Every father was once a son and it isn’t a stretch to believe that every son often resembles the best of his father. Tan Sri AK Nathan recalls his relationship with his own father with much fondness: “My father was a very pleasant, kind hearted and generous person. My only regret is that I was not able to spend a lot of time with him because of my work schedule and my commitment to the company.”
Tan Sri is frank about his regrets and unafraid to point out his mistakes. Eversendai Corporation’s success is reflective of a man bold enough to try the new, intelligent enough to know what needs to be done, and brave enough to fail and try again.
“In the early days I wanted to study and be somebody more academic. I was sent to India for studies when I was 15 years old. I was alone, living in a hostel, seeing the poverty in India and experiencing some tough times. During that period I had to manage with very little funds and live on one meal a day.
“Going through that process of difficulty, I came to a lot of self-realisation. That’s the time that ignited my desire to become successful and the only way I knew how was to venture into business.”
“And although I didn’t know at the time, as I grew up and a little bit of maturity kicked in I began to understand he was working on something very important.” - Narish Nathan
The history that followed is well recorded. Tan Sri ventured into printing and then tried his hand at selling insurance before fate guided him to the construction business. He had no knowledge of construction, so he set out to learn:
“If you want to do a business or anything else for that matter, you must have the technical knowledge.”
But even for the most successful, hardships never end. With the birth of Eversendai (the name meaning thousands of generations) and the responsibility of ensuring its survival falling square on his shoulders, Tan Sri became a father who was “missing in action,” according Narish Nathan, who laughs heartily as he says so.
“Maybe that’s not the right choice of words,” he jokes.
“He was busy creating the business. It was the starting phase so he was very busy and was rarely at home.”
“And although I didn’t know at the time, as I grew up and a little bit of maturity kicked in I began to understand he was working on something very important.”
That realisation came to be when Tan Sri took his family to Dubai to see Eversendai’s work on the Burj Al Arab.
“That opened me to the bigger picture,” Narish admits.
As Tan Sri’s fire was lit by hardship, Narish’s was lit by desire. Wanting more time with his father, Narish opted against furthering his education overseas.
“It was a game changer,” Narish points out. “I could see him more often but that also made me go to the office. Sometimes after college I used to go to the office and be around there. I think the affinity to be a part of the business started around that period.”
Although this pleased Tan Sri, in truth he had wanted his son to take another route to this destination:
“I wanted him to become an engineer because I’m not an engineer. But, he studied business and IT. Frankly speaking, I was a little disappointed. But one day when I expressed to him my disappointment he looked at me and asked me ‘Pa, are you an engineer?’ I said ‘No.’ ‘If you can do it, I can do it,’ he said. It jolted me up to his confidence.”
“I gave him a week off and then packed him up and sent him to Dubai to work with my workers and staff in the factory for over a year.” - Tan Sri AK Nathan
Choosing to keep Narish under his wing after his education Tan Sri made an unexpected move:
“I gave him a week off and then packed him up and sent him to Dubai to work with my workers and staff in the factory for over a year. Physically, he had to work.
It wasn’t the most popular move amongst his many staff who had seen Narish grow up from a child but “I said nothing doing, he has to go through the process and learn,” says Tan Sri.
Narish, though, never complained: “It was a defining period in my career, to understand from the ground what the business is all about. Running a business is more complex but at least you know what’s happening from the ground up.”
The hard work only made him hungrier for more. Asking his father for more responsibility, he got his chance when Eversendai expanded into Qatar.
“I had a very good management team on the second level and below, but not at the top,” recalls Tan Sri, “so I proposed sending Narish to get on-job training as a general manager and get him to manage the Qatar outfit.
“He did very well. What was built at the Qatar factory, from scratch was through his responsibility.”
12 years on from the factory, Narish has moved from Dubai to Qatar to India and back to Dubai where he’s spearheading Eversendai’s move into the oil and gas industry and lives with his wife and 4-year old son.
“Today as a father myself, I feel the pain because I can’t be there all the time. It’s not a nine-to-five job where I can finish work and come home. So I know what he went through because I myself cannot be there all the time for my son,” Narish admits. “History is repeating itself.”
“As long as we stick to our values and remain focused, we will be able to handle all challenges.” - Narish Nathan
Even so, the passage of time has opened new doors to Eversendai but sometimes behind every new door lies new challenges for both father and son. One of these come in the form of an Amnesty International report detailing labour abuses in Qatar where work is ongoing for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The report, released a few months ago, controversially named several companies, Eversendai amongst them.
“These are the things we have to face as a public organisation,” says Narish. “We have to handle these situations carefully.”
“We were one of the best companies who were managing it and fitting it in accordance with the requirements,” explains Tan Sri. “It was a company that we had sub-contracted that did not.” A fact corroborated by the report.
“The world has changed but our values still remain the same,” Narish adds. “What we hold close to our hearts is still the same as what we started off with. That defines the company, that defines the organisation, that defines us as people. If you lose that then the company loses its essence. As long as we stick to our values and remain focused, we will be able to handle all challenges.”
The duo riff off each other like good colleagues and excellent businessmen, but ultimately, Tan Sri is a father who couldn’t be more proud of his son:
“He’s very positive and very focused. He’s seen the way I work and operate and he’s incorporated quite a fair amount of how I go about doing things in his system and he’s making it work.”
Narish on the other hand is quick to point out the most important lesson he learned from his father:
“Never give up. Keep trying till you get it. I’m sure there would have been many a times where it would’ve been easy for him to say ‘You know what, I’ll call it quits.’ But that never give up attitude is the one thing I cherish a lot.”
With a relationship so entrenched in their business, both father and son admit to finding it difficult to develop a relationship outside of their work, but never giving up always leaves the door open:
“We went for a holiday to New Zealand to visit my sister and we told ourselves and had this non-discussed agreement that we would not talk about work,” says Narish.
“And we didn’t talk about work at all,” Tan Sri joyfully interjects.
“It was a bit weird, but it was very good,” Narish admits with a smile.
While neither is sure of what the future may hold, for themselves, each other and the company, both are dead set on their plans for it.
As Tan Sri hopes to slow down and spend more time with his grandchildren, Narish aims to keep learning in hopes of carrying on the company through “thousands of generations.”
Keeping up with our celebration of the man of the house, check out Tan Sri Ariffin Yusuf and his four sons.