Transforming Skylines, Shaping Futures

  The two are as distinct from each other as chalk is from cheese. He is quiet and reserved, while she talks nineteen to the dozen. She loves grooving to dance beats, even as he prefers sitting still in a corner with the laptop. On most weekends, you would invariably find him at home, while for her, Saturdays and Sundays imply being out with friends till the break of dawn. She detests reading, but he devours books on fiction and fantasy. These differences notwithstanding, the two remain united in their mission – to further the business empire started by their father. Meet Priyanka Mantri and Pratik Mantri, scions of the innovation-led, future-focused Mantri Developers that is rapidly changing the skylines of South India with projects spanning the residential, commercial, retail, hospitality and education sectors. In an exclusive interaction with RITZ, the brother-sister duo open up about their ambitions, passions and plans to steer ahead the real estate behemoth in a turbulent market scenario.

“We were young kids then, fighting with one another, pulling each other’s leg and then making things even just like any other pair of siblings,” recall Priyanka and Pratik of the late 1990s, the year 1999 to be precise, when their father Sushil Mantri started Mantri Developers. Today, the venture boasts a `1000-crore turnover, has built over 45 projects, and is one of the most recognised names in the real estate market in South India.

The real estate sector in India, which is predicted to scale $180 billion in four years’ time, is currently going through a bit of a topsy-turvy phase, with demand witnessing a slight decline. The siblings however remain highly optimistic. Says Pratik, “the residential trend has slowed down quite a bit, but this is more towards the high-end, with sluggishness being seen in case of apartments in the `1.5 – 2 crore bracket. On the other hand, demand for apartments in the `40-80 lakh range is moving quite well. There is a boom in the commercial segment as well with startups and newer ventures looking for office space.”

“Ditto with retail, which is also witnessing a boom,” adds Priyanka, who heads marketing (Retail) for Mantri. According to her, organised retail has evolved over the years, ever since the group’s first mall, Mantri Square in Bengaluru, which opened in 2010. “We called it the ‘Taj Mahal effect’ then as hordes of people would walk into the mall just to see the structure. Over the years we’ve witnessed a massive shift in consumer behaviour, with many people making purchases rather than merely indulging in window shopping. We now have a footfall of about 25,000 people on any given working day, and about 50,000 on weekends. The demand for organised retail has shot up over the years,” says Priyanka, adding that as a result of the demand, the group has plans of opening two more malls in the near future..

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Tech’s The Future

To surge ahead in a digital economy means embracing technology-led innovations and digital platforms. Pratik is focused on consolidating the technology base for the group, automating systems and leveraging the power of social media to forge constructive relations with customers. “Social media is a great tool for customers to correspond with developers in a quick fashion. We as a company are very responsive through our social channels. We keep a record of every single complaint or feedback that we receive and give our responses within 24 hours.” As a key step towards ramping up the tech base for Mantri, Pratik is working on the website. “We want it to provide different types of information and appeal to everyone, right from prospective buyers to someone who has already bought a home, and to vendors and suppliers. Basically, we want to build a complete ecosystem through the website.”

What more does the company need to take stock of in order to maintain its position in a competitive market? “The key factor that is lacking is further automation of processes which has increased dramatically in recent years. In highly industrialized countries, process automation serves to enhance product quality, master the whole range of products, improve process safety and, efficiently utilize resources resulting in lower emissions. In developing countries, mass production is the main motivation for applying process automation.” Pratik wants to automate across the board at Mantri so that systems run by themselves. “I feel we have a great opportunity to leverage technology to build buildings faster, reduce delivery time, get better customers, induce greater transparency, and pass on information in a rapid manner; all of which will contribute towards helping people build their dream homes.”

