Humble to Highland
Learning the hard way
Shouldering on the responsibility to support four sisters, a younger brother, his mother and his ailing father, Devdas Naik firmly resolved to obtain financial security for his family. One of his biggest aims being his desire to provide his sisters with quality education.
Naik realised that he wanted to create and gain enough wealth to achieve this goal. Only 18 at that time, the young visionary began what slowly turned into, a journey of hard work and bold faith. He secured a school teaching job in 1964, which gave him the time he needed to charter his map to financial success. Naik breathed life into his vision and got all those working with him see exciting possibilities for the future.
His first entrepreneurial experiment
With banking and finance sectors strictly controlled during t
he sixties, new entrepreneurs had to think hard and fight strong in order to establish themselves. Naik found his breakthrough. He decided to work with what he knew best at that time. Using his knowledge about tea and coffee, he took up the challenge of creating a new brand, blending tea and coffee to create a new beverage he sold under the name Cannon.
To launch the business, Naik convinced the manager of Syndicate Bank to give him a loan of Rs.13,000 under the Self Employment Endure Programme. It was co-sponsored by Junior Chamber International. The loan benefitted not only Devdas Y Naik, but also his dependants, his family, employees and other stakeholders who set up feeder businesses under his proximity. Two of his sisters went on to become successful doctors. He paid back the loan within the first year itself and in two year expanded his coffee-tea blending business to neighbouring state.
“I have always believed in establishing a brand name. The advertising agency asked me why the name ‘Cannon’ for a beverage. I said it is strong, it can wake you up and it is full of energy. The market was so vibrant , we were doing interstate in the first two years.”
Within the first two years alone, the business reached th
e Rs.5 lakh ceiling.
The economic blow
With the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1984, big business houses like Tata, Bombay Burman, etc. were hit hard. They soon diverted their goods into local markets. This in turn had heavy adverse impacts on smaller businesses like Naik’s. The blow to the business was so hard that Devdas Naik was forced to sell his house to cover losses. He fought hard though, and stayed in the market.
Through 1984-86 Naik pulled through with the faith that that things would improve. As he colourfully puts it saying if only he had only a 302 rifle while the enemy was firing at him with big weapons.
It was at times like this that Naik says he remembers asking himself, “What would Tata do?” The best thing was to get out. Meeting commitments to his dependents became his priority again. He decided to take a leap into a field that was completely new to him- real estate.
Though completely new to the field, he was confident he could make it work. His wife Shaila gave him her full support, working with him on the new venture. The industry though frowned at the prospect of a new entrant who was both inexperienced and lacked the required financial footing. Being no ordinary player by nature, Devdas Y Naik did not deter. Understanding that real estate was a business that runs on goodwill, commitment and trust, all he needed to do was begin.
To start off he bought a piece of land and sold it for seven-and-half times its cost 18 months later. In 1991, he took up his first project that consisted of 108 apartments. Doubtful of a man who had no experience in engineering, marketing or development, suppliers refused to provide him with the needed material. Ironically, six months later, the same people who refused to entertain his requisitions were now asking him for orders.
Naik designed the logo for Highland Constructions himself. The logo incorporates two pillars held together by an upward growth curve, to form an ‘H’. The two pillars stand for Naik and his wife Shaila, co-directors in the business.
Building – a reputation
Naik’s hard work and commitment in developing the 108 apartments did not go un-noticed. Watching his meticulous work was the managing director of Fomento, Mr. R. S. Kamat. Fomento, one of the leading business houses in Goa was setting up a Coca-Cola bottling plant at that time and needed infrastructure to be built at the fastest. Kamat asked Naik to meet him the very next day if he was interested. The meeting was held. Naik was asked to finish in 6 months time. He delivered the entire project in just five-and-half!
Soon after, he bought land in Candolim and
built 500 apartments. With growth as his priority, there was now no looking back.
“I go with my gut feeling. I have always wanted to do the most difficult task. Even in school I would accept the most difficult task and do it. The house I live in will give you an idea of how determined I am to achieve excellence in whatever I do. While others cut hills; I built up my hill using 4000 truck-loads of mud, grew a forest around it and built my home there.”
Banking on entrepreneurs
Inspiration hit Naik again. Thinking about the other entrepreneurs like him, who were out there with stillborn dreams due to lack of substantial financing made him restless. He therefore aimed to start a bank. The Reserve Bank of India did not give him permission to do so. Still persevering, he set up the Milagres Co-operative Society, which forms a landmark in Goa today.
