Author Elisabeth Foley has rightly said, “The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.” And that is precisely what Vikram Kirloskar and Toyota have demonstrated in their endearing relationship in the corporate world. Vikram Kirloskar is no more; he died on Nov 29, 2022 of a heart attack.
To understand the deep connect between Kirloskar and Toyota, you have to delve a bit into the past when the Indian automobile world was just beginning to break out from years of stifled existence as a result of convoluted government policies. Following economic liberalisation in 1991, the Indian government set up the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) which went about cautiously inviting foreign investment in various industries, including automotive. A new automobile policy too was announced in 1995.
Since it was a “cautious” approach towards foreign investment in India, several big guns from the global automotive world came into India through joint ventures with Indian partners.
In the passenger vehicle segment, Ford came in with the Mahindras, Mercedes-Benz came in with the Tatas, Honda came in with the Siddharth Shriram group, Fiat and Peugeot came in with Premier Automobiles, General Motors came in with Hindustan Motors of the CK Birla Group and Toyota came in with Kirloskar Motors. Over a period of time, except for Kirloskar, the Indian partners exited their joint ventures, letting the foreign entities operate on their own. A few of the global players left India for good.
Looking back, the Vikram Kirloskar- Toyota joint venture continued to flourish with the former playing a very constructive as well as meaningful role in the growth of Toyota Kirloskar Motor in India. Currently, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has an 89% equity stake in Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Limited (TKM), while Vikram S. Kirloskar controlled Kirloskar Systems Limited has an 11% equity stake in TKM. This in a way demonstrates the deep friendship between Kirloskars and Toyota.
Much after the FIPB was scrapped, and despite the fact that almost all the Indian partners of automobile joint ventures in India had bailed out, it was only Vikram Kirloskar who carried on with his tryst with Toyota. It was quite apparent during TKM press conferences that Toyota officials were kind of proud as well as confident to have Vikram by their side. Vikram too took keen interest in the affairs of the company and was an active partner in the growth of Toyota in India. Whether it was government policies, the environment or new technologies for automobiles, Vikram Kirloskar was quite thorough with every issue concerning his business. He was also the President of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) at one time. Now that Vikram Kirloskar is no more, he would be sorely missed by his Japanese partner as well as those in the automotive world.
The Gentleman of Twitter world
I view Twitter as a cauldron of immeasurable quantities of sense and nonsense. In fact, the same goes for Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and every other social media platform. By the time you end up wading through the deluge of posts and views, you are exhausted, frustrated, angry, suicidal and a mental wreck. I remember getting an email from Vinod Abraham of TKM in January 2017 informing me that Vikram Kirloskar is on Twitter. Abraham’s message said, “His views on the industry, plans for Toyota India and musings on things closest to his heart, the liberal arts, for instance, are just some of the things you can expect to see here”. The message then went on to say, “We would appreciate if you could follow @vikramkirloskar and say hello to him”.
Being slightly skeptical of tweets from industry CEOs, I forgot to follow Vikram Kirloskar. Regular tweets from a couple of other CEOs from the automotive world were actually driving me up the wall. Instead of tweeting about relevant matter, some of them continue to tweet on everything under the sun, be it fashion, hotel, pranks, accidents, drives, products and everything mundane. And to make matters worse, these tweets get converted into news that is carried by every news agency out there whether it is a TV channel, a newspaper or a magazine. I am convinced that either algorithms are playing havoc or CEOs’ social media handlers are paying their way into every possible publicity forum for their bosses. It’s an obsession that borders on narcissism and insanity.
It was very recently that I got to follow Vikram Kirloskar on Twitter. The moment I went through his tweets, I realised I had blundered big time by not following him on Twitter years back. His tweets reflect character, sincerity, polish, maturity, care and purpose. He left behind around 88,000 shocked twitter followers. Ideally he should be having 8 million followers but then the stark reality in the twitter world is that good sense has very few takers, while nonsense has several millions!
Kirlsokar’s last tweet was made in the afternoon of November 28, 2022. It simply says, “Tackling #climatechange is crucial. It is a critical strategic requirement that businesses must address at all cost, as a collective responsibility.”
Now this is the kind of tweet that behoves a polished industrialist. Do read his other tweets. Those too are meaningful and thought provoking, whether it is on education, technology, motivation, science or nature conservation.
Vikram Kirloskar is survived by his wife Geetanjali Kirloskar and daughter Manasi Kirloskar nee Tata. In 2021, Manasi Tata was appointed as a member of the Board of Directors at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private Limited. Manasi Tata is the Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of Kirloskar Systems Ltd & Director in Kirloskar Technologies Limited. She was appointed as the first United Nations in India Young Business Champion for the Sustainable Development Goals. She is also a trained painter and runs her own non-profit venture, Caring with Colour. Now it is for Ms Manasi Tata to carry forward her father’s legacy and nurture his 20 years old rock solid association with Toyota of Japan.
To start with, she has to believe hard in what American playwright and screenwriter Tennessee Williams had once said, “Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.”
Roy Punnoose Tharyan is a “born again” auto journalist who wants more truth to prevail in the field of automotive journalism. He has more than 35 years of journalistic experience in the fields of business, economics and automotive, both B2B as well as B2C. He is an avid photographer, videographer and has mastered the skill of video editing. He does not believe in automotive awards and boring seminars. He is also the Founder Editor of Motown India.