Sarma better not overshadow L&T boss Anil Naik

Vol 19, PW 13 (10 Mar 16) People & Policy

Subramanian Sarma is trying to tighten his grip on Mumbai-based Larsen & Toubro Hydrocarbon Engineering.

But former L&T executives who wish him well suggest the new CEO should be careful not to upset the group's powerful executive chairman Anil Naik. Rumour has it that Naik is uncomfortable with Sarma's attempt to refashion the company's hydrocarbon business.

A chemical engineer who graduated from Bombay's prestigious IIT, Sarma is mostly based in the UAE but frequently visits Mumbai to supervise company operations. "Naik doesn't like anybody with an independent mind," says a former L&T executive.

"He sees them as a threat." Our source recalls a peculiar incident when Sarma was formally introduced to hundreds of L&T managers in October 2015 at a town hall meeting at the group's Powai headquarters in Mumbai. "Sarma made a detailed presentation on his vision for L&T Hydrocarbon," we hear.

"Naik was on stage but looked uncomfortable. Instead of complimenting Sarma or commenting on his presentation he went off on a tangent about how he built L&T's offshore hydrocarbon business.

That sounded odd." Some draw comparisons with Ravi Uppal who headed L&T's power division and was widely seen as a successor to Naik but who quit in 2012 after K. Venkataramanan was appointed CEO and MD.

"Naik felt Uppal was too independent," we hear. "Uppal had to leave after six years at L&T." Uppal now heads Jindal Steel & Power.