Book Review: The Nationalist

The Book ‘The Nationalist’ is written by well known journalist Minhaz Merchant and covers the incredible story of Larsen & Toubro and its Chairman A M Naik.

In India, there are very few companies in the private sector that can be termed as “strategic” and “critical to the national interest”

Larsen & Toubro is one of them.Its so critical when Kumar Mangalam Birla wanted to takeover the company, the PMO stepped in and ensured he backed off.

The Book is written with two narratives-one about the company and the other about AM Naik.

Larsen & Toubro was started by two Danish engineers who believed that with Independence, India would need engineering expertise for its growth.

L&T was present in all the iconic projects of India-from Tata Chemicals Mithapur plant,to Anand Milk Diary to Reliance Refinery in Jamnagar and so on..

It is is the only company in the world which can do aerospace, hydrocarbons, nuclear reactors,chemical reactors,nuclear powered submarines etc

I was astonished to learn that 80% of the gasoline processed in the US and 90% of the gasoline processed in Canada has passed through the chemical reactors built by L&T in Hazira.

I got goose bumps reading about L&T’s Hazira plant…when they bought the land,50% of the land used to get covered with sea water during high tides.

That L&T was able to transform it into one of the greatest manufacturing facilities in the world is a testimony to their engineering skills and the vision of one man-A M Naik.

A M Naik, like Dhirubhai Ambani, is one of those people who come along once in a generation.Under his leadership, the company’s revenues grew 100-fold and market cap-130 fold.

He also saved the company from takeovers and enriched the employees with his unique creation ‘L&T Employee Trust’ which ensured the ownership of the company remained with the employees.

The title of the Book ‘The Nationalist’ captures the ethos of Mr.Naik and L&T who believe they are into not just any ordinary business…but in the business of nation building.

There are lots of things to learn from Mr.Naik-his work ethics,his vision,his patriotism,his meticulousness,his people skills etc.

One anecdote which I particularly liked and brings out Mr.Naik’s personality is this:

“About 30 years ago, Naik and his colleagues were in the Powai workshop working late at night as there was a problem with the machinery.

After some time, they finally solved the problem.

Relieved, Naik and his colleagues left the workshop at 2:00 am

The next day, at exactly 8:20 am, Naik was standing outside the company’s office punch card machine and asking the workers why they were late.

They said: “We left at two in the morning !”

He replied: “Coming to work on time is your duty. Going back home after duty hours is your pleasure.”

The Book is full of such interesting anecdotes and interviews with L&T employees.

I particularly liked reading about L&T’s Kattupalli Shipyard near Chennai. Built with the help of Japanese technology, it has a 21,000 tonne shiplift-one of the largest in the world.This enables to pluck a ship out of water and put it on land where repairs can take place.

One tidbit I found ironic is that neither Larsen nor Toubro’s families own any shares in L&T.  Thanks to Mr.Naik, around 4000-5000 employees of the company are dollar millionaires due to their stock options.

One negative aspect of this book is that the author is so clearly in awe of his subject Mr. Naik that he goes overboard in praising him and does not actually critically analyze his business decisions.

Do read this book to know more about one of India’s greatest companies and its iconic Chairman

4 replies on “Book Review: The Nationalist”

Thanks for sharing. The achievements of this no-promoter holding company can be contrasted with two facts:
– Despite such strengths in aerospace, nuclear, chemicals, structurals etc, the current govt gave the prestigious Defence deal to a inexperienced crony capitalist company than L&T (or for that matter, HAL or BEL);
– the rogue NHAI, known for its poor implementation and maintenance of highways around the country, recently blacklisted L&T from its contracts! – in fact, a few years back, it was L&T that had consciously stayed away from govt road contracts due to high level of graft. Dont know if the author has covered that, will read to find out.

This monumental epic should also cover failures, if any in the long history of the company. Learning from failures is the need of the hour in a V U C A world. Once again I pay my respects to the author, to L&Tcompany, and Shri A.M.Naik Sir.
With high regards,

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