By M.R. Narayan Swamy IANS | 1 month ago

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He doesn't use his mobile phone, he has never sent an email, and he doesn't believe in conference calls. He harnesses technology but considers it a curse if it impedes performance. Despite the tough word business is, he doesn't consider anyone his competitor. And in this era of fast cars and faster airplanes, he still loves the cycle - his cycle. Meet Om Prakash Munjal (OP), the very humble owner of the Ludhiana-based Hero Cycles, which produces 19,500 cycles a day - more than any other company in the world and a Guinness record.

This is the story of that man and how he struggled against the greatest of odds (the 1947 partition included) to achieve the success that many only dream of. Author Priya Kumar, also a motivational speaker, does credit to her writing skills by persuading an otherwise reticent OP, now 86, to open up majorly for the first time to produce a beautiful and captivating story of a businessman for whom Hero Cycles is more than a business, a way of life.

The 57-year-old Hero Cycle is the product of "grit and perseverance of four brothers" (out of seven siblings in all) who decided at the outset not to give up honesty, come what may. The inspiration came easily in a family where respect for the elders came naturally, where children grew up studying the Gita, and where OP even today touches the feet of his elder brothers.

The Munjals began by selling cycle parts, with OP - who had only passed the 10th grade -- given the daunting task of going from city to city to collect orders. He travelled in third class rail compartments and stayed in the cheapest hotels. At one time, 80 percent of their business shut down due to poor quality of cycle parts supplied to them. The brothers took loans from family and friends to start all over again. It was Punjab chief minister Pratap Singh Kairon who, at a chance meeting, told one of the brothers to start assembling cycles instead. The Hero brand then became Hero Cycles, to take on giants such as Raleigh and Hercules, and it never looked back.

One of the highest taxpayers in Ludhiana, OP - who was later given Hero Cycles to manage when the family split up the larger business empire - steadily conquered markets in city after city with "love, integrity and undying professionalism". Today, Hero Cycles, a national pride, has a 37 percent share of the Indian market.

OP, Priya tells us, personally looks into all purchases, supplies and sales. He demands excellence, is ruthless when it comes to performance. He employs more than 3,500 people and knows them all by name! If he learns an employee is in distress, he goes to his rescue. He treats all Hero dealers as his family. No dealer is allowed to suffer if Hero Cycles makes a mistake. If the dealers visit Ludhiana, OP - the multimillionaire - is at the railway station to receive them. And the dealers stay in his house! OP "overwhelms people with the extent of his concern and his interest in them". In the process, he has built a loyalty unmatched in business; if he wants to hike production, he simply barks an emotive order. In just 10 minutes flat, the workers know they have a new peak to scale.

Once OP realized that the quality of his cycles needed to be upgraded to match international standards. He halted production and recalled all unsold cycles, replacing them with the superior version. At Hero Cycles, there are no finished products at the end of the day. As soon as they are assembled from the last shop floor, they are loaded onto trucks which leave every evening. The company has - in Japanese style -- no warehouses.

Faced with a truck drivers strike, OP ordered buses to transport his cycles! Another day a general strike crippled Ludhiana but OP vowed to produce as many cycles as he himself can. 'Within minutes, all the workers returned to their duties behind the locked factory gates. All orders were met. The delivery was ready before the end of the day. The workers stayed at the factory that night. OP stayed too, and they all ate together and slept on the floor of the factory."

But OP is a taskmaster. He has no tolerance for mediocrity. He can tell the difference between negligence and a mistake. He won't take no for an answer. "People at Hero Cycles are sacred of OP's temper." But the values and principles he injects into work has ensured that there has been no lawsuit against Hero.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy is the Executive Editor at IANS. He can be reached on narayan.swamy@ians.in.)

(Posted on 21-06-2014)