Newsmaker of 2020: Rajiv Bajaj

Bajaj Auto’s Managing Director is Captain Courageous for being the lone voice to object to the lockdown. Despite global lockdowns, the company has notched record exports and the electric Chetak is on a roll in India.

By Sumana Sarkar calendar 04 Jan 2021 Views icon16172 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Bajaj Auto’s Managing Director is Captain Courageous for being the lone voice to object to the lockdown. Despite global lockdowns, the company has notched record exports and the electric Chetak is on a roll in India.

He is no doubt an unconventional leader. Whether it is on the shopfloor or in a fancy boardroom, it is not difficult to spot him in the, oh-so famous, black T-shirt with the blue Bajaj Auto logo etched prominently.

Rajiv Bajaj, the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, has never really shied away from being candid and outspoken. His views on the lockdown, perhaps, attracted as much attention as the company’s performance in the past few months. 

During this time, his was a solitary voice questioning the merit of abrupt lockdowns or even vaccines that were being developed in a rush. The Bajaj Auto boss is of the view that a country like India could just not afford to go in for something as “draconian” as this massive closure. It’s no secret that he is passionate about yoga and homeopathy but his critics will argue that Covid-19 has been a different animal altogether. 

Bajaj Auto also wasted little time in resuming operations during the unlocking phase. Its MD had to face flak subsequently for the Covid outbreak at the Waluj facility in Aurangabad. Those baying for his blood, following his blunt views on the lockdown, were delighted that he seemed to be at the receiving end now but Bajaj remained unfazed even as the show went on. 
Peter Drucker says, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

Bajaj fits this description perfectly. Starting from forging fresh alliances, launching new products, focusing on the differentiator strategy and, of course, sticking his neck out to take a contrarian stance on the lockdown, he has walked the talk.

As production resumed across the country in a step-by-step fashion, the company will have reasons to feel pleased. Its exports have been on a roll and recorded the highest in October, exceeding the 200,000-unit mark, thanks to tailwinds from Africa and Latin America where the Pulsar and Dominar are much sought after.

Back home, the Pulsar recorded its highest ever sales of over 170,000 bikes in October while monthly sales, including exports, crossed the half-a-million mark in October. Perhaps, the best piece of news was the positive response to the Chetak electric scooter and it is quite likely that Bajaj Auto will now look at expanding its presence beyond Pune and Bangalore.

This goes in line with what its MD had said in a video message to commemorate the company’s 75th anniversary where some key takeaways are on the imperatives of electric and global R&D. Doubtless, the partnerships with KTM (including Husqvarna) and Triumph will take the global story to the next level in the coming years.

Rajiv Bajaj and his team clearly have a lot on their plate going forward, especially on the new foray with Triumph for midsize bikes in the 300-700cc range. If things go according to plan, they could pose the first real threat to Royal Enfield’s dominance in the cruiser segment.

As for KTM, it is an alliance that has worked like a charm since the time Bajaj Auto took a 14 percent stake in the Austrian bike maker way back in 2007. Even while this component has since grown over three-fold to 48 percent, the partners believe the edifice of trust and faith are the bigger pluses in this alliance. It is this comfort level that has helped rein in Triumph too where the Chakan plant in Pune will take its role as a global manufacturing hub to the next level.

This was first published in Autocar professional's 16th Anniversary issue on December 15, 2020

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