Defining Luxury Brick by Brick: George Benjamin Cherian of Raj Waterscape Properties

The New Tycoons here!

George Benjamin Cherian of Raj Waterscape Properties and Udeep Bogollu Reddy of Mayajaal Entertainment are focussed, driven and ambitiously changing the game in their respective fields, one path-breaking decision at a time!

They invest in their passion, and more importantly in themselves, to further their interests.

In one of the most interesting interactions for our prestigious cover, RITZ, South India’s largest lifestyle magazine, gets to understand what drives these two young tycoons who helm family businesses but have deftly reshaped them to suit our modern, rapidly changing times and their own ambitious life goals.

Defining Luxury Brick by Brick: George Benjamin Cherian of Raj Waterscape Properties

A naturally warm, affable nature and great sense of humour add that extra dimension to the charming George B Cherian’s sharp business acumen and his unswerving focus. How else can you handle and excel at fields as diverse as the human hair industry and luxury real estate? A calculative businessman who believes in taking moderate risks after thoroughly analyzing the potential of the venture, George is the CEO and MD of Raj Holdings, with an annual turnover of over 60 crores.

Based in Chennai, George Cherian is married to the very lovely Karina who is a professional photographer and now the Director – Brand Communications of Raj Holdings. The couple have an adorable 4-year old son, Raoul George Cherian. A true Chennai boy at heart, he graduated in commerce from the famed Loyola College and got his Masters degree in International Business from Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

George made waves in Tamilnadu when he launched a tastefully created and extravagantly produced book that served as a representation of his vision for his latest business venture – luxury real estate. Flipping the pages gave us an insight into his mind and what he intended to offer Chennaiites with the venture that he fondly named Buckingham Gardens. This was a few years back, and George’s dream project is now a complete reality, occupying pride of place on Chennai’s burgeoning hotspot, ECR.

Buckingham Gardens is George’s way of giving back to his favourite city, his appreciation of the pure and simple luxuries of life, including some of his most cherished nostalgic memories on the banks of the Buckingham Canal! He has pulled off this ambitious vision with aplomb, building gorgeous and truly luxurious villas surrounded by lush greenery and the irresistible calm of gently flowing water.

RITZ catches up with this dynamic business leader for insights into his foray in real estate, his various other business interests and his plans for the future.

Give us a brief overview of your current business interests.

Our member companies under Raj Holdings are: Raj Hair International Private Limited, Raj Waterscape Properties Private Limited, Raj Global Holdings, B&H Exports and Raj Trading.

Our flagship company Raj Hair International was established in the year 1979 and is a pioneer in the Human Hair Industry, trusted for its supply of supreme quality human hair and hair products for discerning clientele in more than 56 countries worldwide. Raj Hair has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, as also BBC in addition to French, Japanese, and German TV. The company is entering into its 40th year and we intend to be the Number 1 quality provider of Human hair and hair products. Plans are afoot to foray into beauty products for women and men.

“I chose Buckingham Gardens to be our signature development so that we could share the joy of enjoying the simple and pure luxuries of life with likeminded families” 

Raj Global Holdings specialises and provides solutions in investments, accounting, HR & administrative services and is the protector of the trademarks of Raj Group.

B&H Exports, the sister company of Raj Hair International has a staff strength of 150, focusing on the domestic market supplying hair and beauty products.

Our real estate company Raj Waterscape Properties, started in 2004, focuses on creating residential experiences that are unconventional, innovative and unparalleled in the residential housing sector.

Your father is quite a pioneer in the human hair industry. Tell us how much of an influence he has had on you and the 3 things you have learnt from working with him.

Even as a child, I have admired the way in which my dad Mr. Benjamin Cherian approached his business and his clients. He was a firm believer in selling quality products. He is a Chartered Accountant and a Harvard University Diploma holder. He was the Governor of Rotary District for the year 2004 – 2005 and President of Human Hair & Hair Products Manufacturers and Exporters Association of India (HHHPMEAI). He is currently the Chairman of Raj Holdings.

He is meticulous and organised, and ensures his tasks for the day are always completed. He is a very focused individual with his eye clearly on the goal and he lets nothing distract him. I have been inspired by his work, and his innate ability to balance his social and family life. Last but not least, I admire his leadership skills in business and in social organisations. Of the many life-changing principles I have learnt form my dad, let me tell you 3.

  1. Always be on time
  2. Never delay decisions
  3. Look ahead at what can be done, instead of dwelling on what has happened

The credit for my early initiation into business goes in many ways to my mom, Mrs. Valsa Benjamin Cherian who used to encourage us to work in the factory and in the office during our summer holidays. It was the first and the critical point of my initiation into the business. My mother is also very dynamic and has served as the President of Inner Wheel Club of Madras and Past President of YWCA of Madras, Chennai and is currently the Director – HR of Raj Holdings and the Cherian Foundation.

We remember the initial round of brochures of Buckingham Gardens having a very nostalgic feel. Is this inspired by memories of your childhood?

Partly, yes! I used to paddle in the Buckingham Canal when I was younger, and that is an experience we now intend to share with the select few at our Buckingham Gardens. The initial round of the brochures of Buckingham Gardens is a representation of the life that people used to lead in ‘Madras’ combined with the best of my childhood memories, which was rendered by an artist to narrate the life one can experience today and forever at Buckingham Gardens.

“THE JASMINE VILLA OF BUCKINGHAM GARDENS HAS BEEN ADJUDGED AS ONE OF INDIA’S 50 MOST BEAUTIFUL HOMES”

Tell us more about the USP of Buckingham Gardens.

