Mr. Ajay Nanavati, Former Managing Director, 3M India, President, Grey Gurus Management Advisors LLP

Dimensions Team: One of the things I gathered from your profile was that you’ve been involved with a lot of strategic teams which you have built up over the years. So what is your take on organizational learning when it comes to groups within an organization?

Mr. Ajay Nanavati: That’s an interesting question. I always believed that organizations follow strategies and not the other way around. To me, any organization, with any organizational structure can be made to work. For example in the context of this college… If you define that in the next 15 years you want your organization to look like this, whatever that “this” is, then you say “Okay, if that is my true north, what would be the appropriate model that would get me to that point?” So strategy comes before organization. In many organizations, often, people say “I’ve led this organization so I have to live with what I have, so this strategy is a given.” I think that’s pulling the cart for the horse. I have always been a strong believer that if I am the end state, define what I want to be when I grow up, and then develop a model or a structure or an organization to achieve that goal, that end state.

Dimensions Team: Recently the trend in India is, every MNC is adapting their products to Indian standards. Since you have been associated with 3M and are familiar with products being modified to adapt to Indian markets, what’s your take on it? How does this help Indian SMEs?

Mr. Ajay Nanavati: For us at 3M, this is nothing new as we have been a global company for 50 years. To me, there are two approaches to this whole concept of localization or adaptation. I think a lot of people think that by de-featuring a product, you make it adaptable. My view is that we are not necessarily trying to meet a price point because we are a premium company. We are not a bottom-of-the-pyramid kind of a company. We offer products that offer value. The cost can be either first cost or lifecycle cost. Unfortunately in India, people first look at the first cost rather than the lifecycle cost.When we develop products for the Indian market, we don’t try to introduce a cheaper product. We don’t try to take out features from an expensive product to make it cheap. The criteria is understanding what the market needs and then going back and saying, “Okay, I need a product that will meet these specified criteria.”

I say, if we make a product that meets a customer’s needs, and if we are able to communicate that value to them, they will buy it. So that is where my philosophy is as far as indigenization is concerned.


Dimensions Team: According to Dun & Bradstreet, India will achieve its target of 25% share of manufacturing economy by 2025. What is your take on this?

Mr. Ajay Nanavati: This is a subject which is very dear to my heart, because I come from manufacturing background. I really believe that if any country has to progress, it has to be on the back of a strong industrial base. You look at Japan, or Korea, or Switzerland. Even today, Switzerland has a higher percentage (manufacturing) of GDP than India. Any country which has been successful in the world, has grown on the back of industrial manufacturing. Even America now recognises this and they are encouraging companies to come back and invest in manufacturing. So I am a strong believer that manufacturing is critical to the country’s growth. However, the current perception is that manufacturing is going to be a job creation engine. To me, this is the same analogy that I was talking about, being, the end in mind rather than the start.Indian productivity is so poor in the manufacturing sector, that if you were to take up productivity and still achieve this 25% component, the net job creation might not be that great. So you should not look at it as a job creation engine, but rather, as a capability building objective.

Dimensions Team: Talking about manufacturing and industrialization, India is actually coming back to manufacturing from IT services. The Make in India initiative has all been proposed to make manufacturing in India grow. Do you see these schemes helping these small and medium enterprises develop?

Mr. Ajay Nanavati: I don’t think there is much improvement. Industry complains that academia is producing people that are misfits for us with the wrong skillsets. And academia is complaining that industry is not talking to us about what their needs are. So I believe that we are going to have to really work this out. I think what India needs more is trade schools or apprentice schools. This is where people are taught those kind of skills that produces a lot of generalists. Because right now, even people who are working on the shop floor have to be literally retrained by the company that hires them. Right now your plumber is also your carpenter and your electrician. So it’s not about this craziness about Masters Degrees always. In all my job specifications, I never specify academic credentials. I never say, “I want an MBA, or a BTech, or an IIT or IIM grad.” That’s not relevant to me. Unfortunately in India, in some ways, qualification has just become an automatic filter. It’s not because I need that skill, but because it has already been filtered, so that’s how I look at it.

Dimensions Team: This is a more general question. As you have spoken with a lot of colleges, what is your opinion about the different B-schools across the country?

Mr. Ajay Nanavati: I have nothing against B-schools as such. To me it is a continuous learning. Anything that results in additional or continuous learning is a good thing. I do a lot of work with executive or MBA class as well at places like ISB, who are working professionals. So, I think there is a need to learn some tools. I think what an MBA college does is it provides you the tools. How you use the tools is up to you. Sadly, I don’t see a lot of people using them.I think the real challenge for B-schools is providing the right applicable tools to students.

At 3M, we are very big with six-sigma, so in six-sigma you are taught a lot of tools. So you have to decide which tools are relevant in a particular context. So you have some level of familiarity in a basket of tools, and then you can decide on which tool is suitable for which environment. I don’t see that happening in Indian teaching.

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