The Change Makers – Srinivasan Gopalan, CEO of Ozone Group

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It might seem like great audacity in the way they leverage emerging trends, technology, finance and sheer brain power to get things done in ways not done before – they are bold leaders in their respective businesses whose growth, innovation and presence in that world is marked by success and something so big and so impactful, that it changes the landscape.

They are change makers. They see things – and it is in their transformational genius, that organisations under them go from being ordinary to exceptional. And how do they get their ideas? Simple – they work at it.  They focus on pursing their goals, are never satisfied with the ordinary and are certainly not lucky. They just were and are committed to the pursuit of excellence, dreams, creativity, passion and innovation. They are the doers and are persistent individuals who understand potential is of little value if it fails to be realised! They focus their efforts on shattering the status quo, challenge norms, break conventions and encourage diversity of thought. The message here is simple: don’t just play the game – change it. And above all they are the ones who truly understand the value of serving something beyond themselves.

The Change Makers (4)

We have here four such individuals who have literally changed the name of the game. In their respective fields of design and architecture, education, jewellery and the real estate. Meet Krithika Subrahmaniam, architect, Anand, Director NAC jewellers, CEO & Founder Stylori, Srinivasan Gopalan, CEO of Ozone Group and Regeena Jeppiaar, Director of Jeppiaar College of Engineering – all of whom have lots to show for when it comes to their work and the strides made through the years and the difference it has made to the landscape of their pursuit.

Text – Chitra Mahesh

Photographer – Karthik Srinivasan

Make up – Naturals Lounge, TTK Road, Alwarpet, Chennai

Srinivasan Gopalan, CEO of Ozone Group

You look at him and you just know he is an achiever. In his stride, in his forthright manner and in the simple straightforward way that he talks. Srinivasan Goplan, the CEO of Ozone Group is driven, focused and game for new pastures.

It’s been a long journey towards this point, we can see.

Yes, I started out as a chartered accountant at Deloite, went into an agro chemical company in Mumbai, a dot com firm, a chemical company and then into acquiring a hard core organic chemical company and finally into real estate, which is my current field of activity.

I was with the Wadhwa group in Mumbai, doing well as CFO and then the Chief Operating Officer for about 7 years. A split in the family made me move – amicably of course, to Bengaluru to Ozone, which was two and a half years ago.

In such a short time you have managed to scale great heights!

See, all the hard work was done before me – land was acquired, approvals were in place and all I did was to ensure the focus and keep selling.

What is the strong point here, apart from this focus and selling?

Adding value to customers is the USP of our group. If the customer wants a 10,000 square feet house, I will make it and if he wants a 500 square feet house I can make that too. I am very adaptable to change, so if today the market indicates that smaller houses are the key, then we go ahead with that.

The Change Makers (5)

As someone who is driving change, what do you see as your goals, plans and vision?

Three years back, I made a promise to my employees that five years down the road we will be among the top five in India. And we are half way through there now. There are a lot of changes happening in the environment, in the real estate sector per say. The recent demonetisation came as a surprise. Then came the Benami Act and the RERA, all of which are good when it comes to a structured setup like ours. It has been a catalyst for us, mainly because the group institutionally holds a minority stake as the promoter and the entire burden of the loans are secured by us, the promoters.  We own only about 24 per cent and are used to a culture of a structured way of functioning and have never used cash in any of our dealings. Ever. We have institutions to answer to and once cash comes in, there is no accountability. We are the only industry where we actually sell air – no finished product. It’s just a vision and people trust us and invest. And the current changes especially the Benami Act will help stabilise prices and provide transparency. A lot of foreign money will come in now.

These changes are extremely good for companies like ours and we welcome every change that is coming. We are geared fully and just need to do some tweaking to ensure smooth sailing.

So in about three years what are the changes that you have brought about?

