He is nicknamed “the man of steel” due to his single-minded vision in building Eversendai Corp from a modest steel structural erection company in Malaysia into one of the world’s foremost integrated steel structural turnkey contractors. But as much as he is known for his success, drive and unwavering vision, Tan Sri Datuk AK Nathan is also known for his heart of gold. An entrepreneur par excellence, he combines a first-rate work ethic with a hands-on leadership style that clearly puts his army of employees first.
With key offices in Dubai, Chennai and Kuala Lumpur and operations in at least 10 countries, AK acknowledges how his greatest motivation and continual inspiration to achieve success is his team. “Fifteen thousand families depend on Eversendai. It’s a fundamental responsibility,” he says. “I have been blessed with excellent and loyal staff and I’ve also developed strong bonds with them. So, it is mandatory to devote time to and focus on human capital development for all companies. It can be a challenge to get quality people but there’s no other way. Also, with an international business, you can’t be everywhere, although technology helps a lot. So, in order to succeed, you need dedicated people with ownership!”
And it clearly works as Eversendai has gone from modest projects to illustrious ones that include structural steel works for iconic buildings like Tower 2 of the Petronas Twin Towers, the Burj Al Arab and the Burj Khalifa.
At present, the Gulf States is Eversendai’s primary market although fast-growing India ranks a close second. “There, the business is taking off very well,” AK notes. “But, regardless of the market, the key things to always take note of if one wants to do well are be alert, be aware and always read the situation. And, no matter which country you are in, understand the local business culture and norms. Deal and interact with people respectfully. Be patient. These qualities will take you far.”
Another integral component of success for all leaders is succession planning. And, here, AK has already set the wheels in motion, establishing his son and heir Narish in Dubai as CEO of Eversendai Offshore to oversee the growth of the group’s venture into the oil and gas sector. “Yes, I am putting things in place for Narish but I must qualify that I will never retire. After all, Eversendai is like my own child, a business that I built and grew from scratch. But it would be nice, at some point, to have a bit more time for myself and my grandkids.”
“Success,” AK adds, “is a never-ending journey. Once you reach a ‘level’, you need to look at the next step. How do you go further, elevate the business? It’s a continuous and necessary process to constantly up one’s game lest you be left behind. Today’s business world is tough, very challenging. You need vision in order to adapt and innovate. If you don’t, it’s game over!”
Despite a punishing schedule that sees him criss-crossing the globe almost weekly, AK, a great car enthusiast, recently took some rare time off to put the new Mercedes-Maybach S 560 through its paces. “As someone who works constantly, the first thing I noticed was the wireless charger. I had brought my charger along, knowing I would be travelling quite a distance from Damansara Heights to Bukit Rotan in Kuala Selangor, but I didn’t need it at all. For businesspeople, this new function is fantastic!”
Thorough as ever, AK also ensured that he experience the Maybach from two perspectives — driver as well as passenger. “It was a fascinating drive. The car, although very big and long, is powerful. I made sure to push it, taking corners sharply and generally feeling it ‘grip’ the road. I’ve had a few Mercs of my own before — a 200 and a 320 — and, I can tell you, this is one of the best cars I have driven and been driven in.”
He adds: “I honestly haven’t been driving much in recent years, so being able to take the wheel of this car was indeed a great pleasure. It’s exciting to drive and yet it makes being a passenger such a comfortable, enjoyable experience. It’s in a class of its own.”
This article first appeared on Sept 24, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.