An Interview with Ashish Puravankara

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As I arrive at the corporate headquarters of Puravankara Limited in the upscale Ulsoor area of Bengaluru, I am smitten by the muted interiors that are interspersed with a pop of colour that comes from the classy artefacts here. The swanky interiors are as chic as practical, but after all I am at the office of one of India’s leading developers Puravankara Limited. Being here to meet the Managing Director, Ashish Puravankara I am escorted to the third floor into a beautiful large board room. Ashish soon walks in and I am struck by his suave persona and the fact that he is so down to earth. In this exclusive conversation, he tells us why he is in awe of his father, when he got angry and moved cities in 48 hours, why values are important and much more.

Take us back to your early days, your growing up years and how being part of a real estate family of influenced your life?

I was born and brought up in Bombay.  As a child I was quite mischievous, loved sports, spent a lot of time outdoors, back then we did not have iPads and televisions.  My dad was a first generation businessman who was just starting his career.  So we has a modest life he always reminded us the value for money, respecting and appreciating people and that is one of those things have stayed with me. I think I was very practical person, worked smart and not hard.  So that was one of the things that got me through school and college.  I would never miss a single day going to college.  I would never miss a single day.  I would sit on the first bench and would write everything what the professor says and what went in then was all I needed. Once I was out of the classroom, I would not open a single book. Because I was interactive and would contribute during class discussions, so every professor knew me. Outside the classroom I would be in the gym or playing sports, while everyone else would be trying to brush up their notes.  I think in that sense my mind has always sought – is always seeking better ways, efficient ways of doing things right from childhood.  Anybody in the family, anybody in the house trying to do some work and my mind would find a simpler way, a more efficient way of doing it.  Even basic housework, cleaning up the house, I would put a process behind it.  After my schooling, I did my graduation from Virginia Tech. and came back joined the business in 2000. Since I had done business and not civil engineering, my first two years I was posted at the site to understand the technical aspects of the business, construction, scheduling, the product.  So I think about 70 percent of my time for the two years that I worked, basically between 2000 and 2002, was at the site and the balance was at marketing. Then decided to go back to States, joined the business back in 2005 and worked in Bangalore for about six months and then I was pushed off to Chennai much against my will. I has been recently married and with 48 hours my wife an dme went to shop for our new home and finalized an apartment in Chennai. We had bought some land in Chennai so I was sent there to set the business up. While I was not keen to do then, in retrospect it has been the best experience for me. I hired all the key personnel in terms of sales, got two residential projects and one commercial project conceptualized, cleared, sanctioned and launched. 

Did you always have the entrepreneurial spirit in you? What kind of pressure do you face when you had to succeed your father?

I never felt external pressure, but internal pressure was in my mind whether I live up to his expectations and that to me that was the most important. So the fear is constant and what I mean by that is that he was a self-made entrepreneur as opposed to us who come up in a very structured manner. We tend to run business with Excel sheets while they do not look at Excel sheets, they go by their gut and wisdom and I think their aggression is very different.  Because when they started out, they have nothing to lose.  Today when you have built an organization this large, two or three wrong decisions can give you a slight set back, so we tend to be cautious. We tend to stare more at Excel sheets than rely on experience. So that in my mind is the only disconnect which is there but besides that I thank my upbringing. I think the values my parents have put in me and the fact that the timing I got in when the markets were tough, so that kept me grounded and added to my cautious attitude.  And why I joined this business is simple. Dad used to breathe real-estate.  We would rarely have conversations on how was your day, how are your friends, he would come on the table and start discussing project with me as if I am one of his office colleagues and I would have been about 9 or 10 years old then. Sometimes on Sunday, he would take me to the site too. I was listening to him all the time and the way dad spoke about real-estate was interesting. For him it was not much about success, it was more ability to create something from scratch.  So you take a vacant piece of land, and you build something that breathes, that lives and provides shelter. I was fortunate that I got into an organization that was already built. I had Chairman who loved technology. So it was not old school and new school where I was trying to make changes, so the day I got into this business, we were already ISO 9001 and were already using some form of technology in our business.

What is your focus area in terms of real estate verticals and why? Is the renewed focus on commercial spaces intentional? Also you are entering the hospitality segment with the launch of Adora De Goa, please tell us more.

We have a Puravankara Limited which is a parent company under which we do the luxury housing the office space. We are very choosy about offices as we want to work in locations around the CBD.  As a strategy going forward we decided that we will build a portfolio office space, close to 4-6 million square feet over the next 4-5 years and this is a strategic decision. Provident, which is 100% subsidiary focuses on the premium affordable houses.  Then we have Starworth Infrastructure which is our contracting arm, a 100% subsidiary that will focus on precast building materials, because we believe that for India to be built, the way forward is precast irrespective of what you are building.  It can be a housing project, it can be a hotel, it can be an institutional building, an airport, but precast and technology is the way to go. We also have other joint venture like the one with Keppel Corporation, Singapore which does luxury housing. Hospitality is not a focus area now, the project being in Goa, demanded a hospitality bit as we realized that most buyers would be across the country and it would be a second home for them.

