The Oxford-graduated Desai is the man behind the country’s premium and leading globally recognized Indian brands – Titan. Under his leadership, Titan has become the world’s sixth largest watch manufacturer and marketer and exports watches to about 32 countries.
What was the idea behind starting the company and how did you come in the picture?
It was the time when I joined Tata Press and the company was identifying a project which Tata’s would be permitted to enter. But every time, we identified a project either the government of India or the Government of Tata said ‘no’. But one day, I got a call from TIFR and was asked to print a book. Then, I got familiar with the author of the book, Jaivardhan Mahadevan who happened to be the chairman of the watch industry. After discussing the project with him, we finally sent a proposal to JRD Tata. Unfortunately, nothing worked out as the stakeholders declined to work with us as they wanted to launch the product in any country except India. But the industry took a new shape when Rajiv Gandhi came to power and we were asked to apply again. And finally, the government agreed to form a joint sector company in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO). So, it took almost 16 years to start Titan and it was in 1987 that the products started hitting the market.
Where did the name Titan come from?
Titan stands for something big. Also, it is a cheeky way of asserting the Tata’s presence in the project. ‘TI’ stands for Tata Industries while the second half ‘TAN’ stands for Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation.
What were the changes incorporated under your leadership in Titan?
Success finally lies in getting things right and we were able to understand that the watch industry is a very rationale industry. Moreover, the timing of Titan’s launch was in our favour as the opposition was weak so it was a cake-walk for us. We had a team of young people and a huge number of people joined us from HMT in the manufacturing division. The culture in our company was not rigid or bureaucratic as we were far from Tata’s headquarters. We experimented a lot many things at the same time and even broke the rules too.
How important it is for a CEO to manage the entire transition?
Change in a way, is being structured upon people, upon CEOs, in a manner that desn’t happen in 60s, 70s, 80s. And there is a perception that we should change with time. It’s not the change that change, it’s the question of understanding the market not only in India but worldwide, not only what is happening in the market but also what is happening in the laboratories and people’s mind the world over. We focused on what could be the product for next generation, what could be its style with not much focus on current competition. One doesn't think about current competition as it is changing continuously. One needs to tap the market aspirations.
Who were the people motivated you throughout your journey?
I was highly motivated by JRD Tata particularly in the second half of my working life. Mr. Darbari Seth who retired as chairman of Tata Chemicals also was the person who influenced me a lot.