What Mahindra Tractors Taught Me About Uncertainty

I generally ignore Google AdWords ads, but this one caught my eye:

Life of a Farm Blog – blog.mahindrausa.com – Follow the stories of a guy with 3 kids, a red tractor and 170 acres

Mahindra & Mahindra is an Indian automaker. At first, it baffled me that they would be using this guy’s blog to advertise themselves. They make Indian cars; he’s about as all-American as they come:

Joel Combs – 32 years old, live on and farm 170 acres in Pine Knot, Kentucky USA. Gateway to the Big South Fork NRRA. I have 3 children, ages 5, 7 and 9, and I work as a Machine Operator for Kingsford Charcoal in Burnside, KY. I’m a 5-year member of LIUNA local 576, and my hobbies include hunting, fishing, boating, cars, barbecuing, and most all things outdoors.


I suppose I assumed, naively, that domestic farm equipment was static
, by default the domain of American and Japanese manufacturers. Linking back to Mahindra’s homepage, I found out that they not only sponsor NASCAR, but have a relationship with US farms going back to World War II.

Mahindra & Mahindra…was in 1945 was selected to assemble the famous Willys Jeep. In 1963, M&M formed a joint venture with International Harvester to manufacture tractors carrying the Mahindra nameplate for the Indian market. More recently, a joint venture between M&M and Ford Motor Company in 1995 created new opportunities for growth in the world vehicle market. A short time later, the European model of the Ford Escort began rolling off the Mahindra assembly lines.


The company has two assembly and distribution centers in the United States.
My surprise about M&Ms US presence has roots in a college education that taught a now-primitive form of globalization. Business classes centered around American, European and Japanese companies as primary, and everyone else as peripheral. Over time, I formed an image of the US tractor industry as a classic, impenetrable one. Farmers would always use brands from the States, Europe, or Japan, period. It was a safe haven from change, solid, predictable.

M&M, which has historically been involved with the US and has been part of the Indian tractor industry’s wild recent growth, invaded my professor-approved paradigm. The tractor industry wasn’t the solid thing I had pictured it to be. Nobody ever taught us about M&M, or Indian tractors, or historical joint ventures with the same. I had to reconstruct my tractor safe haven after discovering Mr. Combs’ blog. The tractor industry suddenly went from predictable domestic fossil to a thorny land of new entrants and global players. I don’t necessarily believe the latter claim to be true, but that’s what triggered uncertainty in my mind.

The tractor industry wasn’t something I ever wanted to question.
I wanted it to stay the same, to remain safe. I imagine this is how many people feel about American, or even Western, industry in general. Paradigm shifts are painful. They induce uncertainty. Nothing is impenetrable or immune. No business holds that sacred, predictable (admittedly ethnocentric) space that I thought the tractor industry occupied. Industries evade their old, seemingly solid definitions. Even the artifices of daily life–the grocery store, the gas station, the restaurant–are beholden to skyrocketing prices, and thus uncertain.

What business feels safe anymore? Predictable?

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  1. Mark Goodge's Gravatar Comment by Mark Goodge on January 2nd, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Is that really so surprising, though? You say “Farmers would always use brands from the States, Europe, or Japan, period.” But go back no more than a generation or so, and you can take Japan off that list. There was a time when anything Japanese was treated with the same level of scepticism as something from India is now. We’ve somehow conditioned ourselves over the past few decades to believe that there’s something unique about Japan, the only non-Western country to have successfully penetrated Western markets to the extent that it’s now treated as an equal. But the only thing unique about Japan is that it was the first. There are very good reasons why Japan was the first (US-backed reconstruction in the post-war period, mainly), but sooner or later the second, then the third, and the fourth, etc were going to come along too. And most of these other countries are far bigger than Japan. By the mid-21st century we’ll probably be amazed that anyone ever bought things manufactured in the West at all.

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