Book Review: The Making of Hero

The Book ‘ The Making of Hero’ is written by Sunil Kant Munjal

The author is part of the well respected Munjal family and the book is a very honest attempt to tell the story of Hero from an unique insider’s perspective.

The Munjals hailed from Kamalia, a small town in Lyallpur district of Punjab (now in Pakistan).

Owing to difficult economic circumstances, the Munjal brothers didn’t wait for matriculation and went to work straightaway. Its an interesting trivia to know that the first job of Brij Mohan Munjal (at the age of fifteen) was to count the number of sugarcane bundles at the fields before they were transported to the market !

Later, the Munjal brothers worked at the British ordinance factory in Quetta,Balochistan where they got training in machinery realated to arms and bicycles.

Subsequntly, they shifted to Ludhiana and started a small bicycle parts shop.This continued on a small scale till the birth of Hero Cycles in 1956.

Cycles was the growth industry of the time.As Brij Mohan Munjal said : “On the road, there were nothing other than bicycles.And nothing to repair them with”

The Book details how the Munjals went about manufacturing different parts of the bicycle-handlebars. mudguards, frames etc.

The design philosophy was simple – Aesthics was not important. What was important was cost, durability, simple maintenance and easy availability of spare parts. This same design philosophy ensured the huge success of Hero Motorcyles.

The Book then narrates how the biz grew from making a first year production of 639 bicycles a year to lakhs of bicycles in later years.

The author talks about how Honda partnered with Hero to establish Hero Honda.It makes for fascinating reading.

All family businesses end up eventually in splits and partitioning of assets.The Munjals went about it in a very professional and mature manner and is certainly worth emulating by other business families.

One of the greatest legacies of the Hero group is how they encouraged and built an entire eco-system of auto ancilliaries around Ludhiana.In a low trust society like India, its truly remarkable how so many people wanted to associate with the Munjals either as vendors,suppliers, dealers etc

I would strongly recommend this book for those interested in Indian family businesses.


Book Review: An Airman’s Saga

It’s been ages since I read a book, let alone write a Book Review.

Mainly because “Hell hath no fury like a wife doing housework when the hubby is chillaxing”

But now the house help is back and they have gifted me the luxury of time to read.

The Book ‘An Airman’s Saga’ is written by the Late Capt. V Sundaram

The Captain was one of the earliest pilots in India and the book describes his journey from a student at the Madras Flying Club in the 1920’s to one of India’s most experienced Instructors and Pilots

The Book brings to life the Madras (now Chennai) of the pre-Independence years and many facets of our history that I was unaware of.

For instance, I didn’t know that British had so feared the Japanese invasion of India that they had dynamited all of Madras’s bridges,railway stations etc

Another facet was that our Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was set up entirely with American assistance and Americans ran the plant till it got nationalised.

Capt. Sundaram’s life was super interesting.In his long career, he taught Indian Airforce pilots, worked with Tata Airlines,ran the plane of the Mysore Maharjah and then settled down with Indian Airlines.He loved animals and founded the Blue Cross of India.

Some anecdotes from the Book that left a lasting impression on me were:

  1. During Partition, Capt. Sundaram piloted planes from Multan to Jodhpur (a 2 hour flight).People begged to come on the plane else they would be massacred.To accomodate more passengers, people had to leave all their luggage behind.As such, people left all their life’s savings, gold, jewelry etc on the runway and entered India with just their clothes on their backs.
  2. Capt. Sundaram flew all of India’s political leaders .When Sardar Patel went about his mission to integrate India, Capt. Sundaram flew him in the Mysore Maharajah’s plane.What stuck me was the courtesy offered by Sardar Patel, Nehru etc to the pilot.Once Sardar Patel had dinner at the Captain’s home and Nehru invited the Sundarams for tea.I wonder if today’s Netas extend such courtesies
  3. When Sardar Patel came to Hyderabad after the Police Action, the Nizam himself came to greet him as he got off the plane.There is an iconic photo of this scene.What I didn’t know was the Nizam had never done this for anyone, not even the Viceroy of India !
  4. One trait which I find super annoying finds its mention in the Book.Indians have this tendency for the “White Man’s Approval”. Even Swami Vivekananda refers to this.Capt. Sundaram was in charge of the Mysore Maharajah’s plane but to his consternation, noone from the Maharaja’s Durbar was willing to travel in it.So he approached the British Resident of Mysore who agreed to travel in the plane.Only after the Britisher had travelled, the Indians started to travel in the plane !

Capt. Sundaram’s wife was the late Usha Sundaram who was the first woman commercial pilot of India.As such, both the husband-wife duo would have made a dashing couple in their time.

This book is a very light and breezy read…the kind you find neglected in a corner of a used bookstore and yet I am glad I read it.


Book Review: Deng Xiaoping & The Transformation of China

The Book ‘ Deng Xiapong & the Transformation of China’ is written by Ezra Vogel, who is a Professor at Havard University.

The Book traces the career of Deng Xiaoping as he started off as a young communist to the Paramount Leader of China.

The China we know now – rich, powerful, confident- is because of Deng Xiaoping-his guts, his vision and above all, his indomitable will.

The Book traces out the ups & downs of Deng’s career in the brutal politics of Mao’s China. The political skills required to survive and thrive in such a regime is just incredible.

When Deng took power, China was in a terrible shape.Millions had died due to famine etc and the country was desperately poor.

Deng set out and implemented the four modernizations comprising industry, agriculture, national defence and science & technology.

Deng was a true patriot and was focussed on reforms that will make China rich and powerful.He would brook no opposition in his way.Once the Party gave the order, all branches of the Govt including judiciary acted on it.

