M&M's Arun Nanda is stepping down as executive director to become a
social entrepreneur. He talks with Forbes India about his past success
by Shloka Nath | Jan 22, 2010
Title: Stepped down as excecutive director on the board of Mahindra & Mahindra
Career: He joined M&M in 1973, when he was 23 years of age, in the
accounts department as a management trainee. Was promoted to the board
in 1992 at the age of 40. In 1994 was put in charge of the services
Education: Chartered accountant
Hobbies: Classical singing, playing golf and playing the tabla
Looking back on your time at Mahindra & Mahindra, what stands out?
You people only look at my successes, I've had failures also. But to
the credit of Mr. Mahindra he told me something which was very
interesting. He said Arun, if you did not take risk, I'd be worried.
The actual credit for finding an entrepreneur in me — that
transformation from an accountant to this — goes to Anand. He was the
one who actually saw the entrepreneur in me, before I knew I was an
You have worked here for over 30 years…
I have worked here so long — for 36 years — and never, ever have I
appeared for an interview elsewhere. There are two reasons. Firstly,
we were never treated as employees. Even today, Anand or Mr. Keshub
Mahindra — if they introduce me they will never say, Arun works for
us; which most people would say. They always say meet my colleague on
the board. The value of a human being was one. And second is the
ethics – not one day did I go to bed with my conscience telling me I
did something which was not right.
Why drop it all now? You've just launched one of the most successful
IPOs in 2009 and you've been awarded the highest civilian honour by
France, you're at the height of your career some would say.
This [M&M] has been home. I joined the company in 1973 as a
23-year-old. Twenty-three to sixty is a long time. It's a very
important decision — at the peak of your career, to give up money and
power is not a very easy decision to take. I started thinking of it
honestly, two years ago. Because if I want to do something and I want
to grow it — I must start at a time when I still have the energy to do
it. There's no point doing it post retirement.
Why social entrepreneurship?
What I have observed is people are living longer and the joint family
system has virtually disappeared. And even your own children whether
they go abroad or within the country they are more mobile in their
work. So senior citizens are very lonely. So I'm going to build up
community centres where every afternoon people can go and meet
like-minded people. And I will have social workers who will organise
activities there. And the second thing I'm going to start is a
helpline. You'll be surprised. You read in the newspaper about child
abuse, there's lots of adult abuse in this country. So the helpline is
where we can provide all sorts of facilities. We will tie up the
backend with providers. For the present I am going to create an NGO —
a trust which I will fund personally to start with. I'm also going to
build an NPO. I'm looking for people to join me — people who've worked
in industry and are now thinking like me. I will use my vision but I
will get people to translate that vision, like I have done at
What is the role you will retain at M&M and within the group companies?
I talked to Anand [Mahindra] about my plans and he was very generous.
He said since what you are going to do is not conflicting with M&M why
don't we find a way that you can be involved here as well as follow
your passion. So I will give up my executive position and continue in
a non-executive role. But my role is actually going to be fairly
significant. I'll continue to be the chairman of Mahindra Holidays
which I started. I was the vice-chairman of Mahindra Lifespaces, the
real estate company, and now Anand is proposing to elevate me as
chairman of that company. Plus I will continue to look after the
infrastructure interests of the Group like Mahindra Water — the
Tirupur Water Project and also Mahindra Consulting Engineers.
Speaking of the IPO, what made you take the plunge with an IPO when
everyone else was taking the private equity route? Your IPO was seen
by analysts as a test of whether or not the market had the appetite
for investments in IPOs.
Everybody thought I was mad! This is not the first time Mahindras did
it. Even Tech Mahindra, when it came, it was after a lull. I am a
trained accountant. The mind is not only conservative but also you
think rationally. But I also think somewhere I have got this gift to
think through the stomach. And sometimes you have to listen to your
gut. The story was very good, because the company was growing at 73
percent CAGR. We could see that the market needed some and as a
responsible company we thought that we have to lead the way. I don't
think I took a risk. I was confident that it is a good issue. Because
the track record was good. Tech Mahindra had done well. And look at
the stock — the issue at 300 rupees was quoting at 465 in less than
six months time. WSJ has quoted that this was one of the best Indian
IPOs in 2009. After us there was a spate. But in a war, it's the first
guy who goes who is the most vulnerable.
Forbes India - A Helpline for Senior Citizens by Arun Nanda (16 February 2010)