Karl Slym adds muscle to Tata Motors revival; top deck rejig to ensure efficiency

MUMBAI: This Monday, Cyrus Mistry succeeded Ratan Tata in yet another tradition at Tata MotorsBSE -0.75 % - the chairman's annual employee address at the company's Lake House facility in Pune. As he stood up to face over 25,000 employees, including many watching via webcast, he had behind him the local passenger car industry's worst year in a decade.

Industry sales were likely to be down by about 5% in FY13 and Tata Motors is slipping towards its worst loss in a decade, according to analysts. It posted a Rs 458-crore loss in the quarter ended December.

Mistry was quick to identify one part of the challenge - fierce competition. Seven new global carmakers came to India in the past four years and the domestic industry saw 150 new launches.

The other part of the challenge, which the 
Tata Groupchairman didn't refer to directly, perhaps lies within the company. Tata Motors' new car and truck launches since FY09 have failed to prevent market share erosion - down from 14.9% to 12% in passenger vehicles and from 60.1% to 56% in trucks, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

Nano sales are down from about 75,000 units to a little over 52,000 in one year. The Sanand plant is idling at less than 10% capacity utilisation. Its immediate new product line-up isn't exciting: this year will just see model year changes, 2014 will see some new products, but a new platform will come only in 2015, according to a person in the know.

Undaunted, Mistry egged his employees on in his address. "It's time to meet them (global rivals) and beat them in their backyard," he said.

The man Mistry has chosen to lead the charge is Karl Slym, Tata Motors' new managing director, who took charge in mid-September 2012. Six months into his job, Slym is already scything his way into the organisation, making radical changes...starting at the very top.

He has pretty much disbanded the old management committee that was running the company and has replaced it with a leaner, more purposeful executive committee of just eight.

Apart from Slym, commercial vehicles head Ravindra Pisharody, passengers cars head Ranjit Yadav and engineering head Tim Leverton are on it. Heads of quality, purchasing, finance and HR, Satish Borwankar, Venkatram Mamillapalle, C Ramakrishnan and Prabir Jha, respectively, form the rest of the team. Yet to be identified heads of programme planning and project management, and corporate strategy will also join the committee.

The new structure is very different from the earlier one. For example, each factory had its own quality and purchase head. Decisions were dispersed and lacked consistency. Now, with just one head each for quality and sourcing, reporting directly to Slym, Tata Motors hopes to take and implement faster decisions, buy smart, leverage economies and maintain high and consistent quality, said a person aware of these decisions.

The new leadership team will also aim to avoid duplicity and bring in synergies between the passenger cars and commercial vehicles businesses. In the past, the two businesses were guided by individual missions, according to Tata Motors' external agency partner.