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‘Hero’ rides into the sunset

“I have lost a person whom I called my guru.” This tribute, coming from Rahul Bajaj, the man who dominated the Indian scooter market for a quarter century, is the most eloquent tribute to Brijmohan Lall Munjal (BM).

    Munjal, the Founder and Chairman of the Hero group of companies, recently passed away at the age of 92. Munjal migrated from Pakistan and evolved as among the top 30 richest of India by sheer dent of hard work and enterprise. With its 35 per cent stake in Hero, the family is worth $ 3 billion.

In the IE October 2015 issue, in our tribute to his younger brother O P Munjal(OP), I had described my experience of visiting Hero Cycles in the 1960s when BM and OP used to sit in two corners of the hall, engineering a bicycle revolution. I mentioned Hero Cycles perfecting decentralised production with a reliable supply chain of industrial units located nearby delivering components just in time. Handlebars, front spokes, chains, saddles, hubs and cones, mud guards and other parts used to be delivered in gunny bags in cycle rickshaws in a continuous stream. The Munjal brothers (four of these) established the most cost efficient and quality bicycle manufacturing facility in India that rendered other large manufacturers sick. In just about a decade Hero Cycles emerged as the largest bicycle manufacturer in India and over the next eleven years they became the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world.

The success led to the family setting up the Majestic Auto Limited to manufacture mopeds. In 1984, the Hero group set up a joint venture with Honda Motorcycles of Japan which became a roaring success. In less than two decades, Hero group emerged the largest producer of motorcycles with a capacity of 16,000 motorcycles a day. Hero Honda became a household name and emerged the largest producer of two-wheelers. By August 2013, the group crossed the benchmark of completing production of 15 million bikes.

The collaboration with Honda Motorcycles was amicably settled in August 2011 with the agreement to continue to use the Hero Honda brand  for another couple of years.

The separation provided the opportunity for the Hero group to expand its market globally with its, brand of Hero, ending the earlier restrictions to sell bikes outside the Asia-Pacific region. Significantly, even after the break, Hero has been holding its position as the largest manufacturer of two wheelers in India with a 50 per cent market share.

BM retired as Chairman, Hero group last June, handing charge to his sons Pawan Munjal and Sunil Munjal. Five years ago BM settled the division of properties by handing the cycle business to his brother O P Munjal.

BM’s is truly a story of riches through sheer enterprise. Think of the family migrating from Pakistan with little, except hard work and enterprise that had built such a giant enterprise!  Truly BM is a hero among entrepreneurs.

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