Ours is the first waterfront luxury villa gated community in Chennai with 800mtrs along the banks of Buckingham Canal and a private pier to access the same.

With just 17 architecturally stunning villas on 10 acres of land, this award-winning enclave boasts the lowest FSI in the country for a gated development giving homeowners the invaluable luxury and freedom of open space. With an average of 6500-7000 sq ft on 4 to 6 grounds, owning a Buckingham Gardens villa, on the fast developing ECR becomes a smart investment opportunity.

We offer three unique kinds of villas: Orchid – open type villas with the large central foyer, drawing, dining and pantry overlooking the back garden. It’s the perfect home for those who love to celebrate life with family and friends. Lotus – a classic style that ensures privacy for the family with the kitchen, massage room and a private den with a large terrace deck tucked away from the public view. The highlight of these villas would be the charming verandahs that wrap around the homes. Jasmine – contemporary style villas, with open and semi-open spaces around an open-to-sky court. Jasmine villas have several exciting design elements and the highlight is the study room and stairways that overlook the indoor garden court.

Prices range from 8.5 crores, according to the custom requirements of different clients. Buckingham Gardens is ideal for the 2nd or the 3rd generation Chennaiite, who has reached the peak of his or her professional career arc and would like to spend quality time with their family while at the same time providing them a safe environment.

Buckingham Gardens marks your foray into real estate. Tell us more about how you zeroed in on the idea for it… 

We have designed Buckingham Gardens as our benchmark product in terms of the quality, design, standard and style of living. We intend to develop more such unique projects catering to the varied lifestyle requirements of today’s generation having a preference of living along water bodies.

The initial idea of Buckingham Gardens originated from the need to build an exclusive villa for my father in our family farm. As ECR was developing the idea grew into developing a gated community that eventually would become one’s primary home. The design was focused on recreating the old world magic of feeling the earth, abundance of water and to breathe fresh air. Today it stands tall in the completion of its features without compromising on the luxuries of modern life.

The land on which Buckingham Gardens is built, has been our family farm for the past 40 years. I have spent most of my childhood growing up here doing farming, catching butterflies and even paddling in the canal! I chose this property to be our signature development so that we could share the joy of enjoying the simple and pure luxuries of life with likeminded families. The villas are 100% completed externally and 10% is kept for the customization and additional requirements of the customer. It is fully operational and ready to move in. By January 2019 it will be 100% complete.

You seem fascinated by water…

(Laughs) Absolutely! My fascination for water started in my childhood with my love for swimming. I was enrolled for swimming classes in what used to be Adyar Gate Hotel (later Park Sheraton, now Crowne Plaza) and I still remember how happy and refreshed I would feel every time after a swim. That’s the precise feel we intend to recreate in our living spaces.

The majority of the properties with our family and company are along water bodies and combined with my fascination for water, I think it was destined for me to develop properties with water as the focal point – hence the name Raj Waterscape Properties. We do intend to develop more properties along the waterfront. In fact, my fascination for water even dictates my choice of holiday destinations and my favourites are Maldives and Koh Samui!

“With just 17 architecturally stunning villas on 10 acres of land, this award-winning enclave boasts the lowest FSI in the country for a gated development giving homeowners the invaluable luxury and freedom of open space” 

Having made such large investments in the sector, what is your vision for luxury real estate in TN and how does it compare with other cities like Bengaluru?

I see great potential in Tamil Nadu for luxury real estate, since the market is in its nascent stage as compared to cities like Bengaluru. Yes, it is a big challenge to set the trend but I feel players like us have the responsibility of breaking the existing mindset and helping people take that big leap ahead to realise their vision for high quality luxury living.

What ails the residential real estate sector in India?

The customers in the real estate market are of two kinds – those who decide with passion and the ones who decide based on the value they derive from their experience. Now let me tell you what the sector actually needs – serious players who provide new age solutions for the ever-evolving customer. Quality consciousness is a must to ensure that the beauty of such developments is sustained long after the developer has moved away. The need of the hour is also for the quality of the work force to improve in property management services.

What are your plans for your next project?

Our plan is to come out with a space that will host working executives to live in tranquility cut away from the busy and stressful life of the city, while also attracting the tourist population thronging ECR.

We even plan to build different developments like country clubs and resorts, instead of not just residential real estate.

Your advice for startups and entrepreneurs of today?

I believe entrepreneurship is uniquely personal and hence one cannot template it with general advice, or a one-rule-for-all approach that will apply to every startup and entrepreneur because each one’s situation or opportunity varies. But the one thing I would like to say by way of advice to entrepreneurs is to never fear failure. Be brave and face the challenges you come across everyday with fortitude. That’s one of the most important qualities for a successful entrepreneur.

With a super active social life, George Cherian has been the youngest President of the Rotary Club of Madras, the 2nd oldest club in India, and is also an active Round Tabler, having served as the Chairman of Madras Midtown Round Table – 42 in the past.

“I still remember how happy and refreshed I would feel every time after a swim. That’s the precise feel we intend to recreate in our living spaces”

Amid his varied business interests, George Cherian also devotes time for various charitable causes through the Cherian Foundation, of which he is the Trustee. Among other institutions, The Cherian Foundation notably works along with the Adyar Cancer Hospital towards the noble ‘Gift Hair, Gift Confidence’ programme to provide wigs free of cost to deserving and under-privileged patients. They have also tied up with beauty salons and colleges for donation of hair to be made into wigs in their factory as part of their endeavour to gift them to cancer patients who have lost their hair during the treatment.

George’s sister Sara Cherian plans to launch this programme in Bengaluru in the Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology Hospital and the Cherian Foundation nurtures plans to take this initiative pan-India.