The first part of N.P. Mani’s interview was a showcase of his early days in Godrej as test-typist, how he grew to become an excellent sales and marketing person by his innovative strategies and brought Godrej typewriters to an indisputable numero uno position in the market.
This part of the interview portrays a new, outspoken Mani, a visionary and showman, a trusted man of Naval Godrej. It shows how he became the first to start franchising in Godrej, how he made Godrej the first corporate to enter the space and hi-tech industries and how he perceives the future of this Company.
FROM TEST-TYPING TO ROCKET ENGINE SELLING
Ch. How did your rapport with Naval Godrej improve?
N.M. Typewriters were one of his favourite products. Whatever I did in typewriters was known to him right from the beginning through other senior managers. He had the habit of visiting every plant and interacting with people. His decisions would be on the spot. He would even read copies, faxes received from Branches by Head Office people?So, if you needed some fast action, all you had to do was to just put the facts on a fax to whomsoever it was concerned and your job was done. Naval Godrej would follow it up.
It was a great occasion in my life when he interviewed me for the post of Management Trainee. The Company’s policy then for selection of management trainees was engineering with post-graduation in Management studies from recognised institutions like IIM, XLRI, Bajaj, etc. I did not have one. The interviewing panel comprised Naval Godrej, Jamshyd Godrej, Keku Naoroji and K.R. Hathi.
My interview was the longest. It lasted for 55 minutes. Naval Godrej asked me to speak on my career in the Company. It was a wonderful opportunity for me. I talked and talked with my usual humour. The panel kept bursting into peals of laughter. The top man in the Company heard me for nearly an hour. What a great feeling it was! Mr. Indrapal Singh broke the news to me. I was one of the three selected among 25 odd internal candidates.
Another incident, I remember, when I was going around in the Plant as Management Trainee around April 1970, Naval Godrej was looking at the new ‘PB?model to be launched in a couple of days. When he saw me, he asked me to test the machine. I did not comment for a while after typing, but could not resist telling him that we were going to burn our fingers again. His face became red. I made this statement in the presence of Gupte, Dr. Podar, Kolhatkar, Deshmukh, and others. He asked me the reason. I simply said: "I am not comfortable with this typewriter in terms of touch and speed. Having come back to ‘M-12?features with improvements, this model should have ‘M-12?lower universal bar as well. If this combination is made, the touch will be very light and will respond to good speed." He looked at Podar and asked him whether we could do that.
I also suggested that this model should be launched only after a survey was conducted with typists outside Godrej. Three typewriters masked with changes were tested in the market. The market findings were made into an 11-page report and presented to Dr. Hathi. The machine with modifications was well received in the market.
We launched the first ‘PB?in Delhi at Hotel Taj. In the agenda, a lot of speeches, etc. were mentioned first and later came the demonstration of ‘PB? Naval Godrej immediately realised the importance of demonstrating the machine to the dealers first and put this item first on the agenda. On the dais were seated Dr. Hathi, Dr. Palia, Jamshyd and his father Naval. I was not on the dais.
I went out to the other end of the dais. I came up to the platform, my hands full and raised with the machine in one hand and its carriage in the other. It was a dramatic entry. I wanted to demonstrate the flexibility of the machine. I fit the carriage to the machine showing how easily the two could be put together, and started typing. The whole crowd got excited and started clapping. I spoke to them about Typewriter selling. What was to last for 20 minutes went on for 40 minutes. I received a standing ovation on my presentation. For the first time Naval Godrej had seen me demonstrate a typewriter. I became popular not just within Godrej, but outside Godrej as well.
Such instances got me close to him.
Ch. You were the first to start franchising service activities when you became Branch Manager. How did you manage that?
N.M. I went to Trivandrum as Branch Manager on August 21, 1984. With only five persons in Sales, I started the Branch. I was not willing to recruit people for service and warehouse operations, which I wanted to franchise. The warehouse owner was given the responsibility of warehousing, loading, unloading, delivery, indoor service, etc. I took the help of Mr. Lam on all legal aspects.
Moreover, before I was sent to Trivandrum, the warehouse premises had already been more or less finalised. The location was in very unfriendly surroundings. I would go in a dhoti and stay in the market to understand the loading/unloading operations. I gradually started interacting with attimari workers without revealing my identity, discussed with a number of people, including labour officers, police officials, chambers of commerce... I got the clue. We could have our own team to do the job in any premises where there was no precedent of unloading by attimari workers. The first thing I did was to change the location. I identified a place in the heart of Trivandrum (a little less than an acre) with dilapidated sheds housing old buses. In fact, when Dr. Hathi saw the place, he was not willing to compromise on Godrej standards. I convinced him about my plans and how I would change the whole complex. Later, we discussed about total franchising, including loading and unloading, and the modalities of operation with our warehouse owners. The brothers who represented the family were brilliant and committed.
When the first truck arrived from Bombay, there were more than 300 attimari workers belonging to three different locations. I had already worked out in detail with the brothers (wherehouse owners) all arrangements, including Police protection if required. I was on a hot line with them throughout. They stood their ground and did not allow any one to enter the warehouse premises for unloading the truck. Trouble started, police were called. Reasoning and explanation of law did not work with them. Police arrested them and took them away. That was the end of it.
I had a lot of other problems as well, but nothing deterred me in enforcing my franchising concept. It worked very well and our cost of operation was the lowest by any standard. Later, the same concept was implemented when opening Coimbatore Branch.
Ch. What was Naval Godrej’s response to all this?
N.M. Naval Godrej was concerned about quality and overall control. He wanted Godrej to carry out all activities. But we would be cost-overrun sooner or later in Branches, particularly in smaller ones. With Divisionalisation, product groups started moving out of Branches. Many uneconomical small Branches were closed down. However, Trivandrum Branch still survived! The only way for Branches to be cost-effective was to offload all non-selling activities to Franchising. I did exactly that.
Later, in the early nineties, when making a presentation on out-sourcing Storwels, Jamshyd remarked: "You were 20 years ahead of the times!"