The Titan way

Print edition : February 15, 2019
An account of the making of an Indian company that has kept pace with the times.

This book captures the evolution of Titan Company Limited, describing each of its critical phases in detail. It is the story of how the Tata Group ventured into a sector—consumer products—that had not been its forte until then. The spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the team led by Xerxes Desai, the founding managing director, and his focus on consumer delight, quality products and a never-say-die attitude, is well portrayed. It is creditable that all this happened in the Licence Raj years, with the idea having been sown in the late 1970s and the company established in the mid 1980s.

The vision and persistence of the Titan team, with the support of the Tata Board, helped it overcome challenges such as the reservation of watchmaking for small-scale or public sector units, technology requirement and foreign exchange regulations. What made the idea successful was the team’s goal to set its products apart from the competition prevailing then and its spotting the upcoming trend in the Indian market for quartz watches that were until then either imported or made locally by HMT (formerly Hindustan Machine Tools Limited) in small quantities.

The book covers many interesting stories, such as how the branding was done and Titan’s ad campaigns that became a big hit, especially the signature tune that has stood the test of time. The company made strides in retail formats and focussed on underserved segments in the market. Its winning mantra seems to have been its aptitude for identifying opportunities and organising the business in an otherwise unorganised industry in a growing economy. This was demonstrated by the huge success of Tanishq, whose offer was trust and purity of gold.

The book is a first-hand account of the inside story of Titan, and credit goes to the company for its openness in sharing such information and the author for capturing it lucidly. It is a great source of case studies on joint ventures (J.Vs), closure of unprofitable businesses, the nurturing and growth of promising ones and the culture of risk-taking and innovation. While the top management was focussed on vision and direction, the entire organisation was sensitised to innovation, such as the starting of the Fastrack range, Titan Eyeplus eyewear, and Skinn perfumes.

Desai fulfilled his passion for quartz watches and made it successful as a quality and classy product. He managed the external and internal challenges ably and laid a solid foundation for the brand, the business model and the exclusive retailing of watches and jewellery that would stand the company in good stead long after he retired.

Bhaskar Bhat, Titan’s first employee, took over as its managing director when the company had borrowings, accumulated losses and losing businesses. He played a stellar role in consolidating its strengths, shedding loss-making businesses and carving out new segments for growth, besides making Tanishq a grand success. His initiative of “Future Shock”, to make people think of exponential growth and new segments, got managers at various levels of the organisation aligned with the company’s growth and profitability. This brought, among employees, a sense of ownership to the company’s goals and aspirations.

Titan’s market capitalisation went up from Rs.450 crore in 2003 to Rs.81,000 crore in 2018—a whopping 41 per cent compound annual growth rate over 15 years. Titan is the second most valuable company in the Tata stable. Such phenomenal financial success has vindicated the Titan business model and the Titan way of doing things.

An inspiring story of a successful Indian company that is constantly evolving to keep pace with the times, this book has a lot to offer to management students, start-ups, visionaries who want to make a difference, CEOs and HR heads who wish to build an intrapreneurial culture and marketers.

L. Ramkumar is President, Madras Management Association & Former Managing Director, Tube Investments of India Limited, Murugappa Group.