By: Anthony Sedzro
The automobile market in Ghana is a very competitive one, almost all vehicle brands in the world have a presence in the country. However, despite this competitive environment, within just fifteen years, the Stallion Group has captured a significant market share in the automobile industry in Ghana.
In Ghana, West Africa’s second biggest economy, the Stallion Group holds dealership for recognised car brands like Honda, Audi, Hyundai and Skoda. The man who has risen to the position of Country Director in Ghana, and leading the charge for the Stallion Group for the topmost position in the automobile industry, is Mahesh Peekay Mahtani. A very approachable, people-centred but hardworking Country Head, Mahesh Mahtani leaves one in no doubt that he knows exactly where he is headed.
The Stallion Group, established by one of India’s recognised business families-the Vaswani Brothers-is a 45 year-old business that has grown from its modest origins into a fledgling conglomerate, one of the largest in Africa.
The Group has several businesses in 18 countries–automobile, warehousing, logistics, agri-business commodities, industries, cold-storage, which are all customer-focused. The Group has invested very heavily in the infrastructure of all these businesses. This way, Stallion has tried to deliver the best quality products at the most economical price, in a sub-region where consumers are very price-sensitive. This explains the success of the group’s business model.
Trading under the Stallion Group name, some of its local subsidiaries include the Honda Place (Ghana) Limited, Hyundai Motors & Investments (Ghana) Limited and Audi Centre. Mahtani, who was born in Ghana, of Indian-descent and a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), explained how he became the Director of Stallion.
“In 2001, I was approached and appointed by the Stallion Group to become a director of The Honda Place (Ghana) Limited and I have held that directorship since that time. The brand Honda was the flagship of the automobile division of Stallion Group in Ghana and we constructed our first showroom and workshop on the Graphic Road in Accra. Subsequently, I was also appointed a director in their other associated companies, Stallion Motors (Ghana) Limited, and Hyundai Motors & Investments (Ghana) Limited,” Mahtani says.
He continued: “In 2010, the Group’s Chairman approached and requested me to become the Country Head in Ghana. I accepted his offer, and ever since, I have held that position with great honour.”
Some of the most well-known car brands the Stallion Group has grown into household names include Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Honda CR-V, Hyundai ix35, Hyundai Santa Fe, Audi A and Q series and Skoda Octavia.
The Stallion Automobile Group does not only sell cars, they hold the dealership for, they also sell genuine spare parts, provide workshop facilities and services vehicles. They have showrooms and offices in Accra, Tema and Kumasi, the country’s second largest city.
Following the company’s success, Mahtani explained the plans he has for the Stallion Group to become the leading automobile firm in Ghana.
“We are situated very strategically in Accra and Kumasi, and have competitive pricing for our vehicles. We also have state-of-the-art workshops in Accra, Tema and Kumasi,” he says.
“Our vision at Stallion Group Ghana is to be the leading automobile company in Ghana, by selling world-class vehicles and providing first-class workshop and service facilities with all original spare parts for all our brands. One of our goals is to invest in our local staff’s technical development through their education and technical training. Every year, we send a few of our local staff abroad for such purposes,” Mahtani discloses.
Another distinguishing feature of the Stallion Group is its generous warranties on its range of cars. He explained them as follows: “We have good warranties on our cars for our customers. Honda has 3 years warranty or 100,000 KMS, whichever comes first; Audi purchasers enjoy 3 years warranty or 90,000 KMS; Hyundai has a generous 5 years warranty or 100,000 KMS and finally Skoda has 2 years warranty or 60,000 KMS.”
Employees are key
The Stallion Group in Ghana employs over 300 employees in all its branches and divisions, majority of whom are Ghanaians. These include mechanics, sprayers, administrative staff and shop floor workers. Mahesh Mahtani believes one of the keys to the success of the Group is listening to all the workers.
“Since I took over as Country Head, I have promoted several Ghanaians to prominent positions in the company and this is because I believe everyone can learn and succeed. It is simply a case of “mind over matter”. Patience is a great virtue, and you need to train the right people,” Mahtani, explains.
