Personality Profile Interview Mr Mahesh Mahtani Country Director- Stallion Group Ghana
Born in Ghana as a 3rd generation descendant of the first Indian family to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1939, Mr. Mahesh Mahtani is not only proud to call himself a Ghanaian but also prides himself in having his basic education and fondest childhood in a place he calls home, Ghana.
His life as a professional in his field of work spans many years of hard work, discipline, and integrity which reflect his daily activities both at the workplace and in his personal life. In 2011, he was appointed the Country Director for the Stallion Group Ghana which has significantly grown in the last eight years since he took the reigns of word-class automobile brands such as: Honda, Audi, Skoda, Hyundai vehicles and more recently, the famous Changan brand from China. With a personal vision to lead Stallion Group Ghana to become Ghana’s leading player in the automobile industry, he strives to do more than facilitate the sales of more cars and acquire more brands. He is also pursuing an agenda to employ more people and better the lives of those the company employs.
Under his leadership, the company has embarked on numerous goodwill activities that have contributed immensely to society; having fetched the company and himself both local and international recognition, including the Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility award among others. Despite attaining this astonishing milestone in his professional career, he maintains the view that being nominated for an award category is more important than actually winning the award. To him, nomination tells that the company is on track to achieving its set goals.
Mr. Mahesh Mahtani believes he is a born-leader having taken up a number of leadership roles. As the years go by, he hopes that the teachings, energy, and many years of dedication he has rendered to Stallion Group Ghana will long remain after his reign as Country Director.
TVM: Having been a key player in the automobile industry in Ghana, what’s your general overview of the automobile industry in Ghana?
MAHESH: The automobile industry in Ghana can be seen to be on an upward trend simply because Ghana is moving from a low income economy to a middle income economy and thus, making the capital and major cities and their suburbs to be expanding as such demanding means of transport to be on the increase to ease mobility. This, therefore, calls for a small car of one’s own. Considering the choking condition of these major cities, workers now have to drive a distance of 10 -15 miles from where they reside, and as such a car to go to work is important and fortunately these days’ cars are affordable depending on one’s choice.
TVM: Ghana is likely to experience growth in the automotive industry considering the intentions of some automakers’ decision to establish assembly plants in the country. What is your take on this?
MAHESH: This is welcoming news because it will give employment to hundreds of people and I think the big auto dealers in Ghana are already in dialogue with the government on creating assembling plants in Ghana. In the near future, all the major players will be assembling vehicles.
TVM: Will this change the game in the automobile industry and how?
MAHESH: It will because everyone who is a major player in the automobile industry will have to move into assembling. Though much will depend on government’s policies to encourage people to make these huge investments in the country. Considering Ghana’s relations with neighboring countries, Ghana could be a strategic hub for automobiles to the neighboring countries.
TVM: From your experience in the automobile industry in Ghana, what do you think ails the sector and what do you suggest be done to address these challenges?
MAHESH: We always have challenges in the automobile industry and the two foremost ones are: grey market imports and importation of second hand vehicles. Grey market imports simply mean people importing brand new cars from certain countries, bringing them to Ghana and selling them. Unfortunately, these people cannot offer manufacturer warranties; they cannot offer any type of warranties and they do not have facilities to service or repair the cars but they sell these cars. On the issue of importation of second hand vehicles in Ghana, It is evident that the sales of second hand vehicles in Ghana exceeds the amount of brand-new cars being sold in in the showrooms.
TVM: Due to low disposable income in the country and very high costs associated with new automobiles, used vehicles dominate Ghana’s automotive market. How does this impact the operations of retailers of new vehicles?
MAHESH: It impacts on us a great deal because people purchase second hand cars more as compared to new vehicles and as such affects our sales. Also, there are so many roadside auto mechanics in the country who are very good. Thus, people who buy these second cars visit such mechanics including those who purchase new cars from the showrooms for maintenance and repairs and as such affects the legitimate auto dealers as they lose businesses to these roadside mechanics. These cannot be stopped, we agree, but these days there are policies that if a car is over 5 years or ten years old it should not be allowed into a country because of carbon emissions from those vehicles. These laws should be enforced to reduce the greenhouse effect, as many countries are now clamping down on such old cars.
TVM: What contributes to the high cost of purchasing a new vehicle?
MAHESH: New vehicles are expensive generally compared to a second hand vehicle. The reasons are when you buy a new vehicle from a proper authorized dealer it comes with a warranty usually 3 to 5 years or 100,000 kilometers whichever comes first. Secondly, the principals we deal with also increases their prices. Thirdly, the issue of inflation affects everything in a country. Some countries can be as low as 3%, while some countries can be as high as 15% or even more and this also has an impact on the cost of brand new vehicles.
