“Debate, freedom of speech, and keeping an open mind — I don’t think there’s anything more important than that”

Joaquin Martori

Colour everywhere


Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Kageaki Smith

India’s festival of colour, Holi, is a vibrant celebration of good over evil, where people throw coloured powder and spray water at one another. With its origins in the Hindu legend of the god Vishnu defeating the demoness Holika, this national holiday is a time to forgive and forget, make new friends and welcome the arrival of spring.

“It was just amazing; the best party that I can remember,” says Joaquin Martori, managing director of MAHLE Trading Japan, who lived in Gurgaon near New Delhi for two and half years. “Everyone ended up completely soaked — and there was colour everywhere.”

The Holi festival brought together everything Martori had come to love about India.

“Indian music was coming out of these big loudspeakers, and you could get great food at the stalls,” he recalls. “There’s this love of getting together and partying. You feel like you’re part of an extended family.”

It’s natural that Martori would feel a strong connection to a nation that places such an emphasis on community. This was central to his experience growing up in Zaragoza, Spain.

“My childhood was very much about the extended family,” he says. “I spent a lot of time, not just with my parents and brother, but also with grandparents, uncles, aunts. Getting together every weekend was an unwritten rule.”

The boy in Spain would eventually get to the party in India by choosing a career in the automotive sector. After working for a few different auto-parts firms, he accepted an offer to head MAHLE’s aftermarket business in India.

MAHLE is the world’s leading supplier of components for powertrains — the system that generates and distributes power in a vehicle, which includes the engine and drive shafts. Headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, MAHLE employs 77,000 people in more than 30 countries.

The firm has multiple business units; and, today, Martori oversees MAHLE’s aftermarket business in Japan. It sells all the products made by the other units — including pistons, liners, filters and thermostats — to customers who are not the auto manufacturers themselves but, rather, distributors, fleet owners and even individual car owners.

“This is safeguarded by the law in the EU, but it’s not here,” Martori explains. “So, it’s legal for Japanese vehicle makers to have clauses in their contracts with their suppliers stating that the suppliers must refrain from selling parts to the independent aftermarket.”

He argues that the only way to ensure the end-user gets the best possible products at the most competitive prices is to put in place legal protection for the aftermarket. But the Vishnu of the aftermarket has yet to break the stranglehold of the contracts permitted in Japan.

“These restrictions by the vehicle makers are hurting us, their suppliers — who invest billions in technology,” says Martori.

In his estimation, this is not at all how members of the extended family in the automotive world should treat one another. However, Martori sees working together with other auto-parts manufacturers as the best way to bring the colours of fairer competition to a monochrome industry here.

“This is one reason we’re active now in the EBC,” he says. “We’re trying to get a pool of companies together with the same drive. Going it alone is ineffective.”

Now in Japan, Martori continues to put family first. Dinner at home is a priority; and discussion and debate — but also listening and being open to others’ opinions — are skills he is trying to instil in his son.

“We listen to podcasts together one in three nights,” he says. “The iPad presides at the dinner table. It’s a good way to get my son, who’s 17, to articulate why he believes what he believes, and what’s wrong about what someone is saying.”

Podcasts they follow include those featuring Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky.

“Debate, freedom of speech, and keeping an open mind — I don’t think there’s anything more important than that,” Martori states.

After all, diversity of ideas and opinions are what add colour to life. •

Do you like natto?


Time spent working in Japan: Six years. Four plus two.

Career regret (if any): None.

Favourite saying: Things should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Favourite book: All of Javier Marías’ work.

Cannot live without: Family.

Lesson learned in Japan: Forget stereotypes.

Secret of success in business: I’m still looking for it.

Favourite place to dine: Restaurant Sant Pau in Nihonbashi.

Do you like natto?: I do, but I only eat it when I’m staying at a ryokan. We never have it at home.