“We award our local staff when they have worked with us for 10 years and 15 years; we give out long service awards every year, and such functions are reported in the national media,” He further said: “We encourage our staff to organise “sporting activities”, as a result football matches, and health walks are organised yearly”.
His family came to settle in Ghana in the 1920s, meaning generations of his family were raised in Ghana, and the family has a presence here for more than 80 years. This may explain his affinity to the Ghanaian culture and his empathetic nature. Mahtani says managers must listen to workers and know their concerns for the business to grow.
Mahesh Mahtani believes that every worker, be they very junior workers or very senior ones, has a specific job to perform, so they should be able to perform their daily duties without any injustice or fear, so that they can work better and achieve the results they are employed for.
“I am one of the few senior people here, who every morning visit the shop floor to see most of my workers before I go to my office. This way, I get to understand if there are any problems relating to the work or the worker, or with the daily operations, and so on. It is important to interact with your workers because as much as I teach them, they also teach me and this is very important. There must always be some interaction between one’s management and staff,” he affirmed.
In his desire to become the leading automobile company, Mahesh Mahtani outlined some of his plans.
“When we look into the future, our aim is to acquire more automobile brands in Ghana, and build more showrooms and workshops all over the country. This way we can improve the welfare of all our staff; we can employ more people, and increase our contribution to national development. Our policies have always concentrated towards making lives of people better,” Mahtani says.
“Just for your information, you will be happy to hear that this year, we are building a brand new showroom in Adum, Kumasi wherein we will employ several more Ghanaians. After that, we will look at Takoradi, and we hope to start with a first class workshop there and, if the market conditions demand, we will decide to put up a showroom there also. We have faith in Ghana, and in Africa in general. We also believe in customer loyalty, therefore, strive to retain them,” he added.
Every business has its challenges and Ghana’s automobile industry is no exception.
Mahesh Mahtani mentioned some of them, “…the biggest challenge is the market for “grey” imports and “second hand” cars in Ghana. This gives all the automobile companies serious challenges in Ghana. You just have to drive on the Spintex Road (a business neighbourhood in Accra) and you can see how many showrooms are opening with “grey imports”. These companies cannot give any warranties for their vehicles, and I, therefore, take this opportunity to appeal to all readers of your esteemed magazine to purchase their vehicles from authorised dealers”.
Ghana has consistently been ranked by the World Bank’s annual ‘Doing Business’ report as the best place to do business in West Africa. Mahtani agrees, saying the investment climate in Ghana has contributed to Stallion Group’s success.
“I feel Ghana is the ideal place to invest in. What don’t we have in Ghana? We have rich minerals and natural resources, we have loving and friendly people-we are a British Colony so the English language is widely spoken. There is a strong government and judiciary-both these factors help in business. Our democracy is one of the best in the world – just look at last December’s elections and the peaceful transfer of power,” he explained.
“Our infrastructure is one of the best in Africa; we are the business hub of West Africa and being a part of ECOWAS gives us a market of nearly 250 million people-ten times the population of Ghana. A private investor simply has to tap into the market and into the right business and the returns are guaranteed. Ghana, in my opinion, offers the best climate for investors and the opportunities are many. I don’t know of anyone who visits Ghana and does not like the place-everyone loves Ghana. It is now the time to make giant leaps so that we attain the status of being a middle income country-but all such improvements will depend on government policies,” Mahtani added.
The new NPP government has promised to reduce corporate taxes from 25 to 20 percent and also abolish other import levies. Mahtani believes this will help the industry.
“A reduction in corporate tax and removal of the special import levy is excellent. It sends the right signal to investors. Competition is very fierce in Ghana. A reduction in your price brings a lot of benefits,” he says.
“Automatically, when the government reduces the import duty on vehicles, the cost goes down for every new vehicle. This benefit goes to the end-user who is the consumer. It has long-term benefits for the public at large too and creates a positive impact generally across the board in the automobile industry.”
He adds: “When prices of new vehicles go down, the demand should go up. Other secondary benefits include customers buying more new cars than second-hand ones. There is also an indirect benefit for the environment which is more fuel-efficient,” he explains.
