JUNE 6, 2004
 Cover Story
 Personal Finance
 BT Special
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Market Research Jitters
The big market research (MR) problem: people, when asked, often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what they really think.

Maggi Five
Say 'Maggi', you get '2 minutes' in response. But the brand is talking '5' all of a sudden.

More Net Specials
Business Today,  May 23, 2004
That Lean Trick

Another way to look at what makes Toyota tick, a book of brain-wrackers devised in India and a survival guide for outsourcers to India.

Lean machine: At Toyota's Tsutsumi plant, workers fit out

Back 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.

By Jeffrey K. Liker
Tata McGraw-Hill
PP: 330
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
Penguin India
PP: 208
Price: 250

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.

By Paul Davies
Nicholas Brealey
PP: 233
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.




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