The people who make the engine purr

Updated on: Jan 27, 2018


Rich human resources and a calm labour environment are key to Ashok Leyland ’s great run

The drive is halting and chaotic, with stretches of the road eaten away by the sea and knots of vehicles creating snarls every few kilometres. But once you veer off the highway and reach the flagship plant of Ashok Leyland at Ennore, 20 km north of Chennai, it is a whole new world of order and modernity, and a lot of history.

Immediately after Independence, when Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded a Punjabi freedom-fighter to head to Madras to build a truck factory, Raghunandan Saran set up Ashok Motors’ manufacturing unit in Ennore, a fishing hamlet.

On a steady drive since, and picking Leyland along the way, AL has grown and expanded its mother plant, where it now builds a variety of medium to heavy commercial vehicles for every conceivable use, from transporting goods in the plains to moving men and materials for the armed forces in the Himalayas.

At the wheels of the company at all times have been rich human resources – from highly qualified engineers to skilled workers.

“I never thought I would get this job,” says KS Sampath Kumar, overcome by emotion at just the mere recollection of the day in 1981 when he got the appointment order to work at the Ennore plant. A specialist on CNC machines, Sampath Kumar has, in the past 35 years, seen the transformation of AL. The Ennore factory itself has gone through several transformations. As have its employees.

“There are over 2,000 workers in this factory. All of us are multi-skilled now. We can work in any shop. We can handle all the machines and related operations,” says PK Kannan (57), who works in the machine shop and will retire in a couple of years. He joined AL as a casual worker 34 years ago, and has risen to the elite set of ‘super highly skilled’ staff.

His senior colleague, S Gajaraj (58), says that even after three-and-a-half decades, he is still energised by being on the shop-floor. He now trains new-comers on CNC machines. “AL was a university for me,” he says.

If Kannan and Gajaraj, so close to retirement, are still enthusiastic about working, it is thanks in large part to the peaceful industrial relations at the plant.

This has been helped by employee-friendly programmes, involvement of employees in innovation, and multi-skill training in recent years. While R Seshasayee, former Managing Director, was sharply focussed on quality, the current CEO and MD, Vinod Dasari, has encouraged and recognised many innovations by staff.

Yet, even Ashok Leyland could not drive around austerity measures when the going got tough. After some lay-offs, the sale of subsidiaries and a cut-back of the capex, AL is firmly back on the growth path. In 2015-16, as the company posted record sales and profits, it rewarded its workers with the highest-ever bonus.

As much they are thrilled about the reward, workers are happy with the open channels of communication with the management. They say they are now aware of market conditions and the competition and are future-ready. So is Ashok Leyland.

Published on August 14, 2016
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