Tafe, Mallika Srinivasan: The Tractor Queen

A leader and strategist, recognized for professionalism, commitment to excellence and contribution to Indian Industry and Academia.Skillfully leveraged the company’s resources and competencies to increase TAFE’s revenues from US$20 million.In the year 1986, she planned to join the family business. She was made the General Manager of TAFE (Tractors and Farm Equipment) Company. Despite working in a family-owned company, Mallika Srinivasan’s early days were not easy. Though her designation was impressive, she was not given any job description when she joined, but merely told to find out what she could do. Her office was a partitioned space in one of the TAFE building’s corridors.

“There was a well-set team in place,” she says. “Most of the members had worked for my father since he started TAFE in 1964. And here was this little girl coming along to join them. Some were welcoming, but some were very skeptical. ‘Let’s see how long she lasts,’ was their attitude.” It was made clear to Srinivasan that before getting any important responsibility, she would have to prove herself.

In 1986, when she took over the responsibility of furthering the economic wealth and business, the turnover of the Company was Rs 85 cr. Under the expert guidance of her father and the whole hearted support of the team, she brought about a major transformation. She converted TAFE into a high technology-oriented company, thereby becoming the initial choice of the farmers. There was a period, when the Company had to face a tough time, however; even then, the Company invested a huge amount of over Rs 70 crore in the designing and development of product.

In a span of 25 years, Mrs. Srinivasan has steadily built this enterprise into becoming the world’s 3rd largest Tractor manufacturer, the country’s largest exporter of tractors and the most profitable tractor manufacturer in the world. Its brands Massey- Ferguson and Eicher are the first choices of the Indian farmer. At present, the Company is earning a business over Rs 5,800 Crore by 2010/11 making it second biggest tractor company in India after Mahindra tractors. It has been a long journey for the Company, which has witnessed many ups and downs. But, it was the strong determination of this courageous woman that slowly and steadily made the firm climb the ladders of success. Today, the Company has not only found a niche for itself as the leading tractor manufacturer, but also expanded its area of operations. It has also entered into others businesses like engineering plastics, panel instruments, automotive batteries gears, hydraulic pumps, and farm implements. And even runs hospitals, schools and charitable trusts.

The company has had a long alliance with Massey Ferguson, which is now a part of AGCO. The company is looking forward to exporting fully constructed tractors to AGCO. Presently, Agro has a stake of 24% in the company and the rest lies with Simpson & Co.

TAFE and its subsidiaries reported a turnover of $1.3 billion in 2010-11 with a sale of about 1.17 lakh tractors. TAFE is India’s largest exporter of tractors with exports to over 47 countries and to AGCO for sale through their distribution channels in specific markets.

Presently, Mallika Srinivasan is serving as the president of premier industrial bodies like Tractor Manufacturers Association and the Madras Management Association. She is the first lady to have assumed the role of a president of the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She is also a prominent member of the governing board of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

At another level, a 100-year-old banyan tree in the vicinity of a state-of-the-art factory also seems rather anachronistic. Quite like a woman in the driver’s seat of a seemingly macho business like tractors. But it is this ability to rise above such stereotypes which makes Mrs.Srinivasan such a compelling individual and businessperson. Says Akhila Srinivasan, MD, Shriram Life Insurance, “Women do well in the service industry that’s an accepted fact. But in manufacturing, building such a big enterprise and creating an almost leadership position is an outstanding achievement.”

We wonder if it’s tough being a woman in what is even today seen as a man’s business. Have there been moments when she wished she were a man? “There is no point in wishing ‘if only things were different’,” points out Mrs. Srinivasan. And things might well have been had it not been for her father’s insistence that she join and manage the family concern. “I had the freedom of choice in a lot of other things, but not in choosing the line of business,” she says, “he believed that I could learn a lot here.”

In the initial years, she often leaned on her father to guide her. “It was nice to have somebody to go to when there was a problem,” she says, “and while my father is a man of few words, but his advice always helped me to put things in perspective,” she said. Take a look at what she has done over the years. When Mrs. Srinivasan joined the company in 1986, its turnover was Rs 85 crore, and today TAFE and its allied companies earn revenues of Rs 2,900 crore.

The goal is to crash into the elite $1bn league within the next three years. She has masterminded and overseen the acquisition of Eicher group’s business in early ’05 and is today inches away from the leader in terms of market share.

However, she believes that end alone cannot reflect the true success of an organization but that the means to the end are just as important. In her view, it is important that ethics be blended into business and companies strive for a broader social purpose with profit making. Says Mrs. Srinivasan, “There might be different perspectives, opinions and ways of doing the same thing. But when it comes to ethics, there can be no two ways of looking at it.” Profits are important, but only for sustaining a business. You don’t need to love money to run a business. You have to have a dream to build an institution, to build centers of excellence, to create a great team. Business has a larger purpose. And return on capital employed is important to serve that larger purpose.”

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