If you were to poll the managers at the Rs 250-crore Otis Elevator Company (India), you are almost certain to find that Raj Bajaaj, its 56-year-old managing director, tops the popularity ratings. Not because he's a nice guy, easy to get along with; in fact, in his 10 years at the helm of the company, he's driven everyone hard. But that includes himself. There's no let up even now.
Meeting Bajaaj face to face, you can almost sense the energy that runs through his rangy, just-under-six foot frame and his restless mind. Behind his ready smile you can see the steel in his eyes.
What drives Bajaaj is a determination to excel. Even though he believes Otis India has managed to achieve a lot, after struggling a lot, his sense of self-achievement has induced him to push the winning line further. "I want to make Otis India the number one company in the Otis family worldwide."
Otis Elevator Company (India) is a subsidiary of Otis Elevator Company of the US, which is a part of the $25.7-billion United Technologies Corporation. United Technologies owns other large companies, such as Carrier, and Pratt & Whitney.
Although impatient by nature, experience has taught him that achievements cannot come overnight. A lot of struggle, a lot of pushing, a lot of inducing progress step by little step, is required. Bajaaj is game. Pushing growth in turnover to Rs 250 crore in December 1998, up from Rs 53.13 crore in March 1989, proves that.
Over this time, he's had to deal with persistent union problems and an excess workforce. And, simultaneously, push for better performance, new mindsets, quality consciousness, decentralisation of power, group consensus and accountability at every level (see ).
Changing mindsets has probably been his biggest challenge, because he stepped in at a time when India was still to begin liberalisation, and Otis India yet to face serious competition. Mindsets were nurtured around functioning in a protective environment. "For me, the challenge was how to rally people around."
Bajaaj's appointment as head of Otis India in 1989 may have seemed odd to many, since he had built a reputation over 10 years with Otis worldwide, as the man who turned around loss making group companies into profitable ones. That included Otis subsidiaries in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Thailand and Malaysia. What would a guy like this do in Otis India, which was still sitting pretty with hardly any competition?
"Otis must have seen in me a person who understood the meaning of working under competitive pressures, a perspective missing in India, given its closed environment then." He also recalls a conversation with the current Otis group chairman, which happened when he was posted in Malaysia.
The yet-to-be chairman observed that what Maruti Udyog was then doing to the automobile industry in India could be achieved in the elevator market too. Add to that his knowledge of the Indian marketplace and of Otis India, and Bajaaj seemed the just the right choice. He had worked with Otis, as a representative of Mahindra & Mahindra, for a decade before his stint with Otis worldwide.
Quality, team work
Quality headed Bajaaj's list of priorities when he returned to India, followed by decentralisation of power, business planning and decision-making authority -- linked with accountability -- and consensus-building. He believes a lot has been achieved in these areas, though some problems remain.
"We are like any other company coming out of a protected environment," he says practically. He's quick to agree that a lot still remains to be done. "But the important. thing is, we're not sitting on our laurels. We are willing to face realities, understand our weaknesses and act on them." For Bajaaj, "we" is an important word, since he believes that it is teamwork that can help Otis India surmount its challenges.
As part of not sitting on its laurels, the company recently got Gallup MBA India to conduct a customer satisfaction survey for the Otis brand. "Our brand recall, the survey shows, is almost 100 per cent. The biggest thing people recall about Otis is its reliability and safety. The survey shows that we are ahead of competition, but it has also given some warning signs," says Bajaaj.
He's taking the warning signs seriously, since he's aware that competition is going to get tougher in the future. Though Otis is still market leader, with an approximately 57 per cent value and volume share of the elevator market, it is being seriously challenged at the upper end by multinational entrants such as Mitsubishi and Kone.
"The moment the market shows serious signs of growth, you'll have massive entrance here," says Bajaaj. "Our biggest challenge will be to get consumers to see Otis differently from competition. We have to be seen as a customer-care company."
However, he will not be denied the sense of pride his team and he feel in achieving what they have achieved. That's what's driving them forward. Otis India has grown 10 per cent a year over the past four years, Bajaaj points out. Yes, the average rate of growth may have been lower than the 15-16 per cent in 1995. "But we've grown faster than the industry rate of growth. Productivity has grown four-fold, and payroll costs, as a percentage to sales, have come down from 30 per cent 10 years ago to 20 per cent today."
Riding on these achievements, Bajaaj is determined to take Otis India forward towards bigger goals. However, if the parent company wants him to take on something else, he's quite okay with packing up his bags and moving.
"Succession planning is a big thing in the group. Every position has a back-up defined." Turning 57 in December 1999, Raj Bajaaj is nowhere close to being in "retirement mode". The retirement age for Otis India board members is 65, and he doesn't see himself hanging up his coat even then.