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Eicher throws a lifeline for Multix workforce

Murali Gopalan | Updated on May 03, 2018

Pankaj Dubey   -  BUSINESS LINE

Group companies hire nearly 65 per cent of Eicher Polaris white-collar employees hit by Multix plant closure

It’s nearly two months now since Eicher Polaris brought the curtains down on the Multix. This personal utility vehicle, launched with a lot of fanfare in 2015, failed to take off and is now history.

For Pankaj Dubey, who was CEO of Eicher Polaris during this time, the last few weeks have been hectic in overseeing closure formalities at the Jaipur plant. He continues to be Managing Director and Country Head of Polaris India, which sells its Indian Motorcycle range and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) here.

“It has been the toughest professional challenge in my life, handling closure of the Multix operations,” says Dubey during a recent interview in Mumbai. He admits that the decision to call it a day did leave behind a sense of personal sadness for him though it was eventually in the best interests of both Eicher and Polaris.

Inevitable closure

After all, Multix volumes were far below expectations, which ended up being a constant source of concern and anxiety. “We were losing a lot of money every month and could not see anything happening in the future that would change the scenario. It was a tough decision by the board but inevitable,” says Dubey.

While closure was relatively the easier part of the story, the real challenge lay in reaching out to employees who were shell-shocked and left marooned by the move. Almost all the blue-collar workers, numbering 125-odd people, opted for the voluntary retirement scheme.

The three workers who did not are hopeful that a miracle will happen, which could see operations resume. “They still do not believe that a company like this actually shut down operations and are optimistic of some good news,” says Dubey. Clearly, that is out of the question with Eicher Polaris making clear that the Multix chapter is over.

Bailing them out

Almost 65 per cent of the other 130-odd-plus white-collar employees have been absorbed in Eicher group companies like Royal Enfield, VE Commercial Vehicles and other engineering entities. While a handful have joined other companies, there are still around 40 Eicher Polaris employees who still need a job. It is to help them that external consultants have been roped in to check out opportunities elsewhere.

“The idea is to pull out all the stops and see that everyone gets an alternative placement. Though it is not easy, we have not given up hope,” says Dubey. He also believes it was “truly commendable” for the Eicher group companies to go the extra mile and absorb these workers.

Wherever there was a vacancy, top priority was given to people from Eicher Polaris to see if they fitted the bill. One of the CEOs in a group company made it clear that if any candidate (from Eicher Polaris) was rejected despite the availability of a slot, he would ensure that it would not be filled for the next two years.

Dubey says some of the existing workforce in need of a job is being used to help in closure formalities. “We have identified core team members to help out in the entire process and have taken special care of them,” he says.

Settlements

Beyond this, efforts are also being made to work out an “amicable settlement” with vendors and dealers. Parts for the Multix will be available for existing owners so they do not face any problems.

While the scars of the closure will take time to heal, Dubey remains quite philosophical about the entire saga. “Life is a learning curve and I have realised that not everything remains perfect forever,” he reasons.

Perhaps, things could have been handled differently from the start, be it in the product or marketing. After all, the Multix promised the moon as a mobility option in smaller towns and villages but failed to deliver.

“There is little point in discussing what could have been done instead. From my point of view, the biggest takeaway is to learn from the mistakes and ensure that they are not repeated in the future,” says Dubey.

Revival unsuccessful

He took over responsibility of reviving the Multix in November 2016 when the existing strategy was to focus on the country’s interior markets. However, getting breakthroughs in small towns was taking a lot of time and this was when Dubey decided to tweak the strategy to a top-down approach.

With Bharat Stage IV norms coming into force, the Multix could now access bigger metros and, hopefully, a larger audience, but even this did not help its cause. “I used all the learnings of my professional life into doing what was best for the brand but all this was still not translating into generating numbers quickly,” he says.

One of these initiatives included awarding the Multix to Indian cricketer Jaspit Bumrah during the one-day series in Sri Lanka last September. Apart from this, film stars like R Madhavan were also among the high profile customers.

All these moves did generate some excitement and made news but the big numbers continued to be elusive. It was now getting increasingly clear that the Multix was on its last lap and that its days were numbered.

Since the time it was launched three years ago, overall sales totalled a mere 3,500 units, when it should have been 10 times as much. As Dubey says, it was a big setback for Polaris, which was truly excited about the innovation and its firm belief that the idea was fantastic.

“Ultimately the ground reality was different and something else happened,” says Dubey. One learning from this experience was the need to look at things in a very different perspective especially in a market like India. As in the case of car-makers, it is not easy to guarantee results quickly

“You need to be realistic as this is a huge market, which does not work according to projections. We did extensive research before investing but things still did not work out. What you see and what eventually happens could be completely different,” says Dubey.

Published on May 03, 2018

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