The Mahindra Group has seen a longstanding partnership backed by mutual trust and support. As we complete 75 years in business this year, we got in touch with Arun Surendra, fourth-generation owner of India Garage, one of our oldest active dealerships to celebrate and reminisce our partnership.
Arun speaks fondly of Mahindra, both from memory and from the stories passed down the generations in his family. He reckons his family being in business right from the 1920s. Having incorporated as a Mahindra dealership in 1947, they started out across three locations – Bangalore, Mysore, and Chennai.
Prior to Mahindra, India Garage, part of the VST Group, would import vehicles to be sold in the Indian market. They also owned petrol pumps and sold kerosene lighting at one point. In the early 1950s, India Garage ventured into franchises for other Indian automakers as well.
“At the time, there were no trailers to ship the cars from the manufacturing facility to the showroom. So, we would have drivers – that worked for Mahindra but also for us – who would drive these cars to our showroom.”
Back in the 1940s when M&M was looking for dealers, Mr Harish Mahindra was introduced to Mr Padmanaban (Arun’s grand uncle), who then applied for the franchise for the region that then fell under Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They were appointed in Bangalore and Chennai to cover a large part of the state and were one of the first Mahindra dealers in South India.
Since they dealt in bigger vehicles, especially the jeep, their clientele expanded to the police and government officials.
“Back in the 50s and 60s, Mahindra’s was the only vehicle that had an open back – naturally these became the go-to vehicles for rallying for elections.”
At the same time, because only Mahindra vehicles could go up the rough terrain of Chikmagalur, Coorg, and Ooty, they gained popularity in the region.
Arun adds that what he greatly admires about Mahindra is that while they saw a lot of good days, even on the bad days, the group placed a premium on the longstanding relationship.
“We’re not mere business partners dictated by numbers; our partnership is built on mutual faith and transparency – and that is why we never thought of walking away.”
He adds that today, VST Group represents 9 manufacturers with India Garage representing Mahindra, and the latter is by far amongst their largest businesses in terms of geography and volume. He also credits the group’s culture of its leaders being accessible to partners, and that the group truly listens and responds to feedback and market demand.
The group, he says, is not averse to talking when there genuinely is a problem. “You have a number to call, a real number and not a toll-free number that reaches a call centre. One can pick up the phone and get in touch with the leaders…and the leaders themselves aren’t dismissive. It’s embedded in the culture to listen to the partners’ queries or concerns.”, he adds.
“The high level of fairness and pride that M&M stands for is something that the VST Group also takes pride in.”
Arun’s father, VK Surendra knew Keshab Mahindra personally well and subsequently Anand Mahindra when he took over as Managing Director of M&M. Having fond memories of an incident, he lauds Anand Mahindra for his wisdom and advice.
“On becoming Vice Chairman in 2001-02, he visited our home in Bangalore for dinner” he says, adding, “On enquiring what I did, I told him that I was studying in the US and was here for a break. He suggested that I took my time to come back to the business, and when I did return, to come, take care of the business for the next generation.”
Arun says that ever since, he has been in awe of Anand Mahindra for being a man of vision – how he focuses on the long term and not worry about mere short-term gains. He looks forward to continue to grow together, appreciating the healthy balance between the philosophy as well as the fair returns in business.
“Congratulations on completing the 75-year milestone. With the gift of legacy comes a responsibility on the shoulders of the one who would take the mantle – to continue Mahindra’s 7-decade-long legacy of trust and transparency. We look forward to many more glorious decades of Mahindra, and of being their partners.”