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Forbes India: 10 companies to watch out for

, Forbes India
Feb 08, 2010 at 01:48pm IST

Mick Jagger, the only surviving dinosaur from the Jurassic period, said that he became interested in cricket when he watched a young Dennis Lillee tear into bowl. Business is less a spectator sport and more a narrative. But how do you figure out who is the big story? Only a few entrepreneurs manage to make it big. Those manage to grow big create wealth for themselves, their shareholders, their employees and suppliers.

Most entrepreneurs in Forbes India’s “hidden gems” list fit the bill. They make their money in businesses as varied as coal tar pitch, cooling solutions, water desalination, building truck bodies and even water treatment. They overcome adversity. Most are unlisted companies who will go public some time. There are a few that are listed but they are still small and have growth left in their sails.

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Perhaps the most critical task for us was identifying these companies. We decided to use a surrogate way. We decided to follow the moneymen. We pored over a list of 800 deals private equity companies had done over the last four years and looked for companies seeing a sharp rise in sales, profits and valuation.

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Then we did the taste test. A few discreet calls to a few private equity investors that have made some serious money told us that the companies in our list were thought of highly. We applied a third hurdle. If there were more than one private equity investor in the company then that was one more thing in the favour of the company. Having identified the gems, we got Dun & Bradstreet to verify the financial numbers that companies were disclosing to us. Only when the numbers added up did we move ahead.

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The list that emerged had one very interesting common feature. Except for three companies, Acme and ACB (India) and Firepro, other seven companies are actually old businesses that been refurbished through smart business model changes and passionate entrepreneurship. Almost 90 percent of the businesses in India are family-owned. Once they were thought of as middling companies who would disappear once the IIT-IIM crowd took to business. That has not happened. Instead, the family-owned businesses have gone out, picked up new technology, learnt to value professionals and experimented with business models. For instance, Himadri Chemicals and Cebbco are such companies. The great thing is that the gems in our list are scattered all across the country — from Jabalpur to Thrissur.

This is why it is great to see blue-blooded Wall Street firms understand and finance some of these old businesses. Ten years ago, Goldman Sachs would have financed an IT services firm. A company like Sudhir Gensets would have been dismissed as an old entity with a commoditised business. But today, Goldman has put money in Sudhir because it knows that the company serves a real need that is unlikely to disappear in a hurry.

ACB (INDIA)

Promoted by G C Mrig, Capt. Rudra Sindhu and Major Satya Sindhu; Washes coal to reduce its ash content helping power plants to become more efficient and eco-friendly.

Secret Sauce Seasoned team, favourable regulation and sustained

demand for coal.

Financial Dashboard In 2006, Warburg Pincus bought a 24 percent stake for Rs. 310 crore. Aryan plans an IPO this year to raise Rs. 1,000 crore. Warburg will sell 10 percent. Aryan Coal’s valuation now stands nearly seven times its 2006 level.

What the Smart Set Saw First mover advantage.

Guiding Light To go beyond coal-washing and expand power generation capacity.

In 1998, when Mrig and his two friends founded Aryan Coal Benefications Ltd, the annual production of coal in India stood at about 250 million tonnes. Indian coal typically has high ash content that keeps combustibility low and affects the efficiency of power generation equipment. Only 5 percent of the coal production in the country was “washed” to reduce the ash content and most saw no need for this extra expense.

So it was not surprising when Mrig, who had spent 40 years in the industry including as managing director of Bharat Coking Coal Ltd., found it tough to get orders for his new company. His friends even wrote him off, saying, “Aapne toh paisa duba diya,” (you have wasted your money).

That was then. Now annual mining has increased to about 450 million tonnes. The government has made it compulsory for power stations located 1,000 kilometres or more from mines to wash the coal. Given that four out of 10 power stations in India are located in such faraway locations, the scope for the coal-washing business has expanded.

ACB has 62 million tonnes of coal-washing capacity, nearly half of the 130 million tonnes capacity in the whole of the country.

Private equity watchers now think that Aryan might do for Warburg Pincus this year what Bharti did for it nine years ago. And both investments were made by Pulak Prasad, who has since started his own hedge fund Nalanda Capital. Just the way Prasad spotted Sunil Mittal’s execution he was able to see Mrig’s understanding of this industry and execution skills.

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Most of ACB’s washeries are located very close to the coal fields and the transportation costs are low. The company has massive operating profit margins of 44 percent that the company makes. Crisil expects ACB to benefit from the increase in demand for washed coal and stringent prequalification requirements that restrict new players. So, its market share is not under threat in the foreseeable future.

ACB doesn’t waste the coal reject that remains after the washing either. It uses the material to runs some small power plants. With 4 million tonnes of coal reject coming free every year, this has become a very profitable way for ACB to dispose the waste.

Mrig says he got the idea to recycle the waste when he saw gold miners in South Africa going after dumped mines and the Chinese extracting most out of low-quality coal.

But now it wants to enter the big league. It plans to build a 1,200 MW power plant in Madhya Pradesh and a 1,100 MW plant in Chhattisgarh.

(by Prince Mathews Thomas)

HIMADRI CHEMICAL

India’s largest maker of coal tar pitch, used in making aluminium and graphite.

Founded by Kolkata-based Choudhary family. The second generation, led by Anurag Choudhary, has taken charge.

Secret Sauce Has the technology to convert even low quality tar into high quality coal tar pitch; has the scope to expand portfolio to 22 products from seven.

Financial Dashboard In 2008-09, revenue was $78 million, core profit margin was 38 percent.

What the Smart Set Saw “A quality product that is backed by robust customer service and technology expertise ,” says Vivek Chhachhi of CVCI, who says it was Himadri’s customers who helped spot and later recommended the company to the private equity major.

Guiding Light To become India’s largest ‘carbon corporation’.

It is easy to miss Himadri Chemicals’ plant in Singur, near Kolkata; being a lesser-known neighbour to the unfinished unit of Tata Motors’ Nano project. And even the few who did notice it, might not have guessed that what runs through a refinery-kind of network of pipes and storage tanks is coal tar.

Coal tar? Himadri Chemicals’ CEO Anurag Choudhary is used to the casual reaction from people. “Most think it is the tar used to make roads,” he says. But for Choudhary, coal tar is a multi-billion dollar opportunity that was first spotted by his father and three uncles back in 1987.

The main product made out of coal tar is coal tar pitch (CTP) that is used in making aluminium and graphite. “It was totally dominated by the plants of Steel Authority of India. But there was a 500 percent difference in the raw material price and selling price of CTP. We spotted the opportunity,” says Shyam Choudhary, Anurag’s father.

In 2007, Himadri unsuccessfully tried to take over Rutgers Chemicals, a Germany-based industry leader in CTP. But for Anurag, the whole experience was an eye-opener.

“Rutgers, a $1 billion-company, was making 22 products out of coal tar. We were making only two. So we decided to instead invest for organic growth,” he says.

Three years later, Himadri’s portfolio has expanded from two to seven products. “Almost 75 percent of coal tar pitch we make is used by aluminium companies, who are doubling their capacities in the next two years. We are also quadrupling our capacity and setting up another unit in China, the world’s largest market and maker of aluminium,” says Anurag.

He now wants to produce over 20 products at the Hooghly unit. Enough reasons for Bain Capital to find its first investment in India in Himadri last year and for Citigroup Venture Capital International, which had fist invested in 2006, to stay put for “at least three more years.”

(by Prince Mathews Thomas)

FIREPRO SYSTEMS

Founded by N