TVM: How do retailers of the new vehicles intend to outwit the competition with used vehicles?
MAHESH: Well, the truth is marketing in Ghana is a cut-throat activity in the automobile activity. Thus, companies design various marketing strategies like free services and free insurance etc. For instance, in our company, we undertake such promotions and embark on strategic marketing. Also, being located on the Graphic Road, which is the main auto center in Accra, we benchmark what our competitors are offering and we try to match them or even go a step further. New cars are much less to maintain than second hand vehicles hence we try to convince customers of these costs.
TVM: According to research, vehicle per population ratio in Ghana is continually on the rise, moving from 50 vehicles per 1000 population in 2010 to 73 vehicles per 1000 population in 2017. How do auto retailers intend to capitalize on this vast opportunity available to them?
MAHESH: By trying to sell more vehicles. We’re all trying to sell more vehicles all the time. Currently, we have 5 brands namely Honda, Audi, Skoda, Hyundai and Changan. We’ve got vehicles in all segments; Luxury segment, over 2 litres segment, under 2 litres segment, 1 litre segment. We just try to find opportunities to sell our vehicles to the masses, to provide state of the art servicing in our workshops, and to sell original spare parts as well as other value additions that keep us ahead of the market.
TVM: How has the competition propelled the team to stand out?
MAHESH: We’ve always tried to survive and outwit the competition but it’s not been easy. In fact, in our early years, we found it very difficult to penetrate in the Ghanaian market. We started off with the Honda brand and then we acquired other global auto brands and luckily, by the grace of God, we finally penetrated the market and we’re here 19 years later.
TVM: Stallion Group Ghana is one of the leading auto retailers in the country with a very impressive track record evident in the number of laurels it has won over the period. What are the key factors for the Group’s success in Ghana?
MAHESH: First of all, we sell cars that the market requires. We also have state-of-the-art workshops across the country, and good after sales support; we always have original spare parts in stock. These things are very important in the auto industry because after the sales, customers would have to bring back their cars for servicing and if any part(s) needs to be changed, they need to be changed with original spare parts.
TVM: You mentioned that in 2001 when you penetrated the market you faced some challenges. What were the particular ones you faced?
MAHESH: When new players enter any industry there are always challenges and very stiff competition, particularly when the older players are in the business 50 years before you. Thus, to promote our brands in Ghana, a lot of time, effort, advertising, marketing went into it. We learned to survive, and we did and then we acquired more brands and today we have three showrooms on Graphic Road, Honda Place, Hyundai World, & Stallion Motors, with 2 other showrooms (Spintex Road and Adim, Kumasi) and we compete effectively with the other auto players.
TVM: What are the long terms goals for Stallion Group in Ghana?
MAHESH: Well, our long-term goals are to be the leading automobile distributor as well as to assemble our brands in Ghana.
TVM: When the name Mahtani is mentioned, one remembers quickly about the first Indian family to arrive in the Gold Coast. But people may want to know who Mr. Mahesh Mahtani is?
MAHESH: Indeed, my grandfather came to Ghana, then Gold Coast, in 1928. Perchance, he was passing through the Gold Coast, on a ship and he got off the ship to explore the land. He liked the environment, the people, the weather - it was English speaking like Indus - and so he decided to start his life in the then Gold Coast. He in fact opened a very small retail store in 1929 in Accra and I am the grandson of that gentleman. So, our roots have been here since 1928. My grand-father was the first Indian to bring his entire family to Ghana, and this has even been documented in the newspapers, magazines etc. you may verify the same from the Daily Graphic - 26th January 2918 edition. You can not change history.
TVM: Did you have your basic education in Ghana as well?
MAHESH: Yes, I did. I went to Ghana International School from the years 1962 to 1969 and then I continued my primary education in the UK, followed by my secondary education and my tertiary education, all in the UK. I am a graduate from the prestigious London School of Economics (L.S.E.), where several Ghanaian Presidents also hailed from.
TVM: So how was growing up for you like in Ghana?
MAHESH: It was wonderful. Ghana is a wonderful place; so, growing up here was very nice and peaceful. We received the best education here which formed a solid foundation when I moved to the UK to further my education.
TVM: Why did your grandfather choose to settle in the Gold Coast and not any other part of the world?
