Anil Manibhai Naik, popularly known as AM Naik, wasn’t always a top dog in India's technology and engineering space.
In fact, when the Larsen & Toubro (L&T) patriarch first applied for a job at the multinational conglomerate, he nearly failed to land one.
Naik, then a fresh engineering graduate from Birla Vishwakarma Mahavidyalaya in Gujarat, didn’t make the cut because L&T preferred to hire IITians.
So he joined a small company called Nestor Boilers, where he quickly rose up the ranks to head a contingent of 350 workers. However, after the company changed hands from a Parsi to a Gujarati family, Naik realised his growth would be stifled and so he decided to walk.
Destiny brought him to L&T’s doors. “I saw an advertisement,” Naik told CNBC-TV18 in an interview that aired on April 8, 2015, “and received an interview call from one Mr Baker.” He was referring to ET Baker, the then manager at L&T’s workshops, with the fearsome reputation of having rejected 40 previous aspirants.
Naik could well have been the 41st, but with the jauntiness that has always characterised him, he went ahead for the interview. Baker quickly realized that he had a prize catch in his hands. But there was one more hurdle – another interview with Baker’s boss, the unsmiling, formidable Gunnar Hansen. The second interview didn’t go as per the script.
Hansen felt that the young man before him was “overconfident”, and advised Baker to start Naik’s career at a lower rung – Junior Engineer in place of Assistant Engineer.
But Naik was unfazed, and Baker had a further word of consolation. “If you do a good job, sonny boy,” he told Naik, “I will fight with the old man and get you everything I had promised earlier.” Naik joined L&T on March 15, 1965 at a truncated salary of Rs 670 per month.
The 77-year old rapidly rose to positions of increasing responsibility as he moved from general manager to MD and CEO, leading to his appointment as Chairman and Managing Director on December 29, 2003.
"Basically I delivered, all India people started coming, local primarily because they got justice," he said.
A powerful corporate honcho, Naik was key in building the $20 billion diversified L&T. Under his leadership, L&T expanded its portfolio in diversified fields like defence, nuclear power, aerospace, infrastructure, water and effluent treatment, hydrocarbon, financials services, and new age businesses like information technology and engineering services.
In 2013, he was ranked among the 32nd Best Performing CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review. He received the Gujarat Garima (‘Pride of Gujarat’) award and the Padma Bhushan in 2009.
In 2019, he received the Padma Vibhushan Award, recognising his contribution to nation, industry and society.
Naik’s life story is intertwined with the L&T story. At a company function, he once belted out a song in his rich baritone that said it all: ‘Jeena yahan, marna yahan, iske siva jaana kahan?’ (You live here, you die here. Where else can one go?)
First Published: IST