Srinivasan's TVS Motor is now India's hottest producer of motorcycles. They're manufactured at a factory in Hosur, near Bangalore, that boasts the most advanced technology to ensure high productivity and quality control. TVS's newest motorcycle, the small but peppy Victor, which sells locally for $840, is one of the country's most popular -- way ahead of local competitor Bajaj Auto Ltd.'s Pulsar. TVS revenues have jumped 40%, to $550 million, for the fiscal year ending Mar. 31, 2003, and profits have more than doubled, to $25 million. The company's stock is a hit, too -- it has quadrupled in the past 18 months. TVS is "a showpiece for India's R&D skills and resulting products," says Sachin Kasera, an auto analyst at Pioneer Intermediaries, a Bombay securities firm.
The big turnaround at TVS began in 1990. When joint-venture partner Suzuki refused to bail out TVS after a devastating strike, Srinivasan decided to break the unions, and shut down his factory for three months. When the unions relented, he began shaking up the company that his father had started in 1979. He brought in consultant Kumar Bhattacharyya, a professor from the University of Warwick who helped turn around British auto-maker Rover. Then began the long effort to upgrade the plant, invest in new technology, nurture in-house design, and implement Toyota-style quality programs. After sales of the new Victor motorcycle took off in late 2001, Srinivasan felt the company was strong enough to split with Suzuki and go its own way. More than a decade of careful work had paid off.
A workaholic, Srinivasan learned the power of persistence early in life. Although he comes from a well-known Brahmin Hindu South Indian business family, he had to work summers through school, keeping to strict family tradition. While studying for his MA in business management at Purdue University, he spent a summer earning his keep by selling Bibles in North Carolina. He remembers "slogging 80 hours a week, facing rejection when people slam doors on your face and set the dog on you." Still, he kept going. That's what it takes to be a top Bible salesman -- and a respected manager.