If he has to choose between good news and bad, Arvind K Garg prefers to hear the bad news first. It gives him more time to reflect and find a fix for the problem. It’s a reflex, he says, that comes from years of working directly with customers. In his line of work i.e. manufacturing, selling, and servicing of construction & mining machinery, time is of the essence and success is predicated upon one’s ability to keep the customer’s business online.
Clichéd as it may sound, customer-centricity is not an easy act to pull off. Long before he became the Head of L&T’s Construction & Mining Machinery Business (CMB), Garg cut his teeth in a variety of customer-facing roles at the Company, including a stint as service manager at its Powai workshop where his job entailed upgrading the machinery for product repairs. Interacting directly with customers, it was there that he witnessed first-hand the perils of downtime and the highs of putting a machine back into operation. The lessons he learnt roughing it in the repair shop aren’t lost on him, even after all these years.
A mechanical engineer by training, Garg joined L&T in 1983 as a GET. A campus recruit, he was selected straight out of his college, the prestigious Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, and joined L&T’s Bangalore Works, the hub of Company’s construction and mining equipment business. It was a rather serendipitous turn of events for young Garg since his father, who passed away shortly before his graduation, was himself a mining engineer. To wind up in the mining machinery business was a sign for Garg. That mining was in his blood.
His first years at Bangalore gave him a firm grounding in manufacturing of hydraulic excavators and other key functions such as procurement and logistics. After about a span of three years he moved from manufacturing to marketing, something that he says broadened his horizons beyond the confines of the shop-floor. He thrived in the new role, developing greater appreciation for things like understanding customer needs, market behaviour, interpreting business trends, and improving client satisfaction. His stint at Powai helped further his understanding of the challenges faced by customers and their expectations.
These early experiences proved crucial for him in his later years when he was tasked with developing the company’s product portfolio and expanding its presence across the country. It also helped him in putting together a strong marketing team and a network of service teams for the business. In 2015, after successfully handling a number of management roles, Garg was put in-charge of running the business. Multiple leadership & strategic training programmes he attended at top management schools including IIMs and London Business School around this time, proved invaluable in his transition to the new role.
As a trusted name in the Construction & Mining machinery space, CMB’s growth story runs parallel to India’s push in the infrastructure space. While L&T had been catering to the construction sector – with a mix of its own machines and equipment sourced from foreign partners – for over 70 years, the business first experienced a real boom in the mid-80s when there was a sudden increase in demand for mechanisation and automation in the construction space. It was also around this time that the mining industry underwent a significant transformation and sought machinery and equipment to ramp up production levels.
CMB expanded its business and carried the momentum through the ensuing decades to become the leading player in the domestic market, serving the needs of customers across different product categories, industry segments and geographies. From single machine buyers to institutional players, it catered to all with its range of hydraulic excavators, compactors, wheel loaders, motor graders and dump trucks. Its partnerships with world’s leading firms such as Poclain, Case New Holland, Detroit Diesel, Montabert, and Terex initially and with Komatsu and Scania in later years allowed the company to introduce cutting edge technologies which helped customers get more out of their investments.
Keeping pace with technology has been the key differentiator for CMB, says Garg. That and its focus on building enduring relationships with customers. One of the main reasons, he says CMB leads the market is because it ensures that it’s there when customers need it. “We’ve built service centres, and made spares, personnel, and training available in places no one else would. When a machine breaks down, we ensure that we bring it back into operation first, on the same day as far as possible. Everything else is secondary at that point,” he says. CMB has in place what it calls a full-maintenance contract programme wherein it services a machine for a fixed period at a pre-determined cost. It does pre-emptive maintenance and repairs to keep the machine operational in peak form. This is part of a larger lifecycle cost strategy which factors-in the cost of a machine over its entire lifecycle as opposed to just the initial cost. “Customers may pay a higher premium for our offerings initially, but in the longer term, we turn out to be far more cost-effective than our competitors,” explains Garg.
Under him, at CMB, an effort is underway to move the market towards technologically advanced machines. With trends such as digitalisation and telematics set to dominate the next phase of evolution in the construction and mining equipment space, Garg believes that educating the customers on the benefits of modern technology will hold the key for CMB to grow its market. Speaking of future growth, Garg anticipates much of it to come from the mid-market segment. He appears particularly optimistic on the activity in roads and urban-housing sector where CMB’s mid-sized machines fit nicely. He expects the small & mid-sized construction equipment segment to grow around 12-15% Y-o-Y for the next 3-4 years. Garg’s forward-looking ways have earned him recognition not just within L&T but in the wider industry. For his expertise and vast experience in the construction and mining equipment space, he was recently chosen to lead Indian Construction Equipment Manufacturers Association (ICEMA). As President of ICEMA he hopes to transform it into the most credible face of Indian Construction Equipment Industry. On his immediate agenda is encouraging the government to provide impetus for industry specific skills. Garg also wants greater visibility for locally built machinery in the international markets and has made it one of the key objectives of his two-year term.
Construction & Mining equipment is a tough business, often leaving its imprint on those who trade in it. Garg though is an exception. Due to complete 35 years in the business soon, he hasn’t allowed the harshness of his vocation get to him and affect his personality. He remains as modest and unassuming as ever. As a leader, he prefers to walk to the desk of those who he wishes to speak with. The approach keeps him grounded and the communication clear.
He also has a knack for sharing the learnings he’s acquired over the years with the younger lot and those around him. His mentoring ways have earned him the respect and admiration of his peers and team members.
His humble manners aren’t limited to his professional space either. He’s every bit as caring in his personal life as well. Grateful for all that he’s been given, he’s always trying to pay it forward. Few know that during the cold Bangalore winters he drives around the city offering blankets and winter wear to those living in the streets.
Garg’s compassion isn’t an act. It does not take long for one to sense that about him. His humility springs from someplace real. It’s the secret of his success.