Karl Slym, who has been appointed Managing Director of Tata Motors, steered General Motors through one of its most difficult phases in India. The parent company had declared bankruptcy in 2009 and it was up to the 47-year-old CEO of the Indian arm to constantly assure employees, customers and dealers that all was well.
It is this never-say-die spirit that will hold Slym in good stead as he takes charge at Tata Motors on October 1. During his GM India tenure, which lasted over four years, he played a big role in forging the alliance with China’s SAIC Motor Corp. It was the much-needed lifeline for the Indian operations which were looking increasingly vulnerable owing to the bankruptcy issues back home.
Slym left India in January this year to be part of GM’s China operations. He was often asked if the SAIC tie-up would see the Chinese walk all over GM India, and he took great pains to explain that this was, indeed, not the case. It was his firm belief that, by the end of the day, it was all about business opportunities in a rapidly changing world.
In an interview with Business Line on this subject, Slym had said, “It is a naïve thought for anyone to believe that in this global world, you cannot have companies successful in one country when their base is in another.
“That is what we at GM did here with Daewoo where all the products to date were from Korea and have been very good for us here. We did not try to have a Korea in India but used the benefits of the Daewoo products and of the local culture here.”
It is this global outlook that is imperative to Tata Motors’ own business model in the coming years. Slym has been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the company’s Indian operations as well as those in Spain, South Africa and Asean. The company is grappling with challenges in its passenger vehicle business and this is where Slym’s experience will come in handy.
Tata Motors has made it known that it will seek to get a larger part of its revenue from beyond the geographies of India. Jaguar Land Rover is an integral part of this plan but will continue to be independently handled by its CEO, Ralf Speth, a BMW veteran. Carl-Peter Forster, again ex-BMW and GM Europe, was Group CEO of Tata Motors for nearly two years till September 2011.
Slym, a 17-year GM veteran, is an alumnus of Stanford University and a Sloan Fellow. He takes over from P.M. Telang who retired in June.