father Arun Firodia founded the Kinetic group - Motwani is the second of Arun's four offspring. Elder sister Kimaya is settled in the US, while younger sister Vismaya, an engineering graduate, looks after the group's exports and public relations. Brother Ajinkya is working in the US.
Armed with a management degree from Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, Motwani joined Barra International, California, an investment consultancy firm. Four years with Barra gave her an exposure to finance. This was also the time she met and married Manish Motwani, who was with Sun Microsystems. The two, though alike, are different too. ''He is calm and balanced, while I am hyperactive. Further, I like to socialise while he is a reserved homebird. But we're both family-oriented and enjoy similar things.''
On returning to India, Motwani joined her father's business while Manish started his own computer monitor manufacturing unit. A year later she took charge as joint managing director of Kinetic Motors. Besides the severe competition, the decision of Honda Motor Company, the joint venture partner for Kinetic Honda Motors rolling out the popular Kinetic Honda scooters, to go it alone was a jolt.
But the divorce was amicably achieved in 1998 and the company was renamed Kinetic Motors. Many felt the group was at crossroads with just two vehicles in its portfolio - an ungeared scooter and a moped. The company's premium scooter, the Marvel, was not a great success. The group then decided to transform into a full range two-wheeler manufacturer, launching new models at all product segments (motorcycles, scooters, scooterettes and mopeds) and at every price point.
All the new products had to adhere to the cardinal rule of aggressive pricing, low ownership cost and maintenance, giving optimum performance. The group also restructured its finance business by merging three companies into one and floated Kinetic Marketing and Services to carry out door-to-door marketing of two-wheelers. ''My father gave me the freedom and I am not afraid of taking decisions,'' she says.
But decisions are taken after intense consultations with executives. ''My style of work is more participative and consultative. I believe in listening, as it is a source of learning.'' Vouches N Shankar, deputy regional manager, Tamil Nadu: ''She efficiently delegates responsibility and is receptive to ideas.'' In accordance with a suggestion, Motwani agreed to design and sell the V2 XL, a moped exclusively designed for the Tamil Nadu market.
When the Kinetic group decided to focus on four-stroke technology for its bikes, the technical tie-up with the Taiwanese company UEN helped. The entry into the motorcycles segment with the K4, a step-through bike, was soon followed up with the launch of the Challenger and the GF range of bikes. For the latter, the Kinetic group has a technical tie-up with Hyosung Motors, Korea. The latest launches are a four-stroke entry-level motorcycle (Boss), a four-stroke scooter (Nova) and a 65cc scooterette (Zing).
And Motwani has been responsible for it all, raising the group to Rs 1,200 crore and transforming it into a composite two-wheeler manufacturer with products for different price points. On the immediate anvil are a 150cc GF, a 110cc Challenger upgrade and another bike in the same category. In the next fiscal, two more models in the sub 200cc will be rolled out. Motwani says India is the second largest two-wheeler market in the world and is all set to overtake China, the number one.
''That will happen when the cost of owning a two-wheeler comes down and the road conditions improve.'' The group intends to bring down costs by a whopping 22 per cent over a three-year period. However, in the first year, it will be anywhere between 8 to 10 per cent. This will be achieved through design modification and locating competitive supply source and localisation in respect of GF bikes.
Within the two-wheeler segment, Motwani predicts that motorcycles will rule the market, while ungeared scooters will show a higher growth rate than geared ones. ''While the ungeared scooters will be in demand in urban areas, the rural and youth segments will prefer bikes.'' For the group, she predicts that bikes will contribute 40-50 per cent sales followed by scooters with 40 per cent and the balance by mopeds.
With moped sales coming down, Kinetic Engineering has changed the production line in a major way to roll the Boss out of its Ahmednagar plant. The changeover will double the bike production to 1 lakh by the end of this year. Similarly, the Pithampur plant of Kinetic Motors rolling out the DX and ZX Kinetic scooter models was relaid to manufacture the Nova and the Zing. Though both the companies logged a lower turnover last fiscal and the first quarter of the current fiscal, the group expects to reverse the trend.
''Last year, we focused our efforts in preparing for the changeover. All the new models are for volume segments. This year we will reap the benefits.'' Shankar says the group has sold 19,000 vehicles in July 2002 and is cruising smoothly towards a monthly target of 26,000.
On the threat posed by foreign companies setting up shops on their own after divorcing their Indian joint venture partners, Motwani says: ''That threat was always there. But we have been in this market for a long time and Indian consumers are value- and not brand-conscious. We have already started meeting the threats.''
Not only is she meeting the competition but has also undertaken exports to other countries. The group exports mopeds, scooters and GF bikes to the US, Canada and Australia, and several European, Asian and African nations. Apart from complete vehicles, the group also exports engines to China, Egypt, Kuwait and Argentina. The increasing exports to Latin American markets have prompted Motwani to contemplate setting up a production base there.
Ever since Motwani decided to focus on propelling the Kinetic group ahead in the two-wheeler industry, she has been living out of suitcases travelling for nearly 20 days in a month. ''I believe in first-hand experience and have travelled to even small towns in south,'' she says. ''But my travel has reduced now, due to my two-year-old son Sidhant.''
When not launching new bikes, Motwani likes to play golf, ski, read non-fiction and watch movies. ''In the US, I learnt sky-diving, scuba-diving and mountain-biking.'' Her favourite authors are Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and Indian diplomat-writer Shashi Tharoor, while Harrison Ford and Amitabh Bachchan are her favoured actors.
Motwani is fluent in Marathi, Rajasthani, Hindi, English, French and can even ''manage a smattering of Sindhi.'' Grateful that all her dreams have come true, Motwani wants to be remembered as ''a successful and down-to-earth person.''