Entrepreneurs are a unique breed for they take that leap of faith and invest their all in what they believe in. We have two such people who are poles apart in their chosen fields of business but share the same high levels of passion and commitment to what they have chosen to do! Puvikumar of the Kavi Group of companies made his way in the Poultry business and Ranjeeth Rathod of DRA Homes found his calling in the world of Real Estate. The duo share the same ideas on “Risk it to make it big! and have applied it successfully to beat the odds and become scions in their entrepreneurial dreams!
Photographer: DINESH BABURAJ
Stylist: PANSY RAJA
Hair & Makeup: NATURALS SALON
Dapper Ranjeeth Rathod is the Managing Director of the Chennai Operations for DRA Homes, a company which is into the development of real estate, predominantly residential apartments and row houses. He started his career with Larsen & Toubro for L&T South City Projects Pvt. Ltd., which was tasked with developing a massive township near Siruseri, in Chennai. He was the Alternate Director and Executive Committee member and his time here helped him learn the intricacies of the real estate business in a thoroughly professional & process-oriented manner.
I travel a lot and when I saw certain cities booming and expanding big-time, I began wondering why can’t the other cities too follow suit. That was one of the thoughts that led me to real estate.
With a Masters degree in Finance, Ranjeeth was always interested in involving himself with the Treasury. Upon realizing that the Indian financial market was still nascent, he decided to look past his family’s textile business and when life placed real estate at him and he grabbed it with both hands! Ranjeeth Rathod is good with numbers and that always helps in this field where he has been excelling for over 13 years now. Ritz caught up with him to find out his journey towards success. Read on to see what he has to say…
How did you get into the real estate sector?
It started with the OMR journey. When the OMR expressway was announced around 2004, we thought this could be the big boom in real estate. I had been traveling very frequently to Bangalore between 1998 and 2004 and I saw the city mushrooming with the IT boom. Residential development happened exponentially because of IT and the Chennai IT expressway announcement set off ideas for us. We identified the right land and purchased it. Then, everything began falling into place.
What do you think of the current real estate scenario in Chennai?
There have been a lot of changes from when we started out in this business, back in 2005, which was the initial phase of the boom. It was great going till 2012 with some minor blips in 2008. Real estate is a cycle and there was a downturn from 2013 until 2018. This was a period which only the strongest and most professional in this business survived and we are glad that we are still there. We learned a lot during this downside, especially that nothing can be taken for granted. There is not much appreciation in your assets and cash-flow has to be carefully managed. Costs, right location, and right designs are very vital and need to be cautiously handled. The market today is far mature than it was in 2006-2007. Then, anything and everything could sell but today only the good sells. The sentiment is negative today but the cycle will make it better.
Tell us about DRA…
It is a family owned concern and is a partnership between my father-in-law and me. We are all family members and don’t have any external investors. We started with an objective to grow the operational arm in Chennai as we believe that here we can reach the Top 3 position much quicker than in any other city. We have played out our brand strategy properly and cater to the mid-segment. DRA is 80% into residential and some commercial projects! We are the first in Chennai to foray into co-living spaces. We own quite a lot of beds for co-living, in Chennai. Our USP is that we have a unique construction timeline meter outside our every project and we live up to our motto – “On time every time!” Our countdown meter can be seen on our website or at the construction site itself and see how long it would take for the project to complete. With the right ethos, balanced team and right segment, DRA is well placed for the next level of growth. We are into value-driven homes for the mid-segment customers and mostly operate in the South of Chennai. We would like to be the largest bed-holders of co-living spaces in Chennai and I guess we will reach there in a year’s time.
What is special about DRA?
On time, every time! We have never delayed a project even by one single day! We have chosen to beat our own timelines in the over a couple of million square feet we have developed. Not even one customer would state that we delayed by even one day and we are proud of that fact! Out of humility, I would say we are the best with respect to customer confidence in terms of delivery!
How do you handle contingency issues?
