Jagdish Khattar was undoubtedly a stalwart of the Indian auto industry, but we must celebrate his entrepreneurial daring, too
For India’s largest car company by sales, MarutiSuzuki, Jagdish Khattar—bureaucrat and former MD of Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL)—was truly a custodian of change. Roughly at the time when the company could have buckled under foreign car-makers’ (chiefly Korean) entry into the hatchback segment, where it was the monopolist, Khattar took office and helped steer the car-maker on to a trajectory that speaks for itself. It is true that there are various factors at play behind MSIL’s continued dominance of the Indian car market, but Khattar’s leadership of close to a decade and a half—first as director (marketing) and then as MD—was certainly not a small one. Indeed, the fact that his leadership first received the government’s endorsement and then, much more crucially, the Suzuki corporation’s endorsement is a testament in the superlative to the direction he provided to MSIL.
Realising early the potential of the pre-owned car market in India, he set up True Value, MSIL’s multi-brand used car business, in 2002. That acuity of vision has paid off for the company—True Value leads the organised car resale business in a country where the sale of pre-owned cars outstrips the sale of new cars. True Value’s success is sometimes juxtaposed with Khattar’s own (post-retirement) car-resale venture, Carnation Auto, that unfortunately tanked. However, the bigger takeaway from the episode has to be Khattar’s entrepreneurial zeal; starting a business by investing one’s life-savings in what is typically perceived as the sunset years is certainly not a challenge most people would be up to. Khattar sure was a stalwart of Indian automotive industry—having made a competitive car company out of a protected monopoly. But, he also must be celebrated for his entrepreneurial daring.