Free Press Journal

Santro: The Car That Built a Company by B.V.R. Subbu- Review


Name of the book: Santro The Car That Built A Company

Author: B V R Subbu

Publisher: Hachette

Price: Rs. 599

Pages: 254

Manufacturing a car is a simple business, really. You take some metal, add three parts of engineering, one part of artistry, stir in a lot of passion, and proceed to craft it with care. You pour in the required magic with some deft word – smithy, and for garnish you add a little bit of luck. Then you serve it up with humility (albeit tinged with some flourish) and, if you’ve done it right, chances are you’ll end up with an object of desire that dazzles at first glance and then grows into a longing… ..

The above paragraph is an excerpt from the back cover of the book and it will be remembered whenever one will talk about manufacturing car, across the world for many years.

Both the name of the book and cover of the book are equally appropriate and fascinating. The book is spread into eight chapters, and each chapter has been named creatively with a war connotation. Not only each chapter, but each paragraph of the book is engrossing. Reader will never feel bored or dragged for a moment. Vivid anecdotes detail the thrills and challenges of introducing a new product in a new market; the canny business decisions that overthrew the competition; the unforgettable marketing campaign with Shah Rukh Khan that made the car the household name it became; and the high-stakes power battles and everyday drama that characterize corporate India. The chronology of the company/ car in the beginning adds a lot of value to the reading. After all Santro was the first car to be conceptualized and designed for – and then developed and manufactured in – India. Santro has lot more firsts to its credit and it makes the book important.

The book also chronicles the history of car manufacturing in India, and the socialist political hurdles it faced. And yes, author mentions Mao at least eight times in the book and at few places makes fun of Indian rituals. It is not surprising, considering the fact that the author is an alumnus of JNU, a bastion of Left ideology, from where he did his Master’s in economics. Wonder how much this background forced him to opt for Shah Rukh Khan as a brand ambassador for Santro! But what comes across in the end from the book is the fact that it is simple Indian rituals like ‘Namashkar’ helped the car and company succeed and not Mao.

It is a book on sales, marketing, dealership, finance, competition, human resource, technology, advertising, branding, and strategy and also about a car and a company which manufactures car. How each small factor contributes to the success is superbly captured by the author. Corporate rivalry, conspiracy and use of media for the same are excellently documented. Not only automobile companies but anyone who wants to do business or learn about business will benefit from this book.

This book is written with brutal honesty. It talks about financial corruption and cultural arrogance of Koreans without any excuse, along with praising them wherever they deserve it on merit. The book clearly demonstrates the authors love for Tata Motors where he started his career and dislike for Maruti at every stage. One is forced to think what makes Maruti so successful even with so many drawbacks and Tata a struggler in passenger car segment with all the perfection?

The data, graph and pictures makes the book interesting and more of it could have added more value to the book. In fact, even in its present form the book can be used as a case study in management institutes and corporate. The author openly appreciates and mentions the contributions of politicians and bureaucrats in the success of company, which is heart-warming. There is a surprise for those who question Arun Jaitley’s financial acumen.

This book will undoubtedly will be considered as one of the best business books to have come out of India. Author was known as hands on man when he was in active business and this book is a proof of the same.  It is remarkable that the book is jargon free even while discussing technology. The book had the potential to become an ‘I, me and myself’ book, but it narrowly escapes from it. B V R Subbu the author of the book joined Hyundai Motor India in 1997, when the company had just entered India and left after serving as President of the company (and he has covered his exit with aplomb) and deserves appreciation for writing this book.