Perhaps nobody captures the essence of innovation better than David Bowie. In a modicum of words and phrases, he manages to convey what that hunger can be – the craving to constantly redefine. And I cannot but reflect upon what a journey in innovation it has been for Mahindra. The last few years have been promising and we are just witnessing the fruits of our labour. In candid interviews with Rajen Wadhera, CP Gurnani, Anita Arjundas, Rajesh Jejurikar and Arvind Mathew, we learn what innovation can be; as diverse as fundamentally looking at a paradigm, revisiting it and addressing it in a way that is dramatically different. Or, it could be a continuous spectrum. Read on for more…

Rajan Wadhera, President & Chief Executive - Truck, Construction Equipment & Power Train Business, Head - Mahindra Research Valley, Member of the Group Executive Board, explains his belief in creating disruptive value for customers through innovation in product, process and business. He believes innovation has the power to generate value that does not remain restricted to customers only, but goes much beyond to be useful to the organisation, the country and also to the world.

We strive to create the right environment for our people. We ensure our people get the required facilities, equipments, time and environment to try out their concepts and ideas. We have opened an Engineering Development Centre in Detroit. Mahindra North America Technical Centre helps us to be continuously ahead of others and fills up the knowledge gap that we had in developing world class products. The centre has helped to bring in a different set of capabilities and is also having a ruboff effect on the current engineers.

Wadhera was entrusted with the task of ensuring that M&M produces its first monocoque (or unibody) UV for India and the global markets. Our approach to innovation has led Mahindra to become a very innovative organisation and launch a segment buster product like Mahindra XUV. He believes Mahindra XUV was a creation of Mahindra Research Valley (MRV). Our mandate of registering a certain amount of patents at the end of three to four years once a project gets completed plays a key role in all innovations at MRV. In Wadhera’s words, “All that was a result of prescribing a few things, giving people that environment and then also allowing them to take risks.”

Wadhera largely credits the three pillars of Mahindra Rise for the innovation at his group. The spirit of Rise is based on three brand pillars – accepting no limits, alternative thinking and driving positive change. “So for any initiative like innovation to happen, I think that three things are also essential - attitude, behaviour and culture. You know I call it the ABC of innovation. If I look at the Mahindra Rise Pillar, I have always sold it as attitude of driving positive change, behaviour is accepting no limits and culture is the culture of alternate thinking.”

At Mahindra our focus continues to be on creating disruptive value and be an innovative company. Today we have become an eco system where innovations happen and they happen in plenty.

"From our vantage point in digital transformation, innovation is coming up with disruptive ideas that consumers want."

CP Gurnani - Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tech Mahindra and Chairman, NASSCOM, believes “From our vantage point in digital transformation, innovation is coming up with disruptive ideas that consumers want. If something new does not benefit people, then it is just change for the sake of change that may not live its life. Innovation is also about creating simple solutions for complex problems and creating demands in spaces that did not exist. So for us, innovation is a way of life and cannot be a choice for corporations anymore!”

At Mahindra we aim to broad base innovation across the organisation. We have a portal called IRIS that acts as a collaboration platform between our associates and help them solve problems (internal and external) by building upon each other’s idea. At any point in time we have around fifty ideas being evaluated.

We believe speed and direction are the two important components of today’s disruptive era - the speed in which we enable new and disruptive businesses to start and run and the direction from which innovation can come. To address these both, we have set up a unit called Tech Mahindra Growth Factories. These factories incubate internal and external businesses and help them hit disruptive levels by focussing on the themes of consumerisation and digitisation. With a dedicated fund of USD 150 million, the Growth Factories also aim at establishing strategic relationships with disruptive startups. We look out for and incubate disruptive innovations that can be leveraged to fold in additional value proposition rapidly for our customers.

We have interacted with over 500 startups so far and have, as part of our Growth Factories, successfully launched several initiatives. SaralRozgar, MoboMoney, Education Lanes, are some of the platforms currently being nurtured under the unit.

