The gold border on the jacket of former business journalist-turned-author Amrit Raj’s new book, Indian Icon: A Cult Called Royal Enfield, might seem indicative of it being yet another in a series of gilded corporate hagiographies. But, less than halfway into it, it’s perfectly evident that that isn’t the case. Raj has taken care to include the minutiae of the struggles and obstacles along with the efforts of a great multitude of people who have created and sustained the Royal Enfield brand. The book also runs a fine-toothed comb through the occasional missteps that jolted the brand into thoroughly rethinking and subsequently restructuring the set ways in which it had operated, often to the detriment of its loyal customer base. Missteps that created much internal friction, but ultimately fermented the sort of change that built the company’s fortunes and paved its trajectory for the all-too-crucial coming decade. In a detailed Zoom chat, Raj describes what it’s like to home in on RE’s appeal and what compelled him to take a closer look at its non-linear learning curve.
When and why did you decide to chronicle the Royal Enfield story?
I’m not a biker, but I’m a keen observer of brands because of the training that I’ve had as a business journalist. And, for some reason, Royal Enfield always fascinated me. The idea [about writing a book] had been brewing for quite some time, but the process started two years ago. If you buy a Maruti Suzuki car, it offers you great service; if you buy a Hero bike, it offers you great mileage. But there’s nothing tangible that Royal Enfield offers to its customers. The mileage isn’t great, neither is the service. So, what is it about this brand that appeals to people so much? I’ve realised that more than the product, it’s the story that it represents. It gives you something that other products don’t. And you can’t quantify that.
The broad strokes of the Royal Enfield success story have been frequently discussed and documented. How did you ensure that your account differed from those?
Royal Enfield was sold to the Lal family for a sum of ₹3 crore, and the current valuation of the company is ₹10,000 crore. A lot of people have claimed that the company happened to be at the right place at the right time. But if you look at that figure, it can’t be through sheer chance. They took it from a doodhwala brand to a millennial brand. You don’t see that transition normally. And I realised that it’s not just Siddhartha Lal’s story. There are multiple individuals who have played a role in building this brand. And this book is their story.
Do you think it was the absence of a similar product, or do you think there was something particularly appealing about the Bullet itself that’s been behind the RE’s success?
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