What is common in Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, the light rail transit system in Mauritius and Abu Dhabi International Airport Complex? They were built by Larsen & Toubro.
Founded in 1938 by Danish engineers Henning Holck-Larson and Soren Kristian in the then Bombay , the company made its name in the engineering and construction space building landmark projects like bridges, airports, nuclear plants, metro rail system, defence installation, defence vessels, hydroelectric project among many other things.
Though the engineers from Copenhagen laid the foundation of the company, the credit for what L&T is today goes to Navsari-born Anil Manibhai Naik. He joined L&T in 1965 as a junior engineer and, after 58 years, stepped down as the group’s chairman.
Naik’s father was a school teacher, who left Bombay for his village in Gujarat in 1952. After earning a degree from Birla Vishkarma Mahalavidyalaya Engineering College in Vallabh Vidyanagar, Anand, Naik joined Nestor Boilers, but soon left it for L&T. “My dream was to go to L&T and serve the nation. L&T was the only platform, today, which can serve our country”, he said.
Naik’s dedication and hard work saw him rise quickly in the company. He did not take a day’s off for 21 years, and used to sleep on his office desk frequently. He was appointed the CEO in 1999 and chairman four years later. Under him, L&T grew into an engineering and construction power house. Along the way, it also expanded into areas as diverse as information technology, financial services and real estate. “Naik has been instrumental in making L&T what it is today, a nimble-footed tech-driven engineering and conglomerate,” said S N Subrahnanyan, who succeeded Naik as L&T chairman and CEO.
And Naik could connect the vision for the industry, the long-term strategy and short-term tactics with seamless ease. “He brought the spirit of entrepreneurship into the mindset of professional managers within L&T”, said R. Shankar Raman, chief financial officer of L&T.
But, it has not always been smooth for Naik. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, he had to resist hostile takeover attempts by Ambanis and the Birlas. Naik rarely talks about it, but he succeeded in keeping L&T. “To me, L&T is like a temple, and I consider myself its keeper. If anyone tries to takeover L&T, I am like wounded tiger. I will do everything within my power to ensure, governance”, Naik told Minhaz Merchant, who wrote the book, The Nationalist (published, by Haper Collins), about him.
Naik had a knack for turning crisis into opportunities. When the company’s captive IT services business was plagued by high attrition, he converted it to an IT services provider, L&T Infotech. Over the years, the company expanded to overseas markets, securing clients such as Motorola and Chevron. In 2019 L&T acquired Mind-tree to become the six largest IT company in India.
But, Naik’s standout achievement could be L&T’s manufacturing complex in Hazira, Gujarat. L&T waste bought the saline wasteland and initial investment at Hazira was Rs 42 crore. Now the Hazira campus, or the A M Naik Heavy Engineering complex, is a multi-facility Manufacturing for Heavy Engineering, defence ship building and power equipment. (IPA Service)