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Newsmaker: Karl Slym

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A 50-year old Englishman from Derby, UK, Karl Slym found it tough to acclimatise to India when he shifted base to the sub-continent in 2007. Yet, of the eight-odd countries he has lived in, Slym and his wife Sally—whom he met thirty years ago while she was sorting out his claim at the insurance office, post Slym crashing his car—chose to buy their first house in the capital. Eight months after his appointment at General Motors’ largest operations as executive vice-president of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation and Wuling Motor, Slym says he is looking forward to “getting back home”. Tata Motors, India’s third-largest car maker, made Slym its new managing director on Tuesday.

Slym succeeds P M Telang and will lead the company’s operations in India and South Korea, Thailand, Spain, Indonesia and South Africa. He, however, won’t be responsible for the company’s UK-based luxury car unit, Jaguar Land Rover. Slym is the second executive Tata Motors has roped in from GM after Carl-Peter Forster, who resigned as the global CEO in 2010.

Slym has worked for 17 years with GM across various geographies including Poland and South Korea. An alumnus of Stanford University, Slym was widely praised in the industry for growing operations in India at a time when the parent company had filed for bankruptcy in 2010. On June 1 that year, when news broke out of the crisis at Detroit, GMI ran extensive campaigns with a picture of Slym to reassure dealers and customers that the company wouldn’t down shutters in the country. GM scheduled a flurry of launches and established a brand new plant at Talegaon, Maharashtra. The Chevrolet Cruze and the Chevrolet Beat rode the demand boom and GM cemented its position as the fifth largest car maker in the country.

Slym oversaw the sale of 50 per cent stake in GM India to SAIC of China and announced the company’s plans to enter the light commercial vehicle market in India. He is credited with being closely involved with development of the company’s smallest one-litre diesel engine for the Chevrolet Beat.

At Tata Motors, Slym’s challenge would be steer to a growth trajectory the company’s commercial vehicle business unit which has been facing the brunt of a slowdown in the domestic economy. Tata Motors registers over 60 per cent of its revenues from its commercial vehicles business unit. An ageing vehicle portfolio has spelt trouble for the car maker in its passenger vehicles arm as well.