SINGAPORE -- At Ssangyong Motor Co., South Korea's third-largest maker of sport utility vehicles, just about everything that could go wrong did in the past two decades.
The company switched owners four times, faced bankruptcy and suffered one of the most violent strikes in modern Korean history in 2009. Workers in that clash took control of a plant for almost three months, using iron pipes and Molotov cocktails to battle air and land police commandos armed with tear gas and water cannons.
In November 2010, Anand Mahindra, a scion of one of India's richest families, stepped into the mess.
His flagship company, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., bought 70 percent of Ssangyong for $378 million.
M&M is part of Mumbai-based Mahindra Group, a conglomerate with 110 subsidiaries in banking, finance, information technology, real estate and resorts.
Mahindra, the company's vice chairman and managing director, says he's confident that M&M can turn the Korean automaker's run of bad fortune around. He says he'll invest in Ssangyong Motor's people and products.
"I see our relationship with Ssangyong as an inflection point which is going to contribute greatly to the future success of the Mahindra Group," Mahindra says.
The takeover of Ssangyong is part of Mahindra's drive to make his company a world-wide name in SUVs.
After acquiring stakes in three tractor makers in the past six years, Mahindra & Mahindra surpassed Moline, Ill.-based Deere & Co. as the world's largest tractor maker by sales volume in the year ended on March 31, 2010, according to the Indian company.
"We want to be India's first global cult brand," Mahindra says.
The purchase reflects the growing economic might of India as its companies pursue acquisitions around the world.
Indian companies made 1,056 international purchases valued at $94 billion from the beginning of 2006 to June 30, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
'Such an aspiration'
"Indian companies saw opportunities for international expansion and were able to get these assets at a time when some overseas companies were restructuring," says Nikhil Nath, Hong Kong-based head of mergers and acquisitions for Asia ex-Japan at Nomura Holdings Inc. "Several Indian companies, including M&M, will become truly global companies in the next decade. The Ssangyong deal shows such an aspiration."
India's most acquisitive company is Mumbai-based M&M, which sells tractors in 35 countries, mostly under its Mahindra brand. Also India's largest producer of SUVs, M&M made 28 acquisitions, valued at $1.2 billion, from the beginning of 2006 to June 30. Of those, 11 were outside of India, totaling $752.2 million.
And its biggest acquisition to date is Ssangyong Motor.
Mahindra and his wife, Anuradha, editor and publisher of two luxury lifestyle monthly magazines, together own 0.07 percent of M&M, as of March 31, according to Bombay Stock Exchange data. She also has a 1.97 percent stake in Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd., according to Bloomberg data.
The couple's shares in the two companies were worth about $160 million as of July 27. M&M, which went public in 1956, is the flagship of Mahindra Group, whose corporate motto is "enable people to rise."
The listed companies under Mahindra Group had a combined market value of about $17.6 billion as of June 30, with 119,900 employees in more than 100 countries.
Mahindra, 56, is part of a new, more outward-looking breed of second- and third-generation executives among India's wealthiest families, says Nirmalya Kumar, a professor of marketing at London Business School and author of "India's Global Powerhouses."
Eager to globalize
"He represents the rising Indian family business that wants to globalize, modernize, professionalize and be on the cutting edge of management practices," Kumar says. "And he is very committed."
The most prominent example is Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, India's largest conglomerate, with 98 companies and sales of $67.4 billion in the year ended on March 31, 2010. About 57 percent of that revenue came from overseas, according to the company's website.
Tata Group was founded by Jamsetji Tata in 1868. Ratan Tata is a son of Naval Tata, who was adopted into the Tata family.
Mahindra, who completed his Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School in 1981, is the third generation of the Mahindra family to run its enterprise. His paternal grandfather, J.C. Mahindra, co-founded the company in his hometown of Ludhiana, Punjab, with his partner Ghulam Mohammed in 1945.
They called it Mahindra & Mohammed. Two years later, India gained independence from Britain and split into India and Pakistan, and Mohammed moved to Pakistan.
The company then changed its name to Mahindra & Mahindra -- for Anand's grandfather and great-uncle K.C. Mahindra. K.C.'s son, Keshub, now 87, has been M&M's chairman since 1963.
M&M, which started life as a steel company in 1945, has been expanding globally with its compact tractors since 1994, when it entered the U.S. market by opening a unit in Tomball, Texas.
M&M has tractor plants in Australia, China, India and the U.S. Driven by robust sales of tractors and SUVs in 15 countries, M&M's revenue surged sevenfold from fiscal 2002 to 361.2 billion rupees ($8 billion) in fiscal 2011, and profit jumped 46 times to 30.8 billion rupees.
Pawan Goenka, president of M&M's automotive and farm equipment division, has overseen much of that sales boom. Goenka, who was born in Madhya Pradesh in central India and has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, worked at General Motors Co. in Detroit for 14 years.