What are some of the pioneering work you have done to take the business forward?

I think it is technological push.  The idea and vision is there but I think I will give myself a little credit for its implementation and pushing it through the system. We have tasted the success of adopting technology and will continue. Also getting the right team together, an enthusiastic young, proactive team who are constantly thinking of different ways of doing things is what I have done.  Today I think we are quite forward in terms of the rest of the crew in terms of digital marketing, in terms of our efforts, in terms of online payments. Now we are trying to use artificial intelligence to increase internal efficiencies as well so I am driving that with my team. It’s a joint effort. We are fortunate to be in this business because India needs homes as a sense of security, they need a roof over their head.

Tell us about the new trends you are seeing in real estate?

One clear trend is in terms of unit sizes. They are getting more efficient and getting smaller. But while the size is shrinking by a little bit the functional spaces are not being compromised.

How has RERA and GST impacted your business?

RERA will achieve the purpose that the government has set it out for.  I think it will benefit home buyers and good developers. It will evolve but over time it will be a huge benefit to the organized players, the serious players who are focused on delivering a quality home on time.  I would see their market shares go up.  Of course this will lead to some sort of consolidation in the market.  I think the concept of GST is right and the applicability needs to evolve. For example, you already place stamp duty on land, but they are asking you to pay the GST as well, so that whole double taxation thing needs to be addressed.

What are you doing in terms of making your projects ecologically sensitive?

We do the most basic stuff, solar power, rainwater harvesting, STP for water recycling and bio processing plant. We are also looking at building design in terms of the sun path, where you place the largest windows of the house so you get light but not heat. Even on the environment front, the components available today are not cheap. To incorporate that and still have a product that is marketable is a challenge.

Tell us about your plan to form two separate investment platforms to fund future expansion plans?

The real estate business is capital intensive unlike normal manufacturing setups that can work with one time investment. Our brand Provident is what we believe will explode over time. And how do you provide a steady pipeline for growth, for Provident has been why we thought of this. Provident projects by nature would be larger and apart from debt and equity, we are trying to open up the third front. There are like minded investors who believe in real estate, who believe in the demand for housing and are willing to co-invest quickly. So that is what we are trying to do without giving away too much.

What is your opinion on the current state of real estate in India?

I think sentiments are stabilizing and RERA is doing its little bit in helping in adding confidence to the buyer.  The demand for real estate in this country is very strong.  It is the sentiment, the confidence that has taken a little bit of beating. New launches at Puravankara and Provident have done extremely well. So depending on which micro market you talk about, what is the economic activity and what is the kind of job creation that will drive business.

According to you which cities are going to do well in the real estate space in the future?

For us Bangalore is doing well, for us Hyderabad is doing well, for us Pune is doing well.  These markets are able to give us stable sales.

What are the biggest challenges you see today in your business and how do you plan to overcome them?

Internal challenges are essentially in terms of delivery as non-availability of the required number of skilled labour force. Different agencies performing their respective duties in a timely manner and you are essentially a coordinator. This is a challenge which we are constantly sort of trying to mitigate by mechanization, through technology and streamline processes. So essentially I would say delivery is the single largest challenge any developer would tell you. External challenges are regulatory challenges – I think delaying of approvals, which add to the cost.

What plans do you have for your company?

I keep debating this all the time – do we want to be largest or be the best and 9 out of 10 times the answer is to be the best.  So by being the best, we grow and that is a good thing.  But the aim is not to be the largest, the aim is to be able to put a smile on the customer’s face, the aim is to build a company where all our stakeholders internal so build a good environment for our employees, they should be excited to come and work every day and be motivated to add value every day to their customer.

What does wealth mean to you?

This may not sound right but to me wealth means goodwill. I understand that material wealth is temporary but goodwill lasts as people appreciate you for it.  For example today I can reach out to for any of the core developers if I need help anywhere in India and they are more than willing to because of the goodwill my father has built through our company. This gives me peace of mind, good health and allows me to sleep peacefully so that happy relationship is wealth.

What do you like to do outside work?

I love sports and love fast cars basically anything to do with speed. I don’t get too much time to pursue that passion, but when I do at times in the night I do go for drives. It really helps me distract my mind from day to day work.  So the few times when I go sky diving and scuba diving are the only times when I don’t think about work and my mind is just blank, focused on what I am doing.

Tel us something about you that people don’t know?

A lot of people who meet me for the first time, don’t know how simple I am. I think a lot of people get carried away by the name and the brand, and build their own perceptions of the person I am. But I think I am simpler than most people.  Also I have been hands on since a young age, fixing things around the home.  If some lamp needs rewiring or like nails on the wall I am happy pottering around the home fixing stuff. My family enjoys calling me their in house handyman.

This was the cover story and first appeared in the July-Aug 2018 issue of Millionaire Asia here: Cover Story

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