Mallika Srinivasan, Chairperson, TAFE Becomes First Lady to head Public Enterprises Selection Board

The government seems to have taken its own privatisation drive too seriously, if the recent appointment to the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) is anything to go by. Last month, the government named Mallika Srinivasan – the Chairperson and Managing Director of Tractors and Farm Equipment (TAFE) – the chairperson of PESB. This is for the first time that a person from the private sector has been appointed the head of PESB, which is responsible for making appointments to top posts in Central public sector Enterprises (CPSEs).

Ms Srinivasan heading the PESB is likely to infuse a whiff of fresh air into appointments of the top brass of the Indian bureaucracy. The 61-year-old, successful businesswoman has built TAFE into the world’s third-largest, tractor manufacturer after Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) and US’ John Deere. With annual sales of over 1,50,000 units, TAFE is the second-largest, Indian, tractor company after M&M.

The eldest daughter of industrialist A Sivasailam – the former chairman of the Rs 2,500-crore Amalgamations Group – Ms Srinivasan has been one of the most successful women CEOs in the country. She has been married to Venu Srinivasan, the chairman and managing director of the TVS Group, yet another illustrious business family.

The TAFE chief started her career way back in 1986 as general manager of her family-owned tractor company. Ms Srinivasan had then just completed her MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Despite her management degree from a foreign institute and in spite of her father heading the family business, young Srinivasan – who had also topped her MA in econometrics from University of Madras – was asked to start her career from the bottom rung of administration. This way, Mr Sivasailam wanted his daughter to learn the ropes of business the hard way.

Ms Srinivasan did not disappoint her father either. She worked her way up and built TAFE into the country’s second-largest tractor manufacturer. She began by strengthening the ties with US-based AGCO Corporation and pushing its brand of tractors – Massey Ferguson – into the nooks and corners of the country.

In 2005, Ms Srinivasan got TAFE to acquire Eicher Motors’ tractor business. This helped TAFE catapult to the second position in the Indian tractor market by cashing in on the Eicher brand. Besides, the company’s own brand – TAFE – has been used for the export market and helped expand its global business. In 2018, TAFE bought Industrija Masina i Traktora, the Serbian tractor company, and introduced its IMT brand in the Indian market.

Taking forward her father’s vision of mechanising Indian agriculture, Ms Srinivasan has transformed TAFE into a technology-oriented company. It is manufacturing a range of farm equipment and machines. In fact, Ms Srinivasan envisions revenue from farm machinery equalling its revenue from tractors in the next decade.

Meanwhile, Ms Srinivasan’s appointment as the PESB chief assumes significance, given that the board was headless for quite some time. A successful industrialist like Ms Srinivasan is likely to play a vital role in recharging the bureaucracy in these challenging times.

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