Designation: Managing Director, Audi India
Education: International education in business administration and economics from Germany
Career: Took over as head of Audi India in July 2010. Spent 3 years in India from 1997-2000 as general manager at Mercedes Benz
Interests: Skiing and mountain biking
After having accumulated more than five years of experience in two different stints and in two different locations, I think the best way to come to India is not to expect anything. The minute you say, ‘I have expectations’, I think you will—I don’t want to say disappointed—but it cannot be met because whatever you think when you are not in India will not be met when you are here the first time.
How do I explain to somebody how India smells? You can’t unless you have gone to a herb market in Jaipur or [experienced] the traffic in Mumbai where there are scooters, motorcycles, rickshaws and a little bit of sea breeze…it is too complex. Everybody who comes here should have a clean piece of paper or clean mind. Whatever will be described to you, your experience will show otherwise. You can’t compare India to anything that is in the Western world today. People say, maybe it is like Istanbul. Ah! Istanbul and India are two different planets. Is it like Cairo? No.
The best advice for anybody is to absorb everything when you are here, read about it if you want to and start making your expectations after that. The key here is that you have to look at India always as the glass that is half full and not half empty. If you crib and cry about anything that you don’t have here, you will never be happy. We have lots of trainees here at Audi and I say if you start comparing, you are lost. If you don’t then you will see the positives; like the business opportunity, dynamism, flexibility and entrepreneurial culture.
I never compare India to Munich. That doesn’t work because I know Munich well and I can’t always say, ‘oh, I am missing that and that’. My daughter is in an international school here; she can get along with students from 55 nationalities, so it broadens her horizons. Would I get that at home? No. Now, if I want to go jogging on the seaside, I can because I live in Bandra in Mumbai. Could I have done that at home? No.
Hotels are boring. I live in a rented flat in Pali Naka in Bandra. I think if you stay in a hotel where everything is taken care of, you don’t really have an experience. I enjoy going to the video store or the Pali market to buy stuff because it is part of the experience. It is not that I have to do it everyday—luckily my wife does it—but I find that this is part of the India experience.
If you don’t like getting in a rickshaw or taste spices once in a while, then why come here in the first place? It is like going to a Thai restaurant and saying I don’t want spicy food. I think you should move out of the hotel as quickly as possible. Once you get used to it, after a while, you get lazy and you don’t want to move out because you find it very convenient. I think that way you will lack the real experience which is out there in Bandra, Worli and Lower Parel. Also, you should not move to a building where there are only expatriates. For brands where you need to make decisions on the basis of consumer behaviour, you are missing the reality if you do that. How can you judge the response to anything if you don’t live that life?
Career is a relative term. So a career could mean that every year you get an upgrade from your position and salary and you move closer to board level. When I look at India, I see experience. To experiment because my business here is small enough, I don’t have to go to my Board every month and report everything I do. You have a lot of liberty to do things the way you want to. There are also not many people who know it better. Yeah! Not many people have worked in India to say you should do it like this. If you talk about Germany, the UK and the US, everybody has been there and everybody claims to be a specialist. For India, there are very few specialists. For me, it works because I have the liberty and it is the right time for the industry, especially in the luxury cars [segment] because we are still in a virgin market.
In China, last year, we sold 3,10,000 Audis and in India we sold 5,511. So, there’s a big scope for us in India. I think if you look at career in the traditional sense, it may or may not work. The risk to fail is bigger here because it is less predictable, more volatile, but it can be more rewarding as well.
I think for us males, the job is much easier. Wherever I go to office in Mumbai or anywhere else in the world, 60-70 percent of my job follows a certain rhythm. But if you talk to my wife, her life changed 180 degrees coming here. So, I think one of the key challenges in India is to manage your work-life balance. You have to have some time to keep your family involved. Since my job involves a lot of travelling, I need to spend quality time with them every once in a while because then they will say, ‘why the heck should we come here in the first place, we hardly get to see you so we could have stayed back in Germany anyway’. You have to manage that.
You will get respect. At the end of the day [for] what you achieve here in India, everybody will give you credit because they know it is not just about business. I mean to do the same business in Italy or France or the UK is easy because you go to the office and just do the business.
But here you have to master all the surrounding challenges, work-life balance, getting used to the culture; then you have to decide, ‘do I do relationship building or do I do just a technical job?’ You realise you should do relationship building because then you build a network which makes you successful.
Now, we have projected to headquarters what we want to sell in India for the next five years and when people look at that growth, they start saying, ‘oh! India is not a small country for us anymore’. We have said in 10 years time we want to sell minimum 50,000 cars. That is in the middle of the larger European market league, let’s say the champions’ league. Then people say, ‘oh! So you gain respect projecting the kind of potential the country has’. For that you have to be the ambassador of India in Germany at the headquarters.
For many people, India is still a black box. We have been focussed on China for many years and I think we realised that India is really at the next step. Probably in 10 years, India will be the third or fourth largest nation in the automobile world in terms of sales. You can’t build this image at one shot. There is a saying that a constant drop hollows the stone.
(As told to Ashish K. Mishra)
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(This story appears in the 13 April, 2012 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)