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The True Legacy Of Jagdish Khattar: A Pipeline Of Industry Leaders

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Volvo India MD Jyoti Malhotra writes about what he learnt from Jagdish Khattar, and the legacy he leaves behind. Khattar passed away on April 26 2021, and was best known for steering Maruti to its strength. Malhotra worked with Khattar in Maruti Suzuki from 2000-2008.


Khattar mentored many auto professionals who have gone on to leadership positions
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Khattar mentored many auto professionals who have gone on to leadership positions

They say creating a leadership legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people. When I saw the news that Mr. Jagdish Khattar is no more, my first reaction was shock, followed by a barrage of emotions. It is the kind of pain that you associate with a personal loss. I was sad throughout the day. Memories, time spent with him, a replay of old pictures, all kept on flashing through my mind. I realised that Mr. Khattar lives on, not just in me, but in so many of us. We the current leaders in the Indian auto sector are in fact his legacy. Let me explain why I say this.

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Malhotra seen with Khullar (Ex-Renault, now Hyundai) and Ram Suresh Akella (Bajaj) at a Maruti dealer conference in Istanbul in 2006

The day I first met him, when I was working with the then Maruti Udyog Ltd, as one of the many territory managers there, is still vivid in my mind. I said hello to him and he introduced me to a Japanese colleague next to him, “Jyoti is the one who ensures that we all get our salaries at the end of the month”. I was floored! Me, just a territory manager – and he, the MD of India’s largest automobile manufacturer, introducing me like this! From then on I became his disciple, which I still am today. Over a period of time, I realised that I was not the only one who had such thoughts – it was all around. He lives in all of us – that is his legacy. Just look around the industry and you will find people he motivated, mentored and managed. And the many people he inspired, nurtured and guided. All of us are working in various auto companies at senior leadership positions today.

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The writer seen with Jagdish Khattar and Kinji Saito, former Director Sales and Marketing, Maruti

The first set of senior leaders were the likes of Arvind Saxena, who rose to become MD of Volkswagen India, Arun Malhotra, who was MD at Nissan India, Mayank Pareek who went to become Executive Director at Maruti before heading Tata Motors, and also R S Kalsi, Executive Director at Maruti Suzuki. The next generation produced Shashank Shrivastava (current ED at Maruti), Tarun Garg (Director – Sales and Marketing at Hyundai), Rakesh Srivastava (MD – Nissan), Jnaneswar Sen (former Head – Sales & Marketing at Honda Cars).

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The brat pack! at the 2016 Auto Expo. Jyoti Malhotra seen with the likes of Vurat Khullar (Hyundai) and Hardeep Brar (Kia)

The third layer of people – where indeed I too belong, is now taking wing. It consists of people like Ram Suresh Akella (Maruti), Virat Khullar (former Renault, now Hyundai), Satinder Bajwa (Mahindra), Hardeep Brar (former GWM, now Kia), Pankaj Sharma (Royal Enfield), Bhuvan Dheer (Maruti), and Manish Rathore (Bajaj). They all are at senior leadership positions. The one common thread amongst all the names I have mentioned here? The grooming we all received in the time we spent at Maruti in our early days, during the tenure of Mr. Khattar.

Mr. Khattar gave dignity to people in field. He empowered them. He would call juniors like me and many others directly, cutting through all hierarchies, and seek advice. These calls would typically come on Sunday mornings and he will start with – ‘Aur bataaiye, kya chal raha hai, aapki market mein?’ (So tell me, what is happening in your market?). These were just brainstorming chats, where you could tell him your ideas, howsoever wild they may have seemed. And he had the knack of picking up some nuggets from these conversations and scaling them up.

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Rakesh Srivastava, MD- Nissan India, SN Burman, was last head of sales at Tata, Jnaneswar Sen, Former Senior Vice President, Sales And Marketing, Honda Cars India, Avik Chattopadhyay, Auto Industry Consultant 

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You’d then feel goosebumps when you’d realise a few months later, that something you just casually discussed with your MD, has taken the shape of a national scheme. Such a proud feeling He would typically comment – “I keep on telling those who sit on the 11th Floor (referring to Maruti’s then HQ in New Delhi) to go down and find insights.” When the Maruti 800 had no competition and we would measure our success by measuring target versus achievement, he came up with the idea of measuring “Opportunity Share” – how many Maruti 800s have you sold versus the potential buyers available in the market. He may well have picked the idea up in a crude form from some humble soul like me, and then shaped it, gave it a great spin and made everyone chase it. That’s how the company grew and that’s how the people grew too. And that’s what created this seemingly never-ending pipeline of automobile industry leaders – and that right there is the legacy he is leaving behind. I feel like telling my mentor, “You have not only left something for people sir, but you have also left something in all the people you touched. Your legacy is reflected in India’s booming automobile sector.”

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