For most of the world’s drivers, Michelin and Pirelli have long held a place of undisputed dominance, the latter even achieving the seemingly unachievable: associating the rather prosaic tyre with a certain feminine allure.
Whether by design or not, the Apollo Tyres’ name evokes a more athletic, youthful beauty. Its relative youth (the company was founded in the early 1970s) belies both resilience and global vision that have turned it into a global player.
With headquarters in India and the UK and office locations across the Netherlands, Thailand the UAE, etc the company supplies tyres to over a 100 countries globally and trades under two brands, Apollo and Vredestein. At the time of writing, the company’s turnover is US$ 1.8 billion.
The man in charge of building it into a super-brand is the founder’s son, Neeraj Kanwar, an engaging 40-something who has a sweeping grasp of his market and a well thought-out strategy of taking on the industry’s giants.
Expanding by acquisition, opening European manufacturing plants and setting up offices dotted around the globe is daunting by any yardstick, especially if your product is viewed through the old “made in India” perception of quality.
To counter this, the Kanwars bought Dutch tyre manufacturer Vredestein B.V. in 2009 and Germany’s Reifencom, and are about to open their own, brand new plant in Hungary. Apollo Tyres are something of a disrupter in the market place in that they are reversing the classic flow of using Indian labour/ competing solely on price.
The focus is on developing their new tech capabilities and producing tyres of top quality but at more competitive prices than established brands.
Tyre endurance, load and longevity capabilities are improved through know-how exchange between their Indian and European plants but if you are sceptical about their rise in a traditionally dominated market, you needn’t look further than that very Indian trademark: adaptability and resourcefulness.
Neeraj himself may be the Vice Chairman & Managing Director of a multi-national, publicly quoted company, but he is also the grandson of a man who started with precisely nothing other than a keen eye for opportunity.
The new generation Kanwars are nothing but grounded, but also pragmatic and forward looking. They understand that success in this life brings in added responsibility.
Their particular brand of impact philanthropy is not something they have donned on as a social veneer – rather, the approach is vernacular and again, based on pragmatism.
India has one of the highest rates of AIDS. Truck drivers as a demographic are highly vulnerable to this and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Apollo have come up with a home-gown program of addressing the failings of their main workforce by setting up education workshops at truckers resting areas, appointing program ambassadors, and promoting a safety first policy.
Their drivers are fortunate enough to have their eyesight tested by the company and outfitted with prescription glasses when needed.
Kanwar is deeply conscious of the impact the company’s expansion growth has on large communities both in India and in Europe. Apollo Tyres has a far-reaching program of initiatives designed to make this impact positive and works with The British Asian Trust to support communities back at home.
The Kanwars are a new generation Indian entrepreneurs poised to colonise the old world through a high proof blend of industry and vision.
Given their reputation and standing (Kanwar senior is Chairman of the BRICS Business Council), they are also well-positioned to further their expansion on new markets and will be assisted on their way by that well-established “old world” trademark: complacency.