Upping The CSR Ante

Alongside automation and technology, another aspect which is high on the Mantri radar is corporate social responsibility (CSR). Priyanka’s entry into the group years ago had marked a paradigm shift in the CSR wing of Mantri, with initiatives in skill development, education and sustainability gaining much more credence. Through Mantri SEVA, as the CSR wing is called, education and training on soft skills and hard skills is provided to high school drop-outs at a centre on the outskirts of Bengaluru.  About 120 pupils are currently engaged in this course. “We’ve tied up with the Smile Foundation and we ultimately try and get them placed in BPOs and the retail sector. I want to focus more on making women employable through this initiative,” says Priyanka. Moreover, through the sustainability programme, Mantri SEVA is pushing towards a greener Bengaluru by conducting cleanliness drives and sapling plantation activities. As the conversation moves towards ‘green’, a quiet thought runs through the mind. Hasn’t the green cover depleted in Bengaluru over the years, owing majorly to construction? “It has,” says Priyanka, but that’s because of the increase in infrastructure is what she believes. “Bengaluru is developing and the development is moving towards the outskirts of the city. Whatever we can do, we try to do in terms of our green initiatives. Our buildings are green buildings now because that’s our way of ensuring a level of sustainability within our projects.”

As brother and sister speak passionately about their projects and work, you cannot help but wonder if this is really where they always dreamt of working. “I was pretty much always inclined towards this business,” says Pratik, going on to reveal how during one particular summer vacation in his early teens, he’d ended up interning at a construction site and learning the nitty-gritties. But Priyanka’s is another story altogether. Dreaming of becoming a doctor, she had taken up science in college. “Well, things changed and I eventually moved to commerce.” To this statement, Pratik is quick to respond. “In fact our dad wanted me to be a civil engineer. But I hate mathematics!”

So what’s it like to be working with a sibling? “We are not siblings in office and our relationship at work is highly professional,” says the petite Priyanka, adding that as employees of Mantri, they follow all the protocols and systematic procedures that have been set. Her younger brother, who towers over her at 6 feet, is quick to add that once they head out, they are back to being siblings who hang out together to have some fun.  “It is well established that we are colleagues at work and siblings after 7PM,” states Pratik.

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Into The Future

Providing a glimpse into his future plans, Pratik circles back to automation.  “You see, automation mitigates errors and this is needed in real estate where people invest their life savings in a house.”  He is also looking to diversify into sectors such as hospitality, though he says it is still “too early to divulge on the specifics.”

Priyanka meanwhile is keen on exploring other departments within the retail sector that go beyond her forte of marketing. “Everything is a part of my agenda. I want to learn how a mall is built from scratch.”

As the camaraderie and friendly banter between the two rolls on, you cannot help but think how lucky are those siblings who get to work together. Good luck to both!

5 things you both have learnt from your dad…

Pratik: His attention to detail, punctuality, decision-making ability, straightforwardness and being adaptive to change.

Priyanka: What I’ve learnt from dad is dedication, risk-taking ability, decision-making, being to the point, and keeping personal and professional lives separate.

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Rapid Fire

How does Mantri compare with competitors?

Our organisation runs more on a system based format rather than one individual’s opinions. This allows all decisions that are taken to be collective and fairly unbiased, giving us a huge advantage in an industry which is soon to become highly organised.

Your contributions that have made a difference at Mantri…

Pratik: Specifically speaking, the upcoming redesign of our website is one as it caters equally to our existing customers as well as new prospects.

Priyanka: The CSR activities under Mantri SEVA have managed to catapult the brand as a responsible organisation, and this has also helped shape the lives of those who cannot afford a basic livelihood of their own.

How do you both see yourself three years from now?

Pratik: I feel I will have a much larger perspective on Mantri and on the industry as a whole. This will allow for better decision-making and provide a broader grip on strategic operations.

Priyanka: In 3 years, I see myself handling one vertical of the business on my own, making it a profit centre for the business.

If you were to undo something related to work that you did, what would it be?

Pratik: I would have stopped trying to replicate other people’s work and rather establish my own way of working.

Priyanka: If I had to undo something, I would have set procedures and practices well in advance, rather than follow the old ones, learn the hard way and then reinvent the wheel in the areas of work under my supervision.

What’s it about Bengaluru that you like most?

Pratik: The people. They’re casual and don’t interfere in other people’s business. The people here make you come back.

What’s your vision for Bengaluru?

We need a well thought out plan with a clear distinction and incentives to create growth corridors. The dream of every homeowner today is to be able to walk to work and this can be made possible only through city planning.

How do you guys unwind?

Pratik: I read and relax at home

Priyanka: I dance. I’m a trained salsa and belly dancer.

Cars that you drive…

Pratik: Toyota Prado

Priyanka: Mercedes E Class