The name Milagres was selected as it is the deity revered by both Christians and Hindus. Naik set up the offices, opened branches and recruited a manager. When asked by the other 11 directo
rs about who would pay the salaries, Naik took on the responsibility. “Today the co-operative society has 13 branches. And though I am not a stakeholder or a shareholder, I feel a sense of pride in having created it,” he states.
Creating a benchmark in hospitality
It didn’t take very long for Naik and his team to take on a new challenge. He decided to go into hospitality. Yet again, the resolute entrant did not let cold shoulders bog down his enthusiasm. He predicted that the same tour operators who had refused to help him out, would be back in his office asking for rooms. Today, Highland Resorts is the 3rd biggest resort in Asia with 448 apartments and seven swimming pools. He deals with the top three charter operators of the world and none other than these. They are in no hurry to leave him either.
Naik went on to achieve even greater feats at the resort. People started to approach to sell their properties to him. He started growing more wings to the resort. The challenge was to construct during the off-season since you cannot construct when a resort is running. He had to build a complete 6000sq mt wing and it had to be completed before the season started. Naik and his men worked round the clock. The were separate teams for the day and for the night, with doctors who would give the workers tonics and pills for malaria since they were workin
g in the monsoons. It was built and completed within six months! Naik used to be there with the men, even at 3 in the morning, offering them tea; the mark of a true leader shining through.
The people in and around his life
With great leadership comes great responsibility. To keep hope and determination alive, a team leader recognizes the contributions his members make and celebrates their accomplishments. They make people feel respected. They also make them feel like heroes.
One such hero on Mr. Naik’s team is Maria Palmira Grao. Handling the finances of the entire organization, she has been a part of his staff for the past 10 years. Maria says that Mrs. Naik taught her everything she knows about handling the company’s finances. “She showed me how to
do the filing, the accounts, how to check and cross check. She taught me how to account even for Rs. 1 and Rs. 2. Mr. Devdas Naik is very energetic and is always coming up with new ideas and projects; and I like that. I’m very fond of both of them,” she says.
Viraj. D. Paraz of Paraz and Associates, are project consultants who’ve worked on his projects since the very first one. “Mr. Naik has an eye for detail. He has that touch which is normally not there with a regular builder. He is a hands-on man. He does not differentiate between the smallest or the biggest person there. He has to get the job done. I have been with him since 1987, when I first started out in this business. Today we are working with one of the top architectural firms in India (DAAT). “
Devdas Naik has a theory about recruiting staff. He rejects the brilliant candidates and hires those who really need the job. He hires people but does not fire them, even if they are detri
mental to the company’s progress or functioning. They invariably leave on their own. He makes it possible for recruits to learn and grow on the job. In fact when the HR departments learn that the individual has worked at Highland Beach Resorts, they hire them immediately.
“Generally people hire very intelligent people in their line of work. But I have a typical method of hiring. I don’t fire employees. I take on raw recruits and teach them the job. Around 75% of my judgements are good. I take those hungry for employment and make them good at their work,” he says smiling
Mr. Naik has also always been the man to help build not just his own life but those of others as well. When s
hop premises at the resort had to be leased out, the proprietor of Newton’s Supermarket wanted just two shops in the resort. Naik told him to take 10. But Newton did not have the resources. Naik standing as his personal guarantor, arranged a loan for Newton. Today, says Naik, Newton’s is the best super market in Goa.
Naik states, “I run my business as an institution. Every stakeholder has to be cared for. If you want to grow, you have to institutionalize your business. Be sensitive to your people’s needs. It is an ongoing process. I feel that no matter how small or how large, if you can to something to help and you do not, then that is a crime.”
Recognition received today
A man of vision and wisdom, we see the rewards of his perseverance. Highland Holiday Homes Pvt. Ltd (Goa) was awarded the winner of CNBC AWAAZ Real Estate Awards 2010 in the category – ‘best Holiday Homes’. “These awards ensure that the best architects and developers are rewarded for their outstanding work towards the society, the industry and the nation as a whole”, stated Mr. Sanjay Pugalia (editor-in-chief of CNBC AWAAZ). “The Indian real estate sector passed through the most turbulent phases in history. It took courage, strength of character and sharp business strategies to stay in the game. Only those who perseveres for excellence saw the storm through”, he continued.
The award was presented by the Union Minister for Urban Development, Mr. Kamal Nath, at the 11th National Conference Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India in Singapore.
This was the first time that a Goa based company has been honoured with this prize.