Stallion Group’s success has been recognised in the form of industry and personal awards. In 2015, the company picked up six awards at the maiden Ghana Auto Awards: Car of the Year 2015 (Hyundai Genesis); Auto Company of the Year (Hyundai Motors & Investments Limited); Economy Car of the Year (Hyundai I-10); Best Family Car of the Year (Honda Pilot); Best Sports Car of the Year (Audi A7) and Best Performance Car of the Year (Skoda Octavia).
Last year, Stallion beat its own record with seven awards at the same event: C.E.O. of the Year (Mahesh Mahtani); Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility (Hyundai Motors & Investments Limited); Brand of the Year (Hyundai); Best Design of the Year (Hyundai Sonata); Best 4×4 Vehicle of the Year (Honda Pilot); Green Car of the Year (Honda Accord) and Family Car of the Year (Audi Q7).
Additionally, Stallion Motors Limited was adjudged the ‘Most Valued Customer’ by Enterprise Insurance Company (EIC), the number one insurer in the country in March 2015. EIC presented Stallion with a 60-inch television for that recognition.
Mahesh Mahtani attributed the company’s award-winning feat to teamwork and hard work by his staff.
“I tell the people that our motto is “teamwork”–nothing can be achieved without teamwork. I work with a core group of about 20 people, and each does their fair contribution to the Group’s success in Ghana. We have four major brands in Ghana, and I expect each brand to win some award(s), otherwise, I have not done my work efficiently. Let me inform you that we are the youngest automobile company in Ghana, having been established in Ghana for only 15 years – some of our competitors have been in the automobile business for nearly 50 years. The credit of winning so many awards must be shared with my managers and staff,” he said.
As a man who is always ready to impact knowledge, Mahtani says he is always learning, and that contributes to the success of the Group in Ghana.
“When I am asked about the key to success, I answer two things: hardwork and loyalty. I arrive at my office at 8.00 am everyday, and work half a day on Saturdays. There is no short cut to work. My staff know that punctuality is of key importance, because, if I am on time, then everyone else must also be on time. I fill in for some of my very senior managers when they go on leave. This way, I keep learning and learning and learning. None of us is too old to learn. My Personal Assistant and Executive Secretary teach me things very often. Our minds should open up like a ‘parachute’, closed minds have limited success. And one must multi-task if one has to – multi-tasking is an art and is good for business.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Stallion Group Ghana has taken its social commitments seriously, by giving back to the society in diverse ways. “Our Group takes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) very seriously and last year we budgeted more than GH¢30,000 for CSR projects,” he says.
“For the fourth consecutive year we sponsored Deso, a UK-based charity organisation that supports the handicapped in Ghana, for them to improve the livelihoods of the disabled in the country. We also took part in its initial annual sponsored walk and also donated bags of rice and T-shirts for Deso’s activities.
“Secondly, we also built a borehole in Fotobi, a farming community near Nsawam, providing clean water to over 2500 residents in and around that township in September last year. This helped tremendously as the residents had to send their children to walk 20-30 minutes away to fetch water. Our group will invest more in such “water” projects this year,” he promises.
Mahesh Mahtani thinks that Managing Directors must recognise that they cannot be at the top forever, hence, they must groom the right successors and retire by the age of 60 or 65 at most.
“The continuity of a good business is to choose a correct successor. It is important-be it in government, in private business or in any organisation – succession is important. They say that in the corporate world it is imperative to choose the right successor to protect the interests of the company.” Are you aware that only 30 percent of family businesses survive three generations and then it is non-existent? But corporations like General Electric (GE), Apple Inc., and other conglomerates around the world, survive because they groom the correct successor,” Mahtani, who is a former president of the Indian Association of Ghana, advises.
He says that he would like to retire at 60, (or maximum 65) to take a deserved rest. He said younger ones who understand today’s challenges better must be groomed to take over, and perhaps they can do better than he can.
“And it is important the successor should be trained and should work with the CEO for some short transitionary period. Otherwise, if I am the Head for an indefinite period, others will have better inputs to make than I would. You see, we are in…I should say…a different age nowadays. I’m 57 and there are people who are 27, 37, 47 years and may know much more than I do because today is a technology age. People are learning on computers at home, they are not learning like me (who learnt) from books. Everything is available on computers. More knowledge and information is available to everyone on the internet, and I believe that there are people who can be better than I can,” says the award-winning Country Head.
