OPG was closely overseeing the construction of this 110 room hotel as that was the group’s first and he used to interact closely with me and advise me from time to time. I was entrusted to set up the hospitality division of the group.
A few distinct memories and ethos on which he laid the foundation of his business are embedded deep in my character. These ideals made him stand out as an outlier in the world of business.
Never grow too fast or recklessly-
I once asked him that while the country is going thru a super boom in real estate, why is his progress so slow. He always wanted to bite what he could chew. 7 years later, top real estate companies (read DLF and Unitech) are reeling under unmanageable debt burden and have completely destroyed the shareholder wealth. The DLF stock, which was once the darling of the markets and most talked about is 85% down since early 2008. Ashiana is the only listed real estate company that has ‘0’ debt on its balance sheet. That has returned 187% in this time where others have wiped out their shareholders.
Lesson – Donot over leverage yourself. When the tide is high its fine, when it turns, you could find yourself standing very very naked.
Care for your employees and consider them your assets-
He would always spend a few mins talking to me and asking about the welfare of my family. He knew everyone in my family and would show concern that I needed to get married at 32 (my age then) and even suggested a few matches. Small gestures and courtesies that he extended towards one and all made him a great man.
Lesson – Care and affection towards your employees add far more value to the balance sheet as compared to a few more zeroes. Ashiana has ‘zero’ attrition.
Treat your customers like God-
The roof of a villa sold by Ashiana leaked during rains. It was a 3 year old villa and outside the guarantee period. On a simple complaint, he made Ashiana spend a couple of lacs repairing the roof and bought the loyalty of hundreds of residents. Ashiana has the highest number of repeat buyers in one or the other of its complexes. This is unheard of, in the real estate industry that is unregulated and undisciplined.
Lesson – Don’t spend millions on marketing and getting ur products endorsed by expensive celebrities. Just treat ur old customers nicely and justly and remain connected to them. They will do the best marketing for you – free of cost.
Don’t grow at the cost of your shareholders-
Ashiana has been very debt averse. OPG never wanted to divest or bring in white collared investment bankers telling him how to run the company. The family owns over 70% of the company and guards its holding fiercely. Listed companies are very very public in nature. Growth can be deceptive and a big sham really.
Lesson – Grow with internal accruals and not by over leveraging. Markets punish you hard if shareholders interest in not paramount for promoters.
I miss you OPG and remember you fondly. You left us for your heavenly journey rather early but you left a lot behind for us in the simplicity and clarity of your thoughts and ideals.