"A bad day in office is when I hit traffic on my Harley"

Harley Davidson India’s MD Anoop Prakash tells Ashish K. Mishra about the passion that makes the brand an icon and what the India love affair is all about

Published: Jan 7, 2010 12:17:47 PM IST
Updated: Jan 11, 2010 01:57:21 PM IST

If there is one thing that you just cannot afford to miss at the Delhi Auto Expo 2010, it is stall number 2C in hall 7. That’s because the Harley Davidson is parked there. This legendary motorcycle brand is present in full strength at the expo — two wheelers from all five motorcycle families, the Sportster, the Dyna, the VRSC, the Softail and the top-of-the-range Touring series. All of which are going to hit the Indian roads this June.

And then there’s the man heading the India operations. A conversation with Anoop Prakash, Managing Director of Harley Davidson India, is like the typical Harley experience — unpretentious. He’s been a US Marine, has worked for the Presidential campaign in the US, has had a stint with McKinsey and is now heading Harley Davidson. He got his driving license in the US only months before this job. And he doesn’t have a driving license in India yet. “I still have to figure that one out,” he says.

Prakash doesn’t mind sitting down on a dirty staircase next to a food stall at the Auto Expo for this interview. “No problem, this is the place Harley Davidson does its interviews,” he says.

So, what’s the Harley Davidson India love affair all about?

I think, the most important driver of that love affair is that we are always authentic. We are never trying to be more than what we really are; we are speaking to riders across India, we are hearing them, learning from them wanting to bring the full riding experience to India and that authenticity is carried forward.

I think the media always refers to us as iconic and it’s always a humbling thing to be called iconic but that’s not something we call ourselves. Being an icon is something that is bestowed upon you for your authenticity and heritage, for what you stand for and I think that’s what has been really great about this journey.

We have just come in with a desire to establish leisure biking in India and riders have embraced that because they have been craving for it for so long.

You’ve recently come to India. How do you find the shift?

Personally, I’m having a ball. It’s a great place to be; I have all my mamas, masis and chahcas here so I’m really having a great time with them. My kids are loving the atmosphere here and the school.

It is a big change from living in the US in terms of the routine and lifestyle which is a little different — like when I get my drivers’ licence and all done. I mean, you need a kind of assistance to get around and of course the density of people makes it sometimes difficult to move around.

But I think the flip side of that is the richness, the welcoming and the warmth.

In terms of cons I don’t know if I have faced anything yet except that there is still a lack of choices. I think that is what has driven my thinking and our thinking as a company in terms of bringing a full range of choices.

When people ask me, is this segment going to grow? I say it is going to grow only when people have choices. Choices will get better and better in every category and pretty soon it will be so large that you will have to establish a brand. I think that in the past the limitation of choices limited the companies’ investment to create a brand in India because they have taken it for granted.

We do not take riders across India for granted because they are our employees, our peers and our customers. So, we are going to give them a full choice and experience.

Riding comes naturally to you?

Well, now it does. I only started riding last year when I joined Harley. I used to ride with my friends back when I was in the Marines. While I was always passionate about it, I never really had the bank account to go ahead and do it when I was a young man. But thankfully the stars aligned and a bad day in office is when I hit traffic on a Harley. So it’s not too bad. I will be riding one to office soon once we get these bikes here back from the show. We actually picked an office recently which is driving distance from where I stay and some free lane to do it.


How do you think Harley Davidson is going to sell in India? There are quite a few manufacturers with big bikes around who are getting serious about the market.

I think that at the end of the day when someone has to put their hard-earned money to work, to find the things they enjoy then they look for an asset which has residual value but also from which they can get the true experience. By that I mean experience of the brand, the product, the customer service and, of course, riding.

So the other brands in the market as far as I am concerned, when it comes to the leisure riding and heavyweight motorcycling, [are] “hobbyists”, dipping their toes in the water with one model here and there. You go to the showroom, you don’t see that bike, you see that in a corner being neglected. You see guys claiming to be leisure riding brands but really promoting the commutability of their bikes.

So when you look at Harley, this is what we do for our living. It is our core. We work every day to make leisure riding for our rider more enjoyable. Whether that’s designing the right technical riding gear, whether that’s bringing parts and accessories that riders want, whether that’s doing training on our bikes or test drives or doing events to create camaraderie — no one does that across the world, which is why we are what we are.

And I think that’s where we are well positioned to define that segment and also to do well. We are specialists in what we do and we have recently renewed our commitment to that specialisation.

We recently announced that we are going to discontinue Buell and divest MV Agusta, our two other brands. That’s because we realised that every dollar we put in Harley Davidson gives a much better return than we put in these other two brands. That is our core. We are specialists in heavyweight motorcycles and leisure riding experience in the world.

Bikes will be on sale in April?

Bikes will be on sale in June when our showrooms open but we will start bookings from April. The first five cities will be Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Chandigarh and then we are going to have a good time and I am planning to have the first Harley Rally.

A lot of manufacturers have actually vacated the market before you came in, believing that the segment isn’t receptive. What to your mind is going to be the size of your business here?

People often ask me what my volumes are going to be. The first thing is, no I don’t have a target in mind.

There are two reasons for that. One, that a company like Harley Davidson, which has been in 70 countries — we don’t just think in terms of one year. We are here for long with a commitment. We have invested in a subsidiary; this is Harley Davidson India. It is not an import shop.

The second reason is, I quite honestly believe that with all my training and skills I cannot put a finger on how big the market is. We have changed all the dynamics of the market. We have tripled the size of heavyweight bikes in the market in a single scoop today. That’s 12 motorcycles above 800cc, opening five showrooms at once.

We are not here to take orders and deliver it over a year like some people have done in the past. So I don’t think there is existing data research or market data that will give me a good indicator of what my volumes should be. It’s an easy one for me to say this but I guess pretty hard one for the headquarters.

How’s the job coming along? You haven’t done anything like this before.

Yeah, I haven’t done anything like this in this segment and never of this scale. But this is a great opportunity for me and a privilege to bring Harley Davidson to India. What I have done in my past is mainly help build new businesses and new partnerships in other industries. And I think the different skills that I have gotten from the military, working at McKinsey, being in the government or doing strategy simulations — I think they will all come together here for the benefit of myself and the riders.

Riding jacket or a corporate suit?

Oh man! Riding jacket. I left all my suits in the States. Except for one, mainly for weddings.

 

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  • Capt Mehul Sinha

    There is only one concern in buying a Harley in India - low ground clearance. This makes it almost impossible to take it off the Quadrilateral NH for a cruise. A 6 to 7 inch (150 - 170mm) clearance would have been great but that will also effect the low seating that makes a Harley - the company needs to look into this.

    on Feb 27, 2010