For India’s largest car company by sales, MarutiSuzuki, Jagdish Khattar—bureaucrat and former MD of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL)—was truly a custodian of change. Roughly at the time when the company could have buckled under foreign car-makers’ (chiefly Korean) entry into the hatchback segment, where it was the monopolist, Khattar took office and helped steer the car-maker on to a trajectory that speaks for itself. It is true that there are various factors at play behind MSIL’s continued dominance of the Indian car market, but Khattar’s leadership of close to a decade and a half—first as director (marketing) and then as MD—was certainly not a small one. Indeed, the fact that his leadership first received the government’s endorsement and then, much more crucially, the Suzuki corporation’s endorsement is a testament in the superlative to the direction he provided to MSIL.
Realising early the potential of the pre-owned car market in India, he set up True Value, MSIL’s multi-brand used car business, in 2002. That acuity of vision has paid off for the company—True Value leads the organised car resale business in a country where the sale of pre-owned cars outstrips the sale of new cars. True Value’s success is sometimes juxtaposed with Khattar’s own (post-retirement) car-resale venture, Carnation Auto, that unfortunately tanked. However, the bigger takeaway from the episode has to be Khattar’s entrepreneurial zeal; starting a business by investing one’s life-savings in what is typically perceived as the sunset years is certainly not a challenge most people would be up to. Khattar sure was a stalwart of Indian automotive industry—having made a competitive car company out of a protected monopoly. But, he also must be celebrated for his entrepreneurial daring.