The inspiring journey of a Hero by Priya Kumar: Book Review

The man behind the world’s largest bicycle and motorcycle company

This book is about Om Prakash Munjal, founder of the Hero Cycles and manufacturer of Hero motorbikes. It highlights the advantages of a home-grown and people-driven style of management over the process-driven Western systems.

Munjal, a first-generation industrialist, is a son of a food grains wholesaler from Kamalia, Pakistan. The four Munjal brothers started a modest business after being displaced twice. They had an ambition to create an inexpensive and effective mode of transport for post-independence India. Hero Cycles was founded in 1956, manufacturing 7,500 cycles a year. Over the years, it has graduated into producing seven million cycles annually, making it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest integrated bicycle manufacturer.

This could not have happened without tremendous application and indomitable spirit. Says OP Munjal’s son Pankaj: “Our father did not study beyond the tenth grade but he takes pride in our education, asking us to speak to him in English to enable him to improve on his Englishspeaking skills. He enrolled in a public speaking class to improve his language and articulation. He would ask us what we learnt at school so that he could improve his knowledge.”

The father’s response to whether he regrets sacrificing studies to go to work is: “Life is the biggest teacher and the world the biggest school… When I make a mistake, I learn and grow bigger…Though I failed to go to school I’ve never failed to learn.” He doesn’t bring home his work and never mixes personal expenses with the company’s. When a factory worker’s seriously-ill child had to be taken to hospital, he sent his car. When the worker asked how he he would go home, he replied: “Don’t worry about me. I have put the world on cycles.”

When he started, Munjal would sell his cycles at his price but never make anyone suffer a loss. When the factory had to be shut down, following a general strike in Punjab, he rolled up his sleeves with a spray can in hand and assembled cycles. His workers returned behind closed gates and stayed on overnight to avoid risking violence. When truck-drivers went on a strike, he chose to transport cycles by buses. When the dollar rate fluctuated favourably giving him a windfall, he chose to share the gains with the management, the employees and dealers in equal measure!

He prefers personal meetings over conference calls and hardly uses his cell phone. When a new manager came to him with a detailed power point presentation, Munjal told him to close his laptop and explain the project verbally. After just 30 minutes of discussion, he assembled all the people involved, assigned tasks and approved budgets across the table to get started. What is this hard-nosed industrialist’s take on digital technology? According to him, technology:

Gets in the way of productivity when the mailbox is full of ccs containing something one doesn’t need to know;

Becomes an enemy of performance when weeks are spent on making presentations when the same time could be put in getting the job done;

Is destructive when attention is distracted by social media and mindless instant messaging;

Is a curse when work hours are made longer and attention span shorter.

This encapsulates the life story of a school-dropout with down-to-earth values, one who revolutionised the two-wheeler industry and led Hero Honda into becoming the world’s largest motorcycle company.

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