That’s about L&T chief Naik’s only regret as he gears up to cede control of the group

Anil Manibhai Naik recently moved out from the position of CEO of Larsen & Toubro after spending over 50 years in the company. Naik, who treats L&T as his temple and his work as devotion, is set to step aside from the position of group executive chairman by the end of this month. He will continue to be associated with the company for three more years as non-executive chairman. BusinessLine met him to know his future plans and how his past shaped his personality. Excerpts:

How difficult was it for you to move away from what you love so much?

It was not difficult at all because I had planned for it much ahead. I am the one who planned the succession 12 years ahead of time. I spotted SN Subrahmanyan 12 years ago, four years back I announced that he will succeed me and then about eight month back we announced that Subrahmanyan will be CEO and MD from July 1.

I still have a lot of things to do which will not come in the way of what the CEO and MD wants to do. I am still the Group Chairman and I have a very major project to promote, which has not yet taken shape but it will, and that wont be part of L&T. I am mentoring the next level of leaders. Five directors on the executive board have come out of that mentoring, and seven people have become CEOs of subsidiary companies or joint venture companies. Altogether 12 leaders came out of the 24 that I mentored. That’s my second major responsibility — to see that L&T is in safe hands for the next generations. That is till 2032.Third..I do a lot of philanthropy, social work. I have two trusts of my own.

Your father was in a way your mentor. Other than him whom did you follow?

My father was my role model. You can say after that my grandfather. But the one who recruited me, the Britisher, Mr Baker, and the one who succeed him, Mr Pherwani, encouraged me. So I am thankful to those two.

After that I am a self-made man. Every morning when I come to office I retrospect what happened yesterday, every evening when I go home I retrospect what happened today, where I made a mistake, where I could do better, whether I hurt anyone. This I followed for 54 years, even today.

Is there anything that you would have done differently if you had a chance?

Today I can say this...although without changing the basic path which I have taken...I gave zero time to my wife and no time to my children. They feel they didn’t get the affection of their dad. So if I were to restart my life I would make sure they get due share of my quality time. I think I would not deviate from what my mind says and that is work for the nation, build a strong India, but I would also not go mad as to totally ignore the family. I would give some time to them. So now I am now trying to make it up and say that in the final phase of life let me whitewash my sins.

But when you joined L&T did this love for the company come from day one?

I used to dream of L&T, it came much before I joined. And that is because when I was six years old my father told me — while you study well, also get elected as a monitor, that will bring the leadership quality in you. Right from then he encouraged me to be a leader. I fought elections all through as a student.

Did politics ever enter your mind?

No, because I want honest politics.

Are you also working on restructuring the company?

Many small businesses I’ve sold off — so far it is 15 — and I am going to sell another nine businesses within two years and restructure the company, which is part of my job, and not something that a CEO and MD has to do. The company will be restructured. The four layer structure will come down to three. Obviously, the CEO will participate in it, and the company, which is simpler to manage, will be a new L&T. That is what is going to happen in the next three years, so I am busy for 35-40 hours a week instead of 75 hours. But the important part is I can come when I want and I can go when I want.

Are you confident that the people whom you are coaching can do a better job than what Mr Naik did for L&T?

Anything can be done better than before, but the point is how many people will have that devotion, passion, conviction and commitment. It’s a very very painful process where you are dissociate yourself from everything but you are focusing on what you want to do. Not many have that devotion. Everybody does hard work, but that is to maintain your job. If you are dedicated, you might add some value, but if you are devoted, you will multiply value.

Will this sort of association continue even after you step down as Group Chairman in three years?

That is very difficult to say. I am 75 and I have to see my health situation. Let me take one thing at a time. My plan ends in 2020.

Does India grow fast enough to provide L&T enough opportunities to reach set targets like for example ₹2.5 lakh crore market cap by 2022?

I think there are enough opportunities. We have over the last 20 years created various defence facilities ahead of time.

Mr Anthony did nothing as defence minister; the last six months nothing happened because there was no defence minister, now that there is a lady defence minster she might do something to prove that she can work as good as men or better. We are ready with seven facilities, we have leadership, trained manpower, we will be number one in the private sector in defence by order magnitude.

So what is today ₹1,200 crore will become ₹15,000 crore by 2023, sales-wise.

How would you rate the current economic cycle?

Whether it is demonetisation or GST, they have put the brakes. The private sector over-invested in 2004-2005 in PPP. I cannot openly say this but I am telling you that banks were not careful in giving money to them. Net result is we have ₹6.5 lakh crore which is not productive. So the private sector is trying to recover form the past and they were not been able to repay their own debt, so banks are not going to give them any money. And the government is so busy with the elections. They have to catch votes so they are promising a lot to the social sector with the result that not much money is left for development.

You have high-speed rail being talked about but it is someone giving you free money. But how long can you depend on such largesse?

I think it will be at least two years before India will be back on track of 7-8 per cent growth. So I think the current situation is not so good, but I am looking into the future with optimism.

How would you like yourself to be remembered? As India’s infrastructure man?

I’d like to be remember as a person who transformed L&T from being on the edge of being taken over with a continuous fear from 1987 to 2003, to have ring-fenced L&T from future threats of takeover.

(This article was published on September 26, 2017)

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