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Biography Of A Legend

Naik’s guiding principles are commitment, passion and devotion — which are rooted in an abiding sense of nationalism

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Minhaz Merchant, in his book The Nationalist, a biography of Larsen & Toubro’s Group Executive Chairman Anil Manibhai Naik, has managed to commendably balance the narrative between deifying a living legend and lapsing into a sequence of chronological events. For the man who has shaped L&T into a global engineering and technological behemoth during his tenure is nothing short of a legend. For Naik, L&T has, throughout his career, been a temple beyond his own family. In this book, the biographer has tried to understand the kind of leader Naik is — how Naik, like some of the other company heads and veterans in the industry, did not hail from a business background or  build his own business, but is now seen as an entrepreneurial leader.

Merchant has earlier written biographies of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the late industrialist Aditya Birla. Like his previous works, The Nationalist, too, goes into exploring the subject from every possible angle.

For instance, Naik’s childhood has been dexterously woven into the socio-economic fabric of the nascent independent India and how the early teachings and examples of his grandfather and father shaped him for the tough battles he fought during the course of his career.

Naik’s guiding principles are commitment, passion and devotion — which are rooted in an abiding sense of nationalism. Interesting parallels have been drawn with fellow modern-day Gujarati stalwarts who rose through the ranks to become legendary leaders in their spheres of work — Narendra Modi and Dhirubhai Ambani.

The reader is then taken on a journey of the life, the struggles and the achievements of Naik, viewed through the lens of the different businesses and verticals that have been nurtured by him and have emerged as centres of excellence, bearing his distinctive stamp. A lot of space has been justifiably devoted to the Hazira and Vadodra facilities, as also to the one’s at Katupalli and Chennai. Highly sophisticated and advanced technological competence in defence, shipbuilding and other areas have been driven by Naik’s deep sense of nationalism.

Naik’s sense of nationalism has also been reciprocated by the Government of India in accepting L&T as a partner in various sensitive and critical businesses in the defence sector. Among the numerous feathers in his cap, Naik has also been credited with transforming L&T from an Indian entity into an international engineering and technology behemoth, as well as one of the Most Valuable Companies in India and a force to reckon with in the global arena. All the colleagues interviewed by the author have offered interesting insights about Naik and help decode the elements constituting his legend and charisma.

In fact, the reader would have liked it better if the author had offered insights about the stalwart from the perspective of his peers, other industrialists and corporate leaders.

For a reader looking to learn about A.M. Naik the leader and his management style, an interview of the author with Vice-Admiral Kannan, head of the multi-disciplinary facility of Kattupalli, captures Naik’s personality. “Being a military man, I am used to authoritative leaders. Some leaders I witnessed in the navy gave directions from positions of power. I used to wonder how they could do this when they were not endowed with much knowledge in that area or didn’t have much experience. I found a difference in Naik. He is equally authoritative, very clinical in his approach, but it’s all backed up with facts and a very strong consolidation of knowledge. He can tell what will happen two years from now. He has great vision. He has total commitment to L&T. You don’t get leaders like him who live and breathe a company. This is a complex field, technologically very complex. But even an activity like building warships – he could grasp it very quickly. He can give you details of submarines and battleships even though he is a not a naval architect. I have spent 40 years in the navy. I would find myself in shallow waters if I have to discuss construction methodology or design. But Naik has a special gift to be able to grasp knowledge rapidly. If you don’t keep pace with him, then be prepared to be pulled up.”

An entire chapter has been devoted to the philanthropic pursuits of the 75-year-old  Naik and offer rare insights into the softer social side of the “bull terrier CEO”! His strong sense of nationalism evokes the necessity in him to try and change the course of the nation, to bring in improvements to mankind through education, healthcare and other social endeavours. The chapter is an eye-opener on the philanthropic side of a corporate leader and his contributions in improving the lives of his fellow countrymen.

It would now be interesting to track the progress of the seeds sown by Naik to raise the bar continuously and take L&T to great heights. There cannot be a more fitting tribute to the man who committed and devoted his life to L&T, weathering many a storm and struggle. A true tribute to the man who has, throughout his career, lived and breathed L&T.

During the launch of the book in Mumbai, Reliance Industries Chairman Dhirubhai Ambani  called Naik the “original Make In India man”. And Merchant’s book clearly tells us why.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Karthik Krishnan

The author is a finance professional with eclectic interests that range from finance to farming

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