Real estate is a sector which deals with a very volatile ecosystem. We have to obtain Government approvals, clearances, certificates, fire safety license, building license, PWD NOC, then there’s the banking ecosystem and above all the project has to sell. Customers also have to be satisfied as they are retail customers who are putting in their hard-earned money and at most times their lifetime savings. What we have learned is, with the right process and pro-activeness in each department will ensure there are no delays. Thinking ahead and preparing ourselves for eventualities helps us. We know it is Monsoon season in October so we will be prepared in advance to ensure that work doesn’t stop then. We start 6-months in advance to get the completion certificates. The planning that goes into our projects ensures we are successful in handing over on time! Government liasoning is out of our control but we have a very strong department with very experienced people, including some retired people from the government. Despite all this, there might be some very minor delays but we take responsibility and pay our customer’s EMIs.
How has your customer relationship been?
It is something we are very proud of. Something that is unique to our company is the Customer Delight Meter which is handled by a third party. They reach out to our customers at different periods – during the booking and at random times after that till the handover and mark a cumulative score, based on their feedback. We have over a thousand customers and are at 84% on the meter! This third party – Cloud chain also works for companies like Qatar Airlines and Kotak Bank. Our rating is as high as any hospitality brand!
What is your role at DRA?
My role in the company is not down to the nitty-gritty. Having a good team and trusting your team to execute is important. My role is to give a vision and a larger purpose to the organization. Above all the responsibilities to all the stakeholders, we want to make an impact in Chennai and my role is to take the team towards that inflection point where it wouldn’t matter who comes after me, as the company would keep growing.
What are the issues faced by real estate, currently?
Regulatory challenges, government liasoning, and negative sentiment. Apart from these, there shouldn’t be any major challenges as this industry is process driven and there are proper planning and managing of cash-flows. Single-window clearance from the government’s side for all departments would make things a lot easier for us. Rationalization in taxes would also help the industry to grow, as the GST, Stamp Duty, and Registration charges are all very high. If the government looks at real estate comprehensively and gives a time-bound delivery from their side or even if they allow self-certification, it would simplify things a lot. Unfortunately, for 5% of the community who do not follow the rules, the remaining 95% have to bear the burden.
Tell us about what your family and what you do when you’re not dealing with business…
My family gives me great support and without them, all this would have been difficult. I have a kind and loving wife and adorable children. Honestly, I am tuned to the business at all times. I like badminton and play at times. My children are interested in sports. My son plays cricket at the league level and I get to know a little about sports from him. At some point in time, later, I would like to pursue some other passions, like learning to play the Piano. I have supportive parents and above all, honest friends who are blunt to my face when it comes to my well-being. I have also joined a few organizations to learn. I am a member of the Entrepreneur Organization (EO), where I have entrepreneurial buddies from different industries. These people are like my independent Board Members. When I sound an idea or strategy, they give different perspectives. I’m blessed to have all of this!
How do you unwind?
I like traveling and once in two months either with friends or family. I make sure to visit five or six new countries, every year. I just returned from Tbilisi, Georgia, which is a great place. Next, I’m off to Japan and after that, Israel.
In India, there are very few investment opportunities. The middle-class believes in the land more than anything else as the stock market is very volatile and attract punters and pundits! People are currently a little negative on investing in real estate but they don’t have many alternatives. Also, there isn’t any other asset class where you can pay a minimum down payment and own an asset with the remaining being paid in EMI’s!
Who do you look up to as your idols?
People who have made an impact are the characters whom I like the most. Especially people who have defied the odds, not followed conventional theories, taken a great amount of risk in life… There are many such people in any field we look at and these are the people that inspire me, like MS Dhoni in sports. I used to love Barrack Obama when he was the President. In our industry, Jitu Virwani of the Embassy Group, in Bangalore, is very inspiring. I find his risk appetite highly interesting. He is by far, the largest asset holder in our country.
A few words for budding entrepreneurs…
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to have a risk appetite. You cannot play safe and secure and still expect to grow. Apply sensibility but don’t be afraid to take the required risk! Entrepreneurship is all about following your passion, thinking about it day in and day out. One needs to not stop living with your passion, they have to die with it! Give it your all and by all, I mean all! Actually, I urge everybody to be enterprising and explore the world of entrepreneurship and help generate more jobs, which makes it the biggest charity of all!