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Camaraderie in Reliance-L&T rivalry: Mukesh Ambani narrates his bonding with AM Naik

PB Jayakumar     November 20, 2017

The launch of AM Naik's biography 'The Nationalist' witnessed a rare camaraderie, where billionaire Mukesh Ambani called them as 'proud baniyas' who hard bargain each other in business. On Saturday, Larsen & Toubro (L&T) chairman's biography, written by columnist Minhaz Merchant, was launched in Mumbai and was attended by top industrialists and dignitaries including Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis.
While Mukesh Ambani, who elaborately commented on his relationship and business deals with Naik that goes back to 35 years since Naik was a general manager with L&T, the 75 year old AM Naik preferred to elucidate only L&T's business relationships with Reliance Industries.
After returning from his studies abroad, Ambani was scouting for setting up manufacturing facilities of world class. He narrated that he went around the world, including leading industrial nations of the time like Japan and Germany, but it was Naik who won over saying L&T could do it. "Whenever I came up with an idea, Naik would say 'no.. no.. I can do it', said Ambani.
He said the two agreed on one parameter, to make an India without any sacrifice on quality, and that was what driving the warm relationship between the two companies.
Elaborating how Naik looks into micro details in a business deal, Ambani remembered how L&T saved Reliance in a critical situation. "I still remember that in the middle 80's, we had a Japanese compressor, it was a titanium and we had a problem. I called Mr. Naik and he said 'I will fix it for you' and within six days, we fixed the problem in India".
"We greatly value our relationship with Reliance Industries, who have trusted L&T to be their partners in all their major projects right from Patalganga, Hazira, Jamnagar 1, Jamnagar 3 and other projects", said Naik.
Ambani, observing ambition and curiosity as two traits of Naik, said "every time that we would meet and I would tell him 'these guys have got CAD', three months later, he would tell me, now even I got CAD and my engineering piece is better".
"Both of us are from Gujarat and are proud baniyas, I think I am a better negotiator than him and he thinks otherwise", said Mukesh Ambani on a lighter vein, terming that the Reliance-L&T partnership is a cost plus one.
Naik, who preferred not to mention a failed hostile attempt in the past of Reliance Industries to takeover L&T and subsequent selling of RIL's L&T stake to the Birlas, said "What seemingly started as a conflict situation with Grasim ended in a win-win solution for both the companies." Grasim became the largest and top quality cement producer and L&T emerged as one of the best engineering, manufacturing and projects company in this part of the world, he said.
"A great moment of satisfaction came when, at the end, Mr. Birla extended his hand to me and said, 'history should never, never forget you. You know what you have achieved, employee ownership of the company", remembered Naik.
Mukesh Ambani also revealed his business bargains with Naik were hard, but would suggest him to ensure the benefits reach out to all its sub-contractors and related employees.  
"The L&T Group provides direct employment to around 90,000 people and engages contract labour for construction of close to 3.5 lakh. So, cumulatively, we touch the lives of more than a million people", said Naik.


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