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Venu Srinivasan: The man who took TVS from mopeds to BMW

We profile the TVS Motor Chairman, who announced last week that he would step down in 2023 and hand the reins over to former Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth. Accolades have poured in for Srinivasan, who transformed the company that was once known only for making the simple 50-cc moped.

March 29, 2021 / 01:11 PM IST
 
 
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After 21 years at the helm, Venu Srinivasan, Chairman of TVS Motor Company, will step down to let former Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth become the new chairman of the two-wheeler company in 2023. This is perhaps the first time that a person outside the TVS family has been appointed as the top boss of a group company.

This might come as a surprise to shareholders of TVS Motor Company, given that the company’s board had handed Srinivasan a five-year term effective from April 2020.

But given the global ambitions of TVS, as was illustrated in Srinivasan’s corporate moves such as the buyout of the UK’s famed Norton brand and the tie-up with Germany’s BMW Motorrad, the appointment of Speth should not raise too many eyebrows. “His thoughts will add immensely to TVS Motor as the company shapes itself for the future,” Srinivasan said at the time of the appointment.

Under Srinivasan, TVS was transformed from predominantly being a moped maker to a credible two-wheeler company that created its own niche in a fiercely competitive market that also had Hero, Honda and Bajaj. 

Building the company

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Son of TS Srinivasan, Venu Srinivasan is a third-generation entrepreneur from the diversified TVS Group, founded by TV Sundaram Iyengar. Taking over as chairman of TVS Motor Company a year after it parted ways with Japanese company Suzuki, Venu Srinivasan helped transform the way TVS has been perceived in the corporate world.

From making the humble-looking 50cc moped of the 1980s, TVS factories have graduated to building 300cc race motorcycles, best-selling 125cc gearless scooters, battery electric scooters and even BMW bikes for European and domestic markets. Last year, in what was its first takeover ever, TVS acquired Britain’s 123-year-old iconic sporting motorcycle brand, Norton.

TVS has the third-largest share in India’s 15-million-units-a-year two-wheeler market. The Chennai-based company is the second-largest manufacturer of scooters a with market leadership position in the 150cc-200cc motorcycle category. Under Srinivasan, TVS gave birth to brands such as Victor, Jupiter, Apache, Star City and Ntorq. TVS has a monopoly in mopeds and remains the only manufacturer to build them.

Peers acknowledge achievements

Talking to Moneycontrol, Rajiv Bajaj, Managing Director, Bajaj Auto, said: “To lead an organisation is, among other things, I believe: to give it a clear strategic direction, to be abreast of technology and passionate about quality, to build robust core competencies, to establish a global presence and at times, when in troubled waters, to take charge with unwavering conviction and lead your ship out of crisis by adapting and innovating.”

He continued: “Venu has done all this and more by virtue of extending his exemplary leadership to multiple industry organisations, displaying great skill and temperament in managing peers and governments alike. He has, by his life's work at TVS — that's now being ably furthered by Sudarshan (Venu Srinivasan’s son and Joint MD) — ensured that Indian two-wheeler brands are perceived to be world-class across the globe. This is as fine an example as any of the blend of the spirit of a driven entrepreneur and the discipline of a gritty manager.”

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough for TVS came in 2016 when BMW bikes rolled out from TVS production lines under a non-equity partnership. So impressed was Stephan Schaller, the CEO of BMW Motorrad, that he famously said: “I am 100 percent convinced that TVS is able to do first-class quality. You can eat off the floor of their factory; it is so clean and well ordered.”

Shekar Viswanathan, former vice chairman of Toyota Kirloskar Motor, said: “Mr Srinivasan was synonymous with the word quality and his personal involvement in driving this through the organisations he captained was exemplary. During his reign, the need to continue the partnership with Suzuki was given up as perhaps the first example of Aatmanirbharta! That decision was a tribute to the faith reposed in Indian workmen, supervisors and engineers.”

Branded as conservative and risk-averse, Srinivasan broke TVS’s legacy by putting faith in start-ups, a few of which are largely unrelated to the company’s core operations. In recent years, TVS has made investments in supply-chain internet of things (IoT) and machine learning start-ups such as Bengaluru-based TagBox and US-based Altizon Inc. In 2017, TVS decided to invest in electric motorcycle maker Ultraviolette.

TVS became the first Indian two-wheeler company to launch a motorcycle, Apache RTR 200 Fi, that can run fully on ethanol (E100). In early 2020, TVS entered the electric two-wheeler space with the launch of the iQube scooter.

Conferred with the Padma Shri award, Srinivasan has been associated with the Tata group closely. Besides being on the boards of Tata Coffee and Oriental Hotels, he has been a director on the Tata Sons board since 2016. He was subsequently made a trustee at the prestigious Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, a major shareholder and chief promoter of Tata Sons.

Post the dramatic meltdown in demand due to the Covid-19-induced lockdown, TVS has been second only to Hero MotorCorp in getting back on its feet. The drop in April-February domestic sales stood at 15.3 percent as against the industry's 17.7 percent decline, according to data shared by the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.
Swaraj Baggonkar
first published: Mar 29, 2021 01:11 pm

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