in 1998, when ford had just moved its manufacturing to Chennai,
one of its senior executives was giving me a guided tour of the
new plant. That gentleman had spent most of his working life at
Blue Oval and, not surprisingly, was proud of what the American
auto giant had created in Chennai. At the end of the tour, he asked
me, "So, what do you think is the car company to watch in India?",
probably expecting me to say Ford. "Toyota," I had said
instead. My answer must have seemed a bit odd then, because Toyota
was still more than a year away from production in the country (its
first set of Qualises rolled out in December 1999). Six years on,
while Ford remains more or less a one-trick (albeit, a very good)
pony, Toyota has stormed the MUV market, clocking sales of 100,000
units in just three years.
I narrate this incident not to claim any kind
of prescience, but simply to drive home the reputation the Japanese
auto behemoth has come to acquire since it was first set up in 1937.
And it's a reputation built on indisputable numbers. In 2003-04,
Toyota made $10.2 billion in profits-more than the combined profits
of the Big Three, General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrylser (last
year, Toyota became the Big Second, displacing Ford). Similarly,
its current market cap at $118 billion is $24 billion more than
that of gm, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler put together. Some time next
decade, Toyota wants a 15 per cent share of the global automotive
market. Few think it won't get it.
THE TOYOTA WAY
By Jeffrey K. Liker
Price: Rs 1,157.68
What makes Toyota the incredible
automotive juggernaut that it is? For 50 years it remained a secret
known only to Toyota insiders and its key suppliers. Then, Daniel
T. Jones, James P. Womack and Daniel Roos published their seminal
book, The Machine that Changed the World in 1990, and the world
got its first ever look into the manufacturing revolution that had
taken place at Toyota. While most of the auto manufacturers were
still wedded to the principle of mass production, Toyota had moved
on to what MIT's three researchers called "lean production"
to denote the system's hallmark-less of everything: men, materials,
money, time and even physical factory space.
The book inspired a lot of automobile manufacturers
to start work on their version of lean manufacturing. In India,
too, there is a clutch of lean disciples, most ardent of whom is
K. Mahesh of Sundaram Brake Linings. Most companies that embraced
lean have made gains, but if those gains are not as perennial or
profound as Toyota's, it's possibly because lean hasn't got engrained
in their DNA.
That's one reason why Jeffrey K. Liker's The
Toyota Way, although it treads a well-trodden path, comes across
as refreshingly new. It doesn't look at lean production as an engineering
feat, rather as the outcome of a unique culture. As a result, what
you get in its 330 pages is not an engineering treatise on lean
but an easy-to-read, full-of-anecdotes book on what makes Toyota
tick. Liker-Co-founder and Director of the Japan Technology Management
Programme at the University of Michigan, where he is a professor
of industrial and operations engineering-distills his 20 years of
interaction with Toyota into "14 Toyota Way Principles"
and illustrates them with real examples from within the company.
That helps in two ways. One, it makes the Toyota
principles easy to understand. Two, by looking at lean as a philosophy
with 14 core tenets, it makes its adoption at other organisations
that much easier. Therefore, even if you've read The Machine, you'll
find plenty to take away from Liker's work.
By Debkumar Mitra
Stories about numbers,
maths puzzles and games,' reads the subtitle on the cover of mindstretch,
a book by mathematician and math-buff Debkumar Mitra. However, early
in the book-as early as the author's note, actually- it is clear
that Mitra is not out to do a Douglas R. Hofstadter as the subtitle
suggests. Instead, Mindstretch is a collection of math puzzles.
In many ways, it is similar to the low-cost paperbacks (almost always
printed on paper on which ink would blot, making it almost impossible
to use the margins for what math students call 'rough work') that
once filled the bulk of space in bookstands in railway stations
across the country. You do not come across too many of them these
days, and the good old-fashioned math or logic puzzle is no longer
as popular as it once was. Which is what makes Mindstretch a great
reliever of tedium. The puzzles are fun, difficult enough to engage
even people with Mensa-club IQs, yet simple enough to be solved
without an advanced degree in pure math. And Mitra is a good puzzle-book
writer, ensuring that words do not get in the way of math. A sampling:
A carrier pigeon departs from Bhubaneshwar for Cuttack at the same
time as another departs Cuttack for Bhubaneshwar. They fly at constant
speeds, although different from each other. They first cross paths
2x kms from Bhubaneshwar. After reaching the destination, they turn
around immediately and head back and forth without breaks. They
cross paths again x kms from Cuttack. Where will they cross paths
the third time? Keep this book in your car and crack a puzzle or
two while being driven to your next meeting. Better still, keep
it on your desk to liven up those dull days. Oh, and the answer
to that puzzle is Bhubaneshwar.
WHAT'S THIS INDIA BUSINESS?
By Paul Davies
Price: Rs 1,389.68
Paul Davies had
the daylights thrashed out of his head after a haircut in India,
and has since figured the country's 'yes' and 'no' confusion just
about well enough to write a guide for anybody trying to outsource
business to India. Outsource, you must, he advises-with lots of
sober facts to explain why. But engage India on an "equal footing",
he tells fellow outsourcers. Understand India, and learn to revel
in paradox. Use this survival guide to your advantage. Work out
Indian Stretchable Time, hierarchy conundrums and the other mysteries.
A charming book by a charmed Briton.