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Meet Maruti's new boss Nakanishi
S Kalyana Ramanathan in Chennai

Shinzo Nakanishi, MD, Maruti Suzuki
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November 02, 2007

In an unusual shuffle announced on Monday, Maruti [Get Quote] Suzuki India's chairman Shinzo Nakanishi became its managing director.

There is reason to believe that Nakanishi, 60, will make the transition in a most unobtrusive manner. He has served Suzuki Motor Co, which owns 54.2 per cent of Maruti, for 36 years and yet not many in Maruti seem to know that he is related to O Suzuki, the chairman of his eponymous company.

Although Nakanishi has been the chairman of Maruti for five years, the company's well-oiled communications machinery came up with an ultra-thin - at best sketchy - profile of the man.

Nakanishi has kept such a low profile, especially in India, that the criticality of his role in Suzuki's scheme of things, in India as well as globally, would take many by surprise.

Nakanishi, in fact, played a significant role during the formative years of Maruti, which started as a joint venture between the government and Suzuki in the early 1980s and rolled out its first car in December 1983.

His face came to be recognised only towards the end of the 1990s when the two partners waged a bruising battle for control of the joint venture that also saw them spar in court.

Soon after the dispute was resolved, he retreated again into the shadows only to emerge again towards the end of 2004, when misgivings between the two partners surfaced over fresh investments in Maruti.

Nakanishi, however, has never been seen taking credit for the outcome of the two disputes, both of which saw Suzuki emerge stronger. He is also credited with authoring the "New Joint Venture Agreement" between Suzuki and the government in early 2006.

In his long years with Suzuki, Nakanishi has served as the group's key guy in markets like China, Indonesia, Hungary, Pakistan and East Asia - markets whose contours are similar to India's.

He is not known to be a hands-on chief executive, which is in sharp contrast to Jagdish Khattar, the man who has made room for him in the corner office and one who has enjoyed excellent relations with dealers and component suppliers.

Now, at the helm of Maruti, which makes one of every two cars sold in the country and has launched five cars in the last year and a half, Nakanishi may not be able to shun limelight any more even if he tries. Scores of eyes will be watching him as he becomes the first non-Indian CEO of the company.

Significantly, the post has thus far been occupied not only by Indians but also Indians that were far from your regular corporate managers: Three were IAS officers and the fourth came from state-owned engineering giant Bharat Heavy Engineering Ltd. The fact that Ratan Tata is lurking around the corner with his Rs 1 lakh car will not make Nakanishi's job any easier, or less public.

The Maruti Saga

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