MAHESH: Actually, it was by default. He was with his friend on a ship, and they were passing through West Africa and perhaps they didn’t know exactly where they would end up. They disembarked the ship at Jamestown in those days, and my Grandfather decided he liked Ghana; the people were friendly, the weather was like in India, the environment was good for business and so he decided he was going to settle here and he did. He opened his first store in 1929, and several others later. I believe it is destiny. We now have our 4th generation in Ghana. Indeed, it is quite amazing as there are only a handful of Indian families who are like this in Ghana. There are several 3-generation families, but only a handful of 4-generation Indian families in Ghana, and we are one of them.
TVM: What are some values you learned as a child and still live by?
MAHESH: Growing up, I had parents who were very strict. Though my father was very successful, he was at the same time very strict with us. So, we learned values like honesty, doing the right things and not wasting money. All these things were taught to us from a young age. We were trained to be independent; not to depend on anyone. Life is all an educational process and till today, I am still learning. I am learning every day and I believe that the main principles are to excel in one’s work, to lead an honest life and excel at what you do. Everyone can! I believe anyone can do what I can do, given the correct training. They should just be serious and focused, and they can do it.
In this automobile industry, I learn a lot of things from my staff, my managers etc. One cannot be right all the time. They show me where I went wrong, and as long as they can convince me of their ways of doing business, I go along with them. It is all a learning process.
TVM: In 2011, Stallion Group appointed you as the country director, and in March of the same year, you took the reigns of all the automobile companies under Stallion group. What must have contributed to your success?
MAHESH: First of all, I must admit that when I took over, it took me nearly a year to settle down and understand the automobile industry. Though, I had my own businesses separately, they had nothing to do with the automobile industry. This period allowed me time to learn things from importing cars, clearing them, selling them etc. So, when I settled down, then we all had to work together as a team. Here, it is a complete chain, it is a teamwork. I cannot bring the success alone; it is the full team that brings success. The team tries to be one of the leading automobile players in the industry.
It’s trying, it’s testing but we don’t give up and I believe nobody should give up. One can fail today, fail tomorrow, but shouldn’t give up. Finally, one succeeds. We encourage people. That is the reason why we send many Ghanaians abroad for training. They go abroad, they get the training and they come back to teach others. I think this is the secret, to teach one another. Some people don’t like teaching others, but here, we all teach each other. Another part of the success story is is to expand the business; so currently, we have already expanded in Tema, in Spintex Road, in Accra, in Kumasi and, in 2020 we hope to expand to Takoradi as well.
TVM: Under your Leadership, you have won a number of awards from 2013 to 2017. You’ve mentioned a few things that Stallion does that keeps the group going. What leadership strategy would you say has led to such immense recognition and consistent wins in the automobile industry?
MAHESH: The truth is awards are awards; they are things that are given to us. But the awards that matter to me most are awards like Corporate Social Responsibility and Leadership. We were very proud to get such awards. I think we won the CSR award in 2017 and I believe that all big companies in Ghana should take CSR very seriously. We have a CSR plan and every year we give water to villages where clean water is not available. In fact, we are hoping to do one by March 2020 and this time it will be in the Ashanti Region. We have identified a place and yet to start work there and hopefully by March 2020 it should be completed. I believe these are some of the things that motivate me to carry on and to continue.
TVM: What is your management philosophy?
MAHESH: My management philosophy is, get good people, look after them so that they are motivated and can expand and look after the business for you. Discipline and loyalty must be promoted also.
TVM: What do you want to be remembered for after?
MAHESH: I really don’t know what I want to be remembered for. I have tried to always be fair, just, efficient and productive. I hope these principles will remain with the staff at Stallion Group Ghana even when I depart.
TVM: As an Indian by origin, you were the president of the Indian Community from 2002-2006, one of the youngest presidents ever. You were also the Chairman of the Indian Social & Culture Centre from 2012-2016 and part of the Alumni of the London School of Economics in Ghana. On achieving such milestones, what enduring principles guide you through life?
MAHESH: I believe some people are innately born leaders. Some people can be leaders, some people cannot be leaders. So fortunately, for me, I fall in that category where I like to lead and to teach. I have my philosophy in life and I can lead. I was one of the youngest presidents of the Indian Association in Ghana and I was there for four years. The normal tenure is 2 years but I was re-elected and I was there from 2002-2006. Yes, I was also the chairman of the Indian Social and Cultural Centre.
I believe that in life, we all have certain principles and we shouldn’t err from those principles. I was also the president of the alumni of the London School of Economics in Ghana, and you’ll be surprised that there’s a lot of members of the alumni of the London School of Economics in Ghana.
