Free Press Journal

The Nationalist: How A.M. Naik Overcame Great Odds to Transform Larsen &Toubro into a Global Powerhouse by Minhaz Merchant- Review


Title: The Nationalist: How A. M. Naik Overcame Great Odds to Transform Larsen & Toubro into a Global Powerhouse

Author: Minhaz Merchant

Publisher: Harper Business

Pages: 259

Price: Rs. 799

This is the story of Anil Manibhai Naik, an extraordinary entrepreneur. He was MD and CEO of India’s multinational Larsen & Toubro (L&T). His father was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s call of “India lives in its villages.” Manibhai quit his Mumbai’s teacher’s job and family moved lock, stock and barrel to a small village in South Gujarat. Young Anil spent many years sitting in a village classroom on a gobar floor. His father and grandfather’s ideas continued to influence him. His father also encouraged his sister to become the first doctor in the anavil community.

Author Minhaz Merchant spoke to Naik and his colleagues over several months at various places to construct a compelling narrative of a giant company and down-to-earth Mr. Naik. His life story is also story of growth of L&T. The company is not only in the field of huge plants or infrastructure. It is also involved in the important defence projects like submarine, strategic weapon and strategic missile systems, space explorations, airport, nuclear power plants, Metro Rail systems etc.

Naik spent more than fifty-three years at L&T working nearly eighteen hours a day. Throughout Naik’s career ethical values were non-negotiable. L&T pursued ethical manufacturing. L&T is a pioneer in clean fuel projects for refineries. Keeping global warming and climate change in mind, company directly went to Euro 3.

In 1987 Dubai-based Manu Chhabria wanted to acquire India’s largest technology and engineering firm L&T. He bought L&T shares from the open market. The Ambani’s were also eyeing company. Then L&T chairman Narottam Desai had requested Dhirubhai Ambani to invest in the company to counter Chhabria. Reliance acquired 12.5 per cent stake and Mukesh & Anil joined the L&T board. In April 1989, Dhirubhai became chairman. It was a politically volatile period. Dhirubhai was fond of Naik. In November 2001, Reliance sold its L&T shares to Aditya Birla group. Naik says,” During Anil Ambani’s wedding; standing just in front of me was Aditya babu. He was talking to Dhirubhai.   He saw me and he immediately told Dhirubhai again, this man I am going to take away. As if I am available to whoever wants me.” He was appointed as CEO and MD on April 28 1999.

Mr. Naik played a major role in the L&T Employees Welfare Foundation. It was his brainchild. Now 15 per cent shareholding is with individual employees and nearly 15 per cent with the L&T Employees Welfare Foundation. They are the largest shareholders after government. The Foundation will go down in Indian corporate history as an unprecedented achievement. It can play an important role in preventing future takeovers.  The employees have full confidence in Naik. The experiment has proved that if employees are taken into the confidence then they can do miracles. Employees played a significant role in the growth of giant firm. L&T has an annual turnover of Rs. 1,20,000 crore and a market capitalisation of more than Rs. 1,60,000 crore.

In his earlier days as an employee he faced issue of employment to local people. Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray had then called Holck-Larsen and complained that local people are not getting employment in the company. Naik discovered that no newspaper advertisements were placed for apprentices. So, Naik placed an advertisement and many local youth applied. Mr. Naik is always sensitive to the local people. This approach continued even in Hazira.

L&T’s Hazira manufacturing complex on the outskirts of Surat, Vadodara’s Knowledge City and Kattupalli shipyard near Chennai are symbols of world-class engineering and technology. Hazira’s 755 acre was a marshland in 1983. In only four years it was turned into a major manufacturing facility with full of greenery. Naik used to visit Hazira regularly and review the progress of work. Hazira is a Class 1 defence manufacturing establishment. L&T is a truly Indian multinational. It has focused in the Gulf and Africa.

Naik is a silent philanthropist also. His charitable trusts work in the field of education, healthcare and community services in a big way. Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of “When you invest in education, you invest in the country’s future” has influenced three generations of the Naik family.

He is a different kind of business leader. His heart is always at the right place. He is always concerned for his employees and people affected by their projects. India needs more business leaders like him.