R Seshasayee steered Ashok Leyland to bright future


Ashok Leyland has several notable achievements to its credit, including making profits right from inception and good dividend payments year after year. Among those who sowed the seeds for this performance is R Seshasayee, who stepped down as non-executive vice-chairman of Ashok Leyland on Friday.

Commentators are unanimous that Ashok Leyland has transformed during his tenure and the momentum he brought in continues.

Seshasayee joined Ashok Leyland in 1976 and rose to become executive director, finance, in 1983 before being elevated to deputy managing director in 1993 and managing director in 1998. He became executive vice-chairman in 2011 and then non-executive vice-chairman of the Hinduja group company.

During his tenure as managing director, Ashok Leyland’s turnover increased five times from Rs 2,045 crore to Rs 12,093 crore, net profit rose 30 times and market capitalisation grew 14 times. He spearheaded the growth of the company, which today commands a national presence with a comprehensive product portfolio as well as a significant global footprint.

The Pantnagar facility in Uttarakhand has helped the company become a pan-India player. Ashok Leyland has started reducing its dependence on the Ennore facility in north Chennai, which faces recurring labour issues. As part of the de-risking strategy the company moved a major portion of production to Hosur.

Seshasayee also led Ashok Leyland towards global technology and diversification with acquisitions and joint ventures.

A few years ago while addressing a CEO conclave, Seshasayee said one of the key learnings for him in Ashok Leyland was how a leader of a company had to be compulsorily visible to spread ideas among the staff, particularly during crises.

Seshasayee sometimes would commute on buses manufactured by his company for feedback. Travelling by road, he would stop at dhabas to understand truck drivers’ problems. He believed in the personal touch.

In 2013, when he took over as non-executive vice-chairman of Ashok Leyland, Dheeraj Hinduja, the company’s chairman, said, “This change is preparatory to Mr Seshasayee taking on higher responsibilities involving the global operations of the Hinduja Group. This is also in recognition of his tremendous contribution in leading Ashok Leyland to become one of the country’s premier commercial vehicle manufacturers.”

What, however did not work for Seshasayee were the series of joint ventures with Nissan, John Deere and the Alteams Group. Recently the Ashok Leyland management said the company would focus on its core business of commercial vehicles and close the chapter on unrelated diversification.

Critics also points out a missed opportunity in small commercial vehicles, which rival Tata Motors exploited with its Ace trucks. Seshasayee had once told the media India was not ready for such products because the hub-and-spoke model would not work here.