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Accepting no limits: defying adversity with the power of unity

There are no limits to what you can accomplish except the limits you place on your own thinking. - Brian Tracy, Author

When you accept no limits, the world is your oyster. Employees at every level of the Mahindra Group pretty much live by this doctrine. Enshrined in the Group's Rise pillars — Accepting no limits is a philosophy that guides employees across the Group. Since its inception in 1945 to its present-day status as a federation of companies with a presence in over 100 countries, the Mahindra Group has been built by people who have refused to set any limits for themselves. It is also why, the credo, the Group adopted in 2011, 'Rise' sums up so much of the Group. Employees have not only risen to every challenge; they have helped entire communities do so as well. The Rise pillar on accepting no limits has been tested time and again through crises, and each time, Mahindra's employees have passed with flying colours.

Trial by fire

"There is no limit to what we believe we can do; no calamity, no adversity, no crisis that can stop us from doing what we want to do and most importantly doing what we should be doing," says Pawan Goenka, former Managing Director and CEO, Mahindra & Mahindra.

On 9th May 2012, a devastating fire laid siege to the Mahindra & Mahindra plant in Nashik. "It was the worst industrial fire that I had witnessed in my 27 years at Mahindra," recalls Goenka. At the time of the fire, most of the senior management team of Mahindra was in Boston, USA, except Vijay Kalra, who was then the Head of Manufacturing. Kalra, currently Head, Mahindra Institute of Quality, and the Chairman of Central Safety Council, immediately rushed to the site to evaluate the situation and saw the raging fire burning down the plant. A crowd of local reporters had gathered at the entrance to pronounce the epitaph of the Nashik plant.

As the fire engulfed years of their work, the workers at the plant were shocked to see the Scorpio production site reduced to ashes. To the astonishment of many, not one worker left the plant despite the danger to their own safety. It was the epitome of the sense of responsibility that employees felt for their organisation. They put professional responsibility before anything else and held the fort, willing to do everything needed to limit the damage. Every individual at the plant, irrespective of hierarchy, worked tirelessly throughout the night to assess the damage. The management stance on the tragedy was, 'Whatever has happened, has happened. Let's celebrate the fact that there is no injury.' With this said, the plant workers and management worked around-the-clock and got the plant back in production in a matter of two days. The strong bond of community and loyalty that the Mahindra Group invokes in its associates helped the plant rise again like a phoenix! The goal of manufacturing 4,000 Scorpios for that month was met with flourish by the determined workers who put in extra hours to not let the incident affect the production figures. The weekly papers in the region reported this feat and focused on the heroes of the Nashik plant fire.

Even today, the associates of the Nashik plant talk passionately of the incident, proud of the bond they have forged by working shoulder to shoulder during the crisis. The plant also took on itself the goal of setting exemplary fire safety norms. The biggest achievement thus for them was the acknowledgement from external platforms. In 2018, the Fire Protection Association of India awarded the Nashik Plant 'the Most Fire-Safe Plant in India' for that year.

Remembering the incident, Goenka recalls the strength of character and commitment displayed among the associates and their efforts to salvage anything they could from the charred remains, "When I think about that situation, I get goosebumps on the bond they had with their company which enabled them to take corrective measures even at the sake of personal safety. I still remember Vijay Kalra's message to us in Boston - You need not be concerned, everything is under control. You go on with your work."

Today, over 700 vehicles are manufactured every day on the assembly line of the Nashik plant, and those vehicles reach more than 34 different countries across the world. The plant currently manufactures Scorpio (along with SC/DC), Marazzo, XUV300, Bolero, ambulance, Thar and other range of Mahindra products.

Unflinching courage amidst overpowering waters

Another incident that exhibited this sense of responsibility in Mahindra Group employees was how employees tackled the Mumbai floods of 2006. "Our associates just didn't go home," says Goenka, looking back once again at the sense of ownership that the employees showed. They stayed within the plant premises during the worst deluge the city had ever faced. No employee left the factory till the crisis was fully addressed.

Talking about the incident, Vijay Nair, Vice President, Mahindra & Mahindra, remembers the diligence of 300 associates at the Kandivali plant who stayed put in protecting the machines from the water - sweeping the floors continuously against the rising water levels. Working through the muck and dirty water, the employees ensured that the plant was up and running again in just two days. "Our employees across levels exhibit extraordinary levels of commitment," says Nair, adding, "At the core, we all know and recognise that first and foremost we are Mahindraites."

While recalling the courage shown by Mahindra Group employees during the deluge, Goenka contrasts it with the aftermath of the hurricane of New Orleans, which occurred at the same time as the Mumbai floods. With a faint smile, he remembers how the Mumbai deluge had brought out compassion and brotherhood amongst the people; on the streets, civilians were seen trying to help each other, drenched in rainwater, while the American city at the centre of the cyclone witnessed mass lootings.

"And, sometimes, you don't realise what India has; this strength of responsibility exhibited even when society is in dire straits is admirable," remarks Goenka. The roots of co-dependence for prosperity is embedded deep within the Indian psyche, and the Mahindra Group has proudly embraced this trait. During challenging times, this is especially on display.

Fruits of labour

Einstein had once said, "The leader is one who, out of the clutter, brings simplicity, out of discord, harmony, and out of difficulty, an opportunity." The story of the Mahindra Group is one such in which business is not just for the sake of business but also for the growth of people. While it was very common for farmers to be sceptical of businesses who come to purchase their lands, the Group did not face any resistance from the owners of the Chakan land wherein they planned to set up a plant.

In 2008, an investment of INR 5,000 crore, a huge investment for the company, had been made into the Chakan Plant in Pune, Maharashtra, for 2008-11. The objective was to make the plant 'the largest automotive plant' in India on 700 acres of land. Unfortunately, in the years 2008 and 2009, an economic slowdown threatened to dissolve this dream. Companies around India withdrew from investments and put a pause on many a project. But Mahindra & Mahindra had decided that the future deserved a chance. The company stood by its decision to build the Chakan plant. In 2010, the Chakan plant was ready, and not a single petition was filed against the land acquisition by the company. As a result, the years of 2011-13 became the best ones the company has seen.

The Mahindra Group has set up an everlasting sense of trust and faith in the people at Chakan during the acquisition. They showed the farmers what it would mean for them to sell their lands and advised them on how to use the money they would receive. ‘It's not about giving up your land, it's about creating a good life for yourself and your future generations’, the farmers were told. The love for the company and the trust amongst associates in their employers come from incidents of compassion and support, a helping hand now and a warm embrace then.

There have been numerous occasions when the Group has stood beside its people in times of need. By their spontaneous responses and timely interventions they have garnered admiration from the people who still recall the bold decisions the company took at their behest – to save a child, mourn the loss of a young boy, plan a farewell and arrange for a daughter's marriage. They work together to make the lives of the communities around the plant better day by day.

Steadfast loyalty built on compassion and dignity

The connection between people at all levels inside the company is that they see it as a part of themselves, not as a separate entity. "Even today, if Keshub Mahindra or Anand Mahindra come to the shop floor, people revere them," says Nair. This sense of ownership is because of the dignity that is accorded to one and all by the company. Followed since the very foundation of the company, the employees at the Group are called 'colleagues' even by the top-most management.

Whereas people at many other companies despair at the emotional disconnect between themselves and their seniors, the Mahindra Group is one big joint family where even workers at the lowest level do not hesitate to contact the senior-most managers, or even the Chairman, with their grievances. The legacy of the Mahindra Group is one of community, courage, passion and innovation; of taking risks and rising to challenges and accepting no limits towards collective growth and belonging.

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