Deng was also extra-ordinarily wise. He knew that without technology China couldn’t prosper.So he repaired relations with Japan, Europe and the United States so that Chinese could learn from them.He invited them to invest in China and sent Chinese students there.

I was astounded to know that since 1980s, the Chinese Communist Govt had sent millions of students to study in the US.Unlike the Soviet Union which was afraid of people defecting, Deng didn’t care if people didn’t come back.He felt Chinese people would be an asset to China even outside China

Deng was intensely focussed on quadrupling China’s GDP. He used to remark that this was not a economic issue, but a political one. He knew that without economic growth, the people of China would throw the Communist Party out.

Deng is also known as the person who orchestrated the Tianneman massacre.The Book describes the events/incidents leading up to the massacre in great detail. The bottom line was that in the end it was the people of Beijing Vs Deng Xiaoping. Deng won.

India is mentioned in the Book only with reference to the 1962 war. Amongst Chinese policy makers, the 1962 war a textbook example of how a sucessful war should be fought by China-short, sharp and decisive.

Deng cited the example of the 1962 war when he invaded Vietnam in 1979.He wanted to teach Vietnam a lesson and the way he did it was by instigating border conflicts (sounds familiar?) .There were thousands of border conflicts on the China-Vietnam border which culminated in the invasion of Vietnam.

The Book also highlights the keen sensitivity of the Chinese Govt to Taiwan & Hong Kong.

Deng was fairly clear that UK would have to hand over Hong Kong to China. It was non-negotiable and the Chinese were prepared to go to war with UK if HK was not handed over peacefully to it.

Regarding Taiwan,it was an article of faith for Deng to reunify it with the mainland.It was one of his key goals but he was not able to do it owing to the determination of the Taiwanese people & US arms and support to Taiwan.

Deng’s following comment regarding Taiwan shows clearly the long term, ruthless and impacable nature of the Chinese Govt : ” If the problem cannot be solved peacefully, then it will be solved by force.This would do neither side any good.Reunification of the country is the aspiration of the whole nation.If it cannot be reunified in one hundred years, then it will be reunified in one thousand years.”

The Book is a very scholarly book , painstakingly researched and plainly written.As such, it can be a difficult read at times.

I would recommend this book only to serious history buffs interested in China.


Book Review: The Ride of a Lifetime

The Book ‘The Ride of a Lifetime’ is written by Robert Iger, the Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company.

The Book is about the remarkable career of Bob Iger and the various defining moves he did to transform Disney into the behemoth it is now.

Bob wrote the book to share his learnings with the audience and possibly with an eye on a political career.

The Book begins with his 10 principles which served him well such as optimism, courage, focus, decisiveness, curiosity, fairness, thoughtfulness, authenticity, relentless pursuit of perfection and integrity

His lines on Integrity stuck a chord with me : “Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product.They way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

The Book then goes on to descibe the various steps of Bob Iger’s career.He hailed from a middle class Jewish family in New York and had a deep desire to be a success.I loved his words : “I was determined not to live a life of disappointment”

Bob started his career in 1974 as a studio supervisor for ABC Television. He then rose steadily and surely to the top of the ranks.Subsequently, when Disney acquired ABC, he became #2 in the combined entity

Many biographies downplay the vicious politics , back biting, board room battles etc that happens in offices.Bob is unusually honest about it and makes for gripping reading.

When Eisner is ousted from Disney, the Board did not want to consider Bob for the # 1 position. Bob campaigned for the post just like a politician campaigns for office.One great insight was a company’s culture is shaped by what priorities is set by the leadership.And you can’t have too many priorities-just 3 of them.

Bob presented his 3 priorties to the Board and clinched the job:

  1. Creating high quality branded content
  2. Embracing Technology
  3. Becoming a truly global co

Bob spent the next 15 years just focussing on these 3 priorities and ending up creating one of the most valuable companies on the planet.

Priority 1 saw some of the greatest deals in the entertainment world- Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel etc

Priority 2 was about Disney + etc

Priority 3 saw the opening of Shanghai Disneyland etc

The anecdotes involved are very interesting and make for great reading.

There are some anecdotes of my hero Steve Jobs which just underscores what a remarkable man Steve was.

I would strongly recommend this Book to everyone interested in business.


Book Review: The CEO Factory

The Book ‘The CEO Factory-Management Lessons from Hindustan Unilever’ is written by Sudhir Sitapati who is the Executive Director, Foods & Refreshment at Hindustan Unilever.

The title is a bit of a misnomer as I thought the Book will be about the illustrious alumni of HUL, the folks who became CEOs at different cos such as Neville Noronha (Dmart), Gopal Vittal (Bharti Airtel) etc. It is estimated that a record 400 HUL alumni are CEOs/CXOs across corporate India.

Instead, the Book is about a bit of history of the co and then a deep dive into the various business functions which make HUL so iconic.The Book covers functions like marketing, advertising, sales,product, cost management, R&D, HR etc

Sudhir is considered to be one of the best FMCG brains in the country and is the amongst the youngest persons ever to become the ED of HUL.

The Book makes it clear why it is so. Its an absolute master class in a how a FMCG business operates. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you don’t need a MBA in Marketing if you read this book.

The book contains terrific insights and some amusing anecdotes. I loved the author’s definition of an insight – “An insight is a contradiction that is obvious in hindsight’

The Book also contains the rationale of HUL buying Glaxo Health Care’s brands in India which I found interesting.

Another aspect of the Book is that the author helpfully summarises the Chapter in a few points after each Chapter.

I would strongly recommend this Book to all businessmen and investors.