TechMahindra inline with the group’s focus continuously innovates and creates disruptive value. We have had several other prodigious innovations at TechMahindra in the last three years. Community Action Platform for Energy (CAPE), Predictive Insights from Tech Mahindra (PRISM), Microgrid as a service, the sZensEye (goggles for the visually challenged), Augmented Reality in Aerospace are some of our key innovations.

Innovation is inevitable at TechMahindra and is a part of our inorganic growth measures as well. This is exemplified by our acquisition of Pininfarina - Europe’s best-inclass design house, as it brings an opportunity to influence product conceptualisation, design and styling. We at Mahindra nurture innovation and encourage people to be disruptive. The Young CEO programme at TechMahindra identified some young leaders that hold promise to lead future business growth areas. As our Growth Factory initiative instils and encourages innovation in the organisation, we have also introduced stretch goals and encourage our employees to work towards those goals.

"Mahindra Lifespaces has been ranked among the top 100 sustainable corporations in Asia and ranked 28th by Sustainanalytics."

As we speak to Anita Arjundas, Managing Director & CEO, Mahindra Lifespaces, President - Real Estate Sector, she says innovation is a continuous spectrum and happens at multiple levels in any organisation. At one end of the spectrum are ideas and approaches that enhance organisational effectiveness and at the other end of the spectrum it is getting disruptive with solutions that build a whole new business model and way of serving the customer.

Innovation at Mahindra Lifespaces manifests itself in many ways - via the business spaces that we choose to operate in, in the business process changes that serve to better define the value we deliver to our stakeholders, in our approach to the customer lifecycle, and by way of the parameters we use to measure overall business value and impact.

Though we entered the industry fairly late, our approach has helped us sharply define our focus on enabling sustainable urbanisation. We’ve been contrary to the way the industry has operated and that’s helped create a differentiated brand offering. Our approach at Mahindra Lifespaces is based on three important questions, one, the spaces that we will operate in, second, how will we go about our business and differentiate ourselves and third, how will we do it responsibly and with great impact to society at large.

The creation of the World Cities and our entry into the affordable housing space exemplify the first aspect. Urbanisation without the creation of new economic centres that deliver on the promise of livelihood, living and life cannot be a sustainable proposition. Nor can urbanisation that does not address the housing needs of large underserved communities. We have also focused on innovation in how we do our business too. Driving the agenda of transparency and trust, in an opaque industry, has meant a sharp focus on customer centricity. We are now working on driving this agenda further by extending our customer relationship life cycle beyond home ownership to truly create joyful homecomings.

The third aspect is about how we impact the larger society and our entire sustainability journey has been driven by this core philosophy. So way back in 2006, we set a mandate for ourselves that we would go green in terms of all our construction - this, at a point in time when people did not even know what a green building was. We started innovating at the design stage to reduce the incremental cost of going green. We worked extensively with IIT Madras and IIT Bombay and internally to come up over the years, with solutions around fly ash bricks, use of industrial waste in construction, elimination of river sand usage, generating bio fuel through solid waste etc. Our most recent effort has been the establishment of a CoE for Sustainable Habitats with TERI that will work on indigenous solutions for energy efficiency in different climatic zones in India.

As a result of our efforts Mahindra Life Spaces has been ranked among the top 100 sustainable corporations in Asia and ranked 28th by Sustainanalytics. This is an all industry sustainability ranking of corporates across China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam Thailand and India. This is a huge validation of the approach we have taken to deliver on our mission of sustainable urbanisation and exemplifies how the culture of innovation is well embedded at Mahindra Lifespaces.

"We cannot expect magic to happen immediately but progressively, we try and change behaviours, change trends and over time, you can see that it does make a difference."

Rajesh Jejurikar, President and Chief Executive - Farm Equipment & Two wheeler, Believes innovation is about creating big differences at various parts of the value chain and perceives innovation as something that is all encompassing.

