Over the years, Tan Sri A.K. Nathan has spearheaded his company, Eversendai Corporation Bhd (Eversendai), into becoming Asia’s leading integrated structural steel turnkey contractor with a strong design, engineering division and modern fabrication facilities in Malaysia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. In a recent interview with the extremely enterprising founder as well as the Executive Chairman and Group Managing Director of the Eversendai Group, Top 10 of Asia learns about his humble beginnings, trials and tribulations as well as the notable, impressive works carried out by his organisation.
Tan Sri A.K. Nathan remembered vividly the very moment when he first involved himself in the steel industry. At the tender age of 22, A.K. Nathan was a reserved young lad fuelled with a burning desire to be successful. Despite having to drop out from university due to financial constraints as well as closing down his earlier printing business due to unforeseen circumstances, A.K. Nathan did not let any of these obstacles quench his desire to be successful. His short stint in American International Assurance Company Limited as an insurance agent armed him with confidence as well as people skills.
A.K. Nathan made his entry in the construction business in 1982 by chance when he secured the services of a sub-contractor to execute the temporary steel platform works for Dayabumi project in Kuala Lumpur. It was not long before A.K. Nathan found out that the sub-contractor took advantage of him after learning that he is a newbie in the industry with zero knowledge on steel industry.
A.K. Nathan then fired the subcontractor before hiring a good supervisor with skilled workers in order to get the job done. He got to know about the trade through the hard way; spending most of his time at the site and learning as much as he could from the supervisor and workers.
It was in 1983 when A.K. Nathan made a breakthrough in the industry through the Malaysian National Car Plant (Proton Factory) project which was secured from Nippon Steel Corp. Despite not having any track record and no previous contact with the project manager, Tameshi Yamaki, he was awarded the project. A.K. Nathan later found out the reason he was awarded the project. That was when he casually asked Yamaki about it a month after that and Yamaki gave this reply, “Nathan, do you remember when I first met you, I looked straight into your eyes and your eyes did not run away as you looked into mine? That’s when I know I can trust you.”
However, all the good times were cut short when the recession hit in the mid 80s which left A.K. Nathan devastated and desperate. It was at this time when he was awarded the Singapore Indoor Stadium project in Singapore by Nippon Steel Corp.
“When I got this chance to do a job in Singapore, I left thinking that I will never return to Kuala Lumpur again. The journey itself was really tough as it involved complicated technicalities and I had to be hands-on in everything as well as sacrificing sleep for days. But in return, I had gained integrity and respect. Going to Singapore was a turning point in my life. It was from then on I saw the gradual growth of Eversendai,” he elaborates.
Fast forward a few decades later, Eversendai has since earned a formidable reputation in the construction industry; being one of the leading structural steel companies in the world with remarkable projects where most of them are the landmarks of a country. They included the Petronas Twin Towers, The KLCC Suria, KL Tower, KLIA – Main Terminal Building Contact Pier and Cargo Terminal, the Dubai Airport Control Tower, Dubai Festival City, Kingdom Centre at Saudi Arabia, Khalifa Stadium and Qatar Science and Technology Park at Qatar, Changi Terminal 3 in Singapore and the Chek Lap Kok Airport extension in Hong Kong.
Today, A.K. Nathan still takes pride in having had a hand in the construction of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The burning desire to build the world’s tallest building as a Malaysian became the pushing force for A.K. Nathan to lobby hard for the project at that time. He even took the effort to drive for five and a half hours to Singapore to pitch the idea and impressed the Korean contractor with his portfolio.
“My greatest pride was working on the Petronas Twin Towers. I was involved in the construction of Tower 2 which began three months after Tower 1. However, I am proud to say that I completed Tower 2 ten days ahead of Tower 1,” says A.K. Nathan with a sense of pride.