“You know, I won a CEO of the Year award (at the Ghana Automobile Awards 2016) but I said in my acceptance speech that winning is not important; being nominated is very important, not winning. After all, when five people are nominated only one can win but, really, five people are the winners and I believe in that.
Mahesh Peekay Mahtani,
Country Head, Stallion Group Ghana
Ghana Business & Finance (GB&F): Tell us about your background and education?
Mahesh Mahtani (MM): I was born in Accra 57 years ago. My family arrived in Ghana in the 1920’s from India and formally established a small retail business in 1929 at the High Street area of Accra. I had my basic education at the Ghana International School (G.I.S.) in Accra. I spent 12 years in the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1981 inclusive, where I attended preparatory school at Holmewood House, Tunbridge Wells and public school at King’s School, Canterbury. For my university education, I attended the London School of Economics (LSE) and I graduated with an Honours degree in Economics and Political Science in 1980. I got married in 1986 and my wife and I have lived in Ghana ever since. We have a daughter who is attending university in England.
GB&F: How did you get into business?
MM: After graduation, I returned to work in my family business in Ghana in 1980. However, the business climate in Ghana then was lacking activity so I moved to Monrovia, Liberia to work there with my relatives. I worked there for three years and after getting married in 1986, I moved to Ghana where I have lived ever since.
Gradually, as the Economy Recovery Programme (ERP) was introduced by the Ghana government in those days, the business climate in the country began to open up to the world.
Our family business comprised of retail and wholesale outlets with the importation of goods from all over the world. We also had factories where we manufactured mosquito coils and plastic products. But as the economic climate was changing with the adoption of a free trade policy, our factories were forced to close down, as much cheaper imports entered Ghana. We simply could not compete with imported goods from China, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In addition, a lot of small shops were reviving all over Accra. Personally, I believe in changing according to present times, and so we took a decision to change our business ideas and imported only those items we were strong in and were known for. We, therefore, reduced our number of outlets, and concentrated in “wholesale trade” rather than “retail trade”.
GB&F: How has your university education helped in your business?
MM: I will simply say that, though I was lucky to have attended some of the finest educational establishments in the world, it is what you teach yourself that really matters–your own experiences. Yes, schools teach you good Math and English, and if you are lucky to attend University, you will have a degree.
Personally I feel that my degree is simply a piece of paper (very expensive too) which does not always help me in my work. I believe that self-education is the best education. You do not need a degree to be good in what you do. My father, who is now 86 years of age, had to leave school when he was 16 or 17, to help his father in the family business and he was not lucky enough to have had any tertiary education. However, his “entrepreneurship acumen” far exceeds mine – his business management may not, but his entrepreneurship certainly exceeds mine. Luck also plays a small part in life, but trust me, you cannot compromise on sheer hard work! Hard work and long hours are key to success. And finally The Lord takes you where HE wants you to go.
GB&F: What do you do to relax, away from your busy CEO work?
MM: I used to play golf many years ago, thanks to a close friend of mine who convinced me to join the Achimota Golf Club. I learnt the game and played every Sunday morning, teeing off as early as 6:00 am or 6:30 am. A few years ago, I simply gave up because I could not wake up so early on a Sunday morning. These days I join an international group of about 8 people in total, and play “Bridge” (a card game) every Tuesday evening, for about 3 hours continuous. I find this game mentally stimulating and it helps me to de-stress. My doctor has advised me to play cards and watch television, as these activities prevent “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s disease” in old age.
I attend my ‘Temple’ (situated at Osu), every Sunday, as that weekly duty has changed my life. I was the Chairman for nearly 10 years, longer than any other Chairman there. I retired from that Chairmanship recently. I am also a former President of the Indian Association of Ghana, having served two terms consecutively as President, wherein I tried to enhance the co-operation between Ghana and India in all types of activities.
I also attend LSE alumni meetings in Ghana; I am a Past President of the Alumni of the London School of Economics and Political Science in Ghana.