The farm equipment industry has witnessed a change in terms of consumer expectations. In contrast to earlier times where consumers were just looking out for efficiency and productivity, in the last few years there has been an advent of need for more information and knowledge. This situational change has been driven a lot by the rural market ecosystem around and the penetration of media including the adoption of social media.

At Mahindra in order to cater to this rising need or demand we have brought in innovation in the way we reach out to our customers. We have worked on things starting from product positioning, advertising; to the way we explain the sales story on the ground farmers; we work towards making a farmer more holistically aware about the mechanisation solution that goes with it, and also the overall solution around farming. To further enhance the consumer experience we have also introduced tablets for our dealer salesmen. Apart from the technological changes, we have also put in effort to train our sales team and have worked on the whole customer experience side. We are working to strike the right balance between using technology and building the right emotional connect.

Jejurikar says, “So while everybody may have a product, and your product maybe superior, but it’s the whole buying experience that matters. And that’s where we saw a scope for transforming who we are, and it connects so beautifully with the philosophy of Mahindra Rise. So we have resorted to using technology or pioneering technology in a way that we can help people transforms their lives and help farmers increase their prosperity and enable him to Rise too.”

We are set to rise higher with the culture of innovation being well embedded in the farm equipment segment as we apply the theory of Kaizen diligently and focus on constantly making improvements in the way people do things.

As we go around understanding what innovation means to the stalwarts at Mahindra, we also reached out to Arvind Mathew - CEO Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Pvt Ltd. Innovation in his words would be, “I expect innovation to happen in all areas, as long as it gives you a small incremental improvement. It has to be out of the ordinary and should encourage out of the box thinking. In the process, we cannot expect magic to happen immediately but progressively, we try and change behaviours, change trends and over time, you can see that it does make a difference.”

As the electric car industry in India is very small currently and is troubled by lack of infrastructure, inadequate government support and awareness, we at Mahindra have to ensure that we come up with innovative ways to provide value to customers. We are constantly innovating so that we can integrate Electric Vehicles (EVs) into the overall ecosystem.

Innovation has been a part of Mahindra since its inception. It was a first instance of its kind when Mahindra bought out Reva in 2010. This was even before electric cars became popular in the world and that was a brave idea of going out and actually making it work. Mahindra e20 was equipped with industry first technologies like the ability to remotely diagnose your car, an app on the Smartphone to control your car among others.

We manifest innovation in everything that we do at Mahindra. For a product to succeed it becomes important that it provides value to customers. We have found our target in the high-mileage fleet segment as we foresee a proliferation of EVs in this segment. At Mahindra we have created an environment where we give people the ‘ability to dream’. However, in the process we ensure we create value for our customers and the organisation.

For any vehicle business it is important to achieve some level of scale in order to offset the capital investment made, either in factories or research and development. We see the opportunity of achieving scale by banking on electric drivetrains. Going forward our aim will be to power other pre-designed diesel or petrol powered vehicles with electric drivetrains. This will enable us to have our own fleet of electric vehicles while at the same time powering as many other vehicles as possible.

We see the advent of an ecosystem in the future that will be beyond just cars or vehicles, and would involve metro, rails, airports and traffic signals as well to form a larger ecosystem. Digitisation and analytics will have a big role to play in building the future of mobility. We strongly trust that electric will take over in the future and we are very well placed today to take advantage of that when it happens. As we at Mahindra Electric develop future-ready technology, we are working in tandem with M&M’s goal of being one of the top 50 brands by 2021.

"Innovation is a continuous spectrum throughout Mahindra. It is a major source of synergy that binds all our companies belonging to myriad sectors together and helps them come out as one brand. We as a group are driven by the common purpose of creating disruptive value through innovation not only for our customers but also for the organisation and the society at large. We are committed to imbibing innovation more deeply into our nation and empowering people to RISE. "