However, positions are positions, and I believe one should know the right time to let go of such positions. These are community positions and it is not everybody who appreciates your ideology and your philosophy all the time.
Therefore, once you have done your part, you let someone else take over because not everyone will agree with you. So personally, the greatest thing I learnt was to let go at the right time. It can come with age, as you may have other responsibilities. But in life, people don’t want to let go. But I learnt to let go. One fine day, I woke up and said ‘I have done my part, it is now left to others to do their part.’
I’m a Hindu by religion, even though I was born into Christianity and attended a Christian school in the UK, but I believe all religions are the same. I attend my church every week and I believe regular attendance is very important. In fact, I have derived my strength from the Almighty, so I keep going and going.
TVM: Did you/ do you have any mentors that have shaped your philosophies in life, business etc.?
MAHESH: Well, one mentor I had was Milton Friedman. He was the founder of modern economics and he said “everything works on supply and demand”. I graduated in economics from the London School of Economics, and believed in his economics. Another mentor I have is the great American businessman and philanthropist, Warren Buffet. Today, in my opinion, he is the most successful businessman in the world and who has given so much back to charity and his lifestyle is still so simple.
TVM: We gathered that you take a walk daily for an hour, what else do you love to do at your leisure?
MAHESH: Yes, I do. I don’t do it out of choice but rather it keeps me fit and healthy; the doctors advised me to walk minimum 45 minutes a day and so I go for a 45-minute walk daily. I walk alone, and it affords me the time to think for myself. Many years ago, I used to play golf also but when I took positions up in my church, I couldn’t wake up so early to play golf and to attend to my church duties, so I gave up the golf and I do the rest.
TVM: Aside the walk, is there anything else that you love to do?
MAHESH: I do play bridge; a card game. It stimulates the mind, and it’s very good. I enjoy playing bridge. I play a lot on my laptop and my doctor says “try to stimulate your mind with these word games, card games on so on”, simply because these days when one is getting older, all sorts of things trouble our health, like dementia, so I try to keep my mind active.
TVM: Are there any kind(s) of books you love to read and which specific one has inspired your journey through life?
MAHESH: I don’t like reading a lot but what I do read religiously is ‘The Economist’ magazine; it’s one of the best magazines. It reports everything that’s happening in the world and gives you an unbiased report on all those things, so I read it regularly.
TVM: Stallion has adopted a code of ethics for all of its executives and employees, what are some of the code of ethics you live by in your professional space?
MAHESH: First of all, when a position is given to someone like I was appointed the Country Director of the automobile division, one has to work honestly and tirelessly. Come to work on time, ensure that everything is going in the right direction, delegate responsibilities to people, empower others with certain powers, and be fair in all situations that come your way. Don’t let your EGO get the better of you.
We are very strict on certain things including punctuality. This is another area I’m very particular about because if somebody loses half an hour a day on a five-day week, the person is losing ten hours a month, resulting to 120 hours a year. So, when it is accumulated, it’s a lot of time wasted.
TVM: You are Ghanaian by birth and definitely you are not new to the local delicacies. Which one is your favourite?
MAHESH: There are few favorites, I enjoy fufu with groundnut soup. I like yam, kelewele and all those milder foods that are not so spicy.
TVM: Do you have any advice for industry players?
MAHESH: I would say that people who are doing business in Ghana, be it automobile or otherwise, should never give up; they should keep expanding. We have this policy; we try to expand to employ more and more people and by that we are giving good and quality life to many more people. Currently, we are employing possibly four to five hundred people and perhaps if each person happens to be the head of his family of three or four people, indirectly about 2000 people are affected positively. Thus, the more people one employs, more and more people are benefitting indirectly; it is the private sector that can do this; it’s difficult sometimes for the public sector to give employment to so many people.
TVM: What advice would you give to the youth who look up to you as their mentor?
MAHESH: They should acquire good education up to a certain height to make them more relevant. Also, when a job opportunity avails itself, they should grab it and then move on from there. It is difficult at times to get the first job, and many people turn down their first job but I will advise people not to turn down a job offered them when they are out of university or school; they should just take it, and move on from there. They should start a working routine, and from there they can rise, get promoted, become better and then can change the job. I’ll advise the youth that as soon as they’re done with their school or university, they should go out there and start working and things will begin to fall into place. The longer they stay out of work, the harder it becomes to start or to get a good job. One should also not fear failure. You will fail once or twice or thrice, but the next time you will rise and succeed. Never make the same mistake twice - never give up, and always keep your dreams alive.