I come from a market in Mumbai that is not really structured unlike here in Chennai and Bengaluru.  Here you have to earn the price increase only through performance. Operationally, you are expected to be extremely clear that the one rupee you say is the increase is truly worth it.  The end user here can come with an inch tape to check whether the promise of space is indeed what has been said. He keeps you on your toes. Changes are largely about achieving increases in the square footage so that the overhead costs can be absorbed and the salary cost or marketing cost gets distributed. Also I have managed to work towards achieving the average realisation – from Rs 7000 to 9500 to 12000, which meant entering the Mumbai market. Today I have totally two and a half crore square feet of which Urbana in Bengaluru, itself is 200 acres. Here in Chennai it is 85 lakh square feet and there are several others too in Whitefield, Sarjapur etc. We are also contemplating some projects in London – smaller projects partnering with landlords. No high rises, as it takes a lot of time and costs keep increasing exponentially and you don’t make money. If at all, I would go only up to 20 stories.

What really drives the company forward?

This company is a sales and customer driven one. So around 300 employees focus on sales, releases and handing over of flats to people and ensuring that they have the best experience ever. A couple of years ago the turnover was around Rs 400 crores but today we are touching Rs 1000 crores. We have grown with offices spread across the world.

You mean there is such a demand?

Every sixth person in the world is an Indian – and out of this proportion outside, 65 percent are South Indians especially Keralites.  And we are able to fulfill the demand for a Rs 5 crore, Rs 10 crore and Rs 50 lakh project to suit everyone who wants to buy a house.  We fulfill the dreams of even an ordinary worker and that makes my customer base huge. But then, for instance in Bengaluru we make products between Rs 40 lakhs to a crore.  And these customers are those who take a bank loan and not those who offer cash. I don’t want surplus cash because I don’t want my business to get affected. Another advantage is that there is credibility about the customer and the bank ensures that the payment does come. The third aspect is that if I keep performing the money will keep coming from the bank. I don’t even have to see the customer. So we have hedged the business in a clear manner. This market is not a bull market and we are never going to see those 2008 days, where super normal profits were possible. It has to get evened out at some point. It is the law of nature!

Today you should own your profit, you’ve got to be transparent, be of serious value to the customer and make the brick and mortar real estate into a service.

So what moves have you made in that direction?

We have started a senior care with 700 units only for senior living – all sold out. When my mother died I couldn’t reach her on time. My father is 82, and if something happens I need at least some kind of first aid for him. Which is what we are trying to do with these homes. In Urbana, we have para medics, nurses and a doctor on call along with a hospital. The life of each customer is very important.

This is especially important for the NRI community. We built a team only to take care of the needs of such investors and constant updates are given to them so that the hand-holding is continuous, whether it is housekeeping, leasing, selling or any other facilities they may want. Today 30 per cent of our revenue comes from abroad. It started with one percent or at best three. We are present in every market today – Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, US, UK… we have offices everywhere.

How is Ozone placed vis a vis the other big players?

When you deal with us, there is transparency.  We score there. We are doing something many others are not doing. We make products, we keep our eyes open, quickly adapt to changing needs, understand the market and stay customer focused. We work as if we are start-ups today. I am ruthless with my sales team; each one of them has to earn their incentives and if my sales person does not earn his incentives in two quarters he is not adding value to me. You earn money, because unless you do I wont. We make reasonable profits.

What influences have there been on the growth?

The growth interest rates have fallen and now the 2009 rates are back – loans are available at 8 percent and this is a big boost.  We are optimistic and that’s why we are developers! We believe the prices cannot drop further than this and that they will hold. I also feel land prices are not really going to come down either. We don’t believe in being burglars or greedy. We want to make money reasonably and not at the cost of the customer.

How do you see yourself as a change maker?

The thrust is to keep selling at a price the market is ready to accept without reduce our volume.  Our policy is to be affordable, deal with people properly and provide them what they want with a service element. If they want milk delivered then we will offer that too. Offer fully furnished apartments, which saves them the trouble of dealing with carpenters etc. As long as you keep adding value, you remain the  market leader. We will continue to explore newer markets at minimum risk.

Personal mantra?

Work hard. Be truthful and transparent and leave the rest to the Almighty.