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Published on: April 5, 2021, 7:41 a.m.
The Brigade group rides a crest
  • Jaishankar says the next generation is well qualified

By Sekhar Seshan. Consulting Editor, Business India

No one person can fill chairman M.R. Jaishankar’s shoes, admits Nirupa Shankar, executive director, Brigade Enterprises Ltd. “It would require an army to do that!’ she says, as she and her sister Pavitra Shankar, also an executive director, get ready to take over the management of the Rs1,850-crore construction and hospitality group. The ‘army’ exists, she points out: the siblings have other core team members to help them shoulder the responsibility they will bear, when they take on more onerous leadership roles as promoters of the company and the second generation of Brigade.

That is just how the group has been structured: while its shareholding is largely family-owned, Brigade is a public listed company, with professionals managing its day-to-day activities. “We hope to carry on the various traditions, culture and core values set by our founder and carry out his vision and mission for the company,” adds Pavitra. “Our focus will be on exponential growth, along with customer centricity.”

While Jaishankar has always made sure the buck stops with him, he has taken care to groom both his daughters to succeed him when he retires. Additionally, as they point out, there is a phalanx of professionals: veterans like Pradyumna Krishnakumar and Amar Mysore in the chairman’s office, along with the CXOs and heads of the various departments, to help them.

“Brigade is in safe hands with the next generation of leaders, including Pavitra and Nirupa,” says Jaishankar himself. “They are all well-qualified, knowledgeable, committed, extremely smart and hard-working.” 

With the freedom he had given his daughters to run the domains they oversee even under him, he has segregated their lines, with Pavitra overseeing the residential portfolio and Nirupa looking after the office, retail and hospitality portfolio, comprising the annuity-yielding projects. “We are so busy managing our own portfolios there is no chance to step on each other’s toes,” Nirupa says. “We might have different methods and approaches to business but, when we keep the core values of the company as the guiding principle to our decision making, the resulting outcomes are fairly clear.”

Both also have different levels of exposure to the group as they have taken different paths. Nirupa spent eight years in the US and worked for a few years in risk advisory consulting, returned to Bengaluru in time to grow the group’s hospitality vertical, spending the next eight years focussed only on this. Pavitra was in the US for much longer, over 17 years, but worked in a related business there, too: she was with a real estate private equity firm and simultaneously ran Brigade’s US sales arm, too. 

“There is a lot of learning, whether each one’s experience is within the organisation or outside it,” Nirupa explains. “They are different kinds of learning – but all of it can only benefit the organisation through diversity of thought and experience.

Another project Nirupa took on when she joined the group after her US sojourn was the Brigade Real Estate Accelerator Program (REAP), India’s first start-up accelerator programme for the real estate industry. There is, she says, a changing trend in the industry, which is ‘standing on the cusp of disruption’. REAP brings together innovators and inventors to use technology as a catalyst for creating sustainable and scalable businesses in the industry, Now almost five years old, it has so far accelerated 47 disruptive start-ups, with a goal of around 100 real estate within the next five years. 

“The start-ups which apply are carefully curated and selected by stalwarts in the industry,” she explains. “The programme has an acceptance rate of just 2 per cent.”

Nearly half of those who have graduated from the programme, raised funding within a year, against the industry average of 10 per cent, while all of them have received business from the real estate fraternity. The average revenue increase y-o-y through the programme has been high: 150 per cent, she says, adding proudly that the government of India’s Department for Promotion of Industry & Internal Trade (DPIIT) selected Brigade REAP as the No. 1 Accelerator programme in the country at the Start Up India Awards in 2020. “We plan to make Brigade REAP the gateway to PropTech in India, solving real-world problems faced by the industry and creating an immense amount of efficiency and agility in the sector,” she says.

 ‘Fast track team’

The group has also set up multiple initiatives to achieve its the aim of becoming a world-class organisation through technological advancement of the real estate industry and evolving customer preferences, which are handled with transparency and innovation. It has set up a portal where customers can monitor the progress of their projects and make payments. Brigade also has a dedicated customer service helpdesk with a ticketing system and senior management review, aimed at resolving customer issues.

Nirupa had launched an ‘Under 35 Think Tank’, a Complaint Redressal Committee, and a Suggestions Scheme Committee, all of which have evolved over the years with the think tank now focussing on a ‘fast-track team’ within Brigade. This, she explains, is because “neither of us is under 35 any longer!” The other two committees continue on course, with the addition that the person making a suggestion now has to be part of the team that implements the suggestion. This reduces the number of frivolous and qualitative or subjective suggestions, she adds.

While Pavitra had earlier spoken of an ‘emotional investment’ in Karnataka, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi, Brigade is already in Gujarat’s GIFT City; but Karnataka, Hyderabad and Chennai continue to be its key focus areas at the moment, she says. Meanwhile, the target of developing 30 million sq ft over the past five years has been achieved, despite Covid-19. Actually, Nirupa says, Covid-19 saw a lot of consolidation with the large and well-reputed builders getting a lion’s share of the sales.

The Brigade group has developed 70-plus million sq ft in its 35-year existence, with another 30-plus million sq ft in various stages of construction, to make a portfolio of 100-milllon sq ft. “Q3 2020-21 was actually our best quarter in the history of the company, having sold 1.53 million sq ft amounting to a sales value of about R923 crore. We hope to keep up the trend and the positive momentum,” Nirupa adds.

Neither of the sisters sees a problem in continuing to balance work and home life. Also, Nirupa says, the bias against women leading a business, especially what is still seen as a not-too-clean one, is becoming less pronounced. “Things are improving,” she says, pointing out that a recent report by Grant Thornton ranked India third globally in terms of the proportion of women in leadership positions, after the Philippines and South Africa. “The percentage of women in senior management for India stood at 39 per cent, as against the global average of 31 per cent, which signals the changing outlook of Indian businesses towards working women,” she says. “Besides, we have been taught to focus on our job rather than gender in order to get things done.” 

“Being a woman leader has many positives to it, and we want to utilise those advantages,” Pavitra chimes in. “The ability to multi-task is one such advantage: women are used to wearing and changing their multiple hats in order effectively manage home and office.”

R. Vasudevan, founder chairman of the Pune-headquartered construction company Vascon Engineers, has also decided to hang up his boots and hand over the company he built to the next generation. “I am enjoying my status now as my decision was a well-thought-out one and had a long hand-holding period The transition has been smooth. Although I continue as executive chairman, I am now playing more an advisory role,” he says. “I have no regrets, as I am convinced that the next generation will build a beautiful multi-storeyed edifice on the strong foundation I laid.”

Jaishankar, for his part, says he will now be able to concentrate on music, which is his love. He has set up India’s first music museum, Indian Music Experience, under the not-for-profit Brigade Foundation. Besides its exhibits and galleries on contemporary, folk, Carnatic and Bollywood music, the museum, aims to support and popularise Indian music by offering visitors an interactive experience as well.

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