Eversendai’s portfolio is not the only thing that is interesting. In fact the name itself has left a lot of people pondering on whether Eversendai is a Malaysian or Japanese company. “I know that the name creates the impression that it is a Japanese company. It’s a 100% made-in-Malaysia company,” adds A.K. Nathan with a chuckle.
According to A.K. Nathan, the name, ‘Eversendai’ came into being back then in a conversation he had with Tameshi Yamaki, who became his good friend. Yamaki’s hometown was in Sendai, which means ‘thousands of generations.’ A.K. Nathan took a liking to it. He then added the word,‘ever’ to it which explains how the name, ‘Eversendai’ came about.
When it comes to work, A.K. Nathan holds firmly to the three principles: Never compromise on safety, Never compromise on quality of workmanship and Always deliver what you’ve promised. Eversendai’s emphasis on a high standard of quality, workers’ safety, strict adherence to time schedules and total customer satisfaction has made Eversendai one of the most-sought after company in the steel industry as well as earning a reputation for impeccable quality and reliability.
“I am not an engineer. I have no degree. Owing to financial constraints, I could not further my studies. But through sheer perseverance, I tackled the intricacies of the business to a level where I astounded engineers and other professionals with my innovative recommendations,” says A.K. Nathan.
According to him, satisfied clients always come back with orders. “Eversendai has established a reputation in the market where people come looking for us. In fact, for the last 9 years, we have not done any marketing work in the Middle East market.
“My marketing people are my clients, architects, consultants, project managers – people who have worked with us, who respect and value the good work that we do. In fact, in all the countries where we have executed projects, it was purely through invitation,” shares A.K. Nathan.
Moving forward, A.K. Nathan is bringing Eversendai into developing innovative composite structure construction. By taking advantage of its mechanical and engineering expertise, Eversendai also plans to venture into the oil and gas industry. In fact, it had bought 20.1% stake in an oil and gas company in Singapore to create a base track record for a start.
“Exciting times are envisaged for Eversendai in the near future. Indeed, a lot of work needs to be put in but I will make it happen,” A.K. Nathan says with a smile.
Over the years, A.K. Nathan had received various awards and recognition for his contributions and achievements in the steel industry. These include the Ernst & Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year and Ernst & Young Malaysia Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2008 and Golden Construction Award by Trade Leader Club, Madrid Spain. He has also won the International Gold Star Award for Leadership in Quality by Business Initiatives Directions, Madrid Spain, Asia Pacific Entrepreneur Award and CIDB CEO of the Year as well.
“It is very easy to give up but it’s very hard to achieve success. It’s a high mountain to climb and success doesn’t come that easy,” says A.K. Nathan.
“Just like the steel, I have moulded myself into shape by the struggles I underwent to make my business a success. In the 26 years that I have spent building my business, I have seen the worst. But, I regret none of it as these experiences have made me stronger, more resilient and confident in achieving anything that I set my mind on,” he adds.
A.K. Nathan is married with two children. Despite his hectic schedule, he makes it a point to spend time catching up with his married children. His son is currently spearheading a subsidiary company of Eversendai in Dubai while his daughter is staying at New Zealand with her spouse. During his spare time, A.K. Nathan takes to playing golf as well as enjoying reading motivational books with Law of Success by Napolean Hill as his favourite.
In his deep blue suit with a diamond-studded gold watch to match, A.K. Nathan smiles when he explains that he is married to his job. “I have a lot of passion and love my job. I believe that as long as the passion is there, it will pull me through all odds,” he says.
A.K. Nathan doubts if he would ever retire. The recent celebration of his 57th birthday has most assuredly indicated that greater exploits can be expected from this unique entrepreneur of steely determination.
“Just like the steel, I have moulded myself into shape by the struggles I underwent to make my business a success.”
“I am not an engineer. I have no degree. Owing to financial constraints, I could not further my studies. But through sheer perseverance, I tackled the intricacies of the business to a level where I astounded engineers and other professionals
with my innovative recommendations.”