Global car brands appear to be reposing faith in young leaders as they prepare to grow their presence in India, one of the world’s fastest-growing and the fifth-largest car market.
Three prominent global car brands — Audi, BMW and Ford — saw a change of guard at their India operations this calendar year. In all these cases, the age of incoming chief operating officer (CEO) is significantly lower to the outgoing person.
The youngest in the new lot is Rahil Ansari, 38, who is heading Audi in India since February. Ansari has worked for about 13 years with the German luxury carmaker, most of these in Germany. He has a diverse experience in finance, sales, network development, retail operations and after sales business. He has replaced Joe King, 48, who moved back to Germany after a three-year stint.
"The company made it clear they needed someone of Indian origin and who's been here, who knows the psyche of Indian buyers, and understands the culture and demand. They also wanted someone young to perfectly reflect Audi, which is a brand for young and dynamic people,” says Ansari, who is German by birth and has spent two years in India (2011-13) looking after the network's expansion.
A month after Ansari’s appointment, luxury carmaker BMW, announced that Vikram Pawah, 45, will be the president for its India operations. Pawah came from Harley Davidson where he was the India chief. The previous full-time president for BMW in India, Philipp von Sahr, was 57 when he left the country last year.
Early this month, American carmaker Ford said it has elevated 44-year-old Anurag Mehrotra, its executive director (sales, marketing and service) to the position of managing director (MD) in India. Nigel Harris, the previous MD, who moved to China last year, was 54.
Mehrotra, who spent six years at Ford, is dismissive about age having anything to do with the appointments. “I don’t think it is a function of age at all. It is more about the enterprise having faith and confidence in you. You need to earn the trust that you are the right person to deliver goals of the business. The ability to sense what the market will accept and a focus on execution is all that matters,” he said.
Abdul Majeed, partner at Price Waterhouse said the automobile sector is moving to a completely new era of connected mobility and high engagement with customers across mediums (including social media).
“Younger CEOs can connect better with the needs of the evolving car buyers, most of whom are young achievers. A younger CEO, if successful, can lead the company for longer years than someone who has just a few years of working career left with him,” he added.