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The Toubro formula

On February 27, ECC — the Madras-based Engineering Construction & Contracts Division, the major contributor to engineering giant Larsen & Toubro's turnover — silently remembered at its Manapakkam headquarters the birth centenary of one of its two Danish founders, Soren Kristian Toubro. Later this month, he will be more vocally remembered when the Toubro Construction Technology Centre is inaugurated by his son Ole K. Toubro. This is the second building in the Manapakkam campus to be named after Soren Toubro, the first being the Toubro Training Centre.

It was most appropriate that the training centre was named after Toubro, for teaching, guiding, motivating and encouraging the young was something that he was committed to from the first days of L&T and ECC. To them he would repeatedly say, "The secret of happiness is not in doing what you like but in liking what you have to do. There are two ways of being happy — you either diminish your wants or augment your means."

A workaholic, he expected the same of others. A hard taskmaster with a schoolmasterly attitude to training he may have been, but the young he mentored still remember the lessons he taught: that no effort was too great to ensure customer satisfaction, that there must be attention to detail in the quest for perfection, and that there must be pride in whatever was being done."

Soren Toubro, a young engineer than working for F. L. Smidth & Co. of Copenhagen, arrived in India in 1934 to erect and commission the equipment supplied to the Madukkarai Cement Works, near Coimbatore, and the Rohri Cement Factory near the Sukkur Barrage in Hyderabad, Sind. From then on till he retired to Denmark in 1981 — only to pass away the next year — his was a long love affair with India, and particularly with Kodaikanal where he had a large house and estate that is still maintained by his son. After Soren Toubro's death, his wife spent the last days of her life in this house.

When a classmate, Henning Holck-Larsen, also with Smidth's, came to India in 1935, not only was a friendship revived, but also they began to dream together of the opportunities ahead. Both saw at a time few other Europeans did in the same way that India was a country that would industrially grow by leaps and bounds before long.

And, during a holiday in Bombay's sleepy little hill station of Matheran, they decided to link their fortunes with a country they saw as one of the future. So was born Larsen & Toubro in 1938. Six years later, they founded ECC, foreseeing the growth of construction that engineering industries and infrastructure development would fuel.

In 1961, P. H. Mortensen, heading ECC's southern regional office, bought the Manapakkam property. And that was how ECC became Madras based even when this fully owned subsidiary of L & T merged with the parent company in 1984. Mortensen's Madras connections survive, a trust he founded still contributing significantly to the growth of Bala Mandir in the city.

Toubro in later life was to say that he had been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. One of the first things he had read on landing in India was a report in the Bombay Chronicle that had reported Gandhiji as saying, "(I am) not leading a movement to rid India of its white colonial masters in order to substitute them with brown ones." Such an India, Toubro had felt sure, would offer great opportunities to anyone with modern technological and management skills. And so India became his home for nearly 50 years.

S. MUTHIAH

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