Hero Group: How embarrassment led to the creation of world's largest bicycle empire

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Incorporated in 1956, Hero Cycles is the largest cycle manufacturer in the world. The group comprises cycle major Hero Cycles, auto parts manufacturing companies Hero Motors Limited, ZF Hero Chassis Systems and Munjal Kiriu Industries, hospitality arm Munjal Hospitality and luxury home decor products company Oma Livings. Pankaj Munjal, Chairman and Managing Director, Hero Motors Group, shares how the company has grown over generations.

Entrepreneur India
Pankaj Munjal, Chairman and Managing Director, Hero Motors Group

What’s the start-up story of Hero Group?

In 1947, four brothers reached India from Pakistan with no education and a little capital. They came to a place called Amritsar in a close by village and went to a small refugee camp. They looked around and saw people were walking, and they said, “Let’s serve their need by making them move a bit faster in rain and hot climate.” Then they tried to look for manufacturing cycle parts, which at that time was not possible.

So they travelled to England, my uncle Brijmohan went to Birmingham, there he met an Englishman who turned his back and said, “What can I do for you?” My uncle said, “Let’s make something together that has demand.” He remarked, “You are going to do it.” This remark hurt my uncle. Without answering him, he returned to India. That embarrassment and determination created the world’s largest bicycle empire. He came back shared it with his brothers and they started a bicycle trading company.

What are your memories of your father while running the business?

A little chat with him helped me relax and align with the values. What holds us together was the platform of these values. He was a tough man and groomed me in a harsh manner. Quarterly reviews were tough with him. But I always witnessed what he taught he used to practise it first.

Now your son has joined the business, how are you grooming him?

My elder son has joined me and he’s already a smart kid. I am not that much tough to him as my father was. I advised him to align your team with your goal and inspire it. If team members are convinced, they will work towards your goal.

What are your international expansion plans?

We are focusing on Africa now. Our goal for the African market is to have local partners and share stakes. When we partner, more than any projections or excel sheets, we look at the person driving the show. By 2018, our international export value will be greater than that of domestic’s. We have to more than double now. 

Any case study of how did you strengthen the company?

I was playing Golf with Montek Singh Ahluwalia three years back. He said his grandchildren had come and I said take a cycle for them. So he went to the showroom but didn’t buy Hero cycle. He bought another brand and sent a mail to someone saying, “Hero makes cycle for milkmen, I need a light and good cycle for my kids.”

I took the mail to my top 50 people. That pain was the biggest pain I had in last two-three years. In two years, we have bought a company from Taiwan. We have taken our products to England. We have become the fourth largest distributor in the UK. Our profits have treble since that time. So it is important to read the ever-changing pulse of the market. Yesterday’s Hero can be tomorrow’s fool.

What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?

God has given us the fair advantage to be born in India at the right time. The world needs India and you are sitting at a fantastic time, so create something that you believe in. If you are determined and it’s coming from your heart, then do it. If an idea comes, there is no resource short enough then. Money will chase you. People will be attracted to your story. Only thing short which can’t be recovered in life is time. Don’t lose even a second if you have a dream, and if you don’t have it, scratch your head create one. God has created us in such a way that there is something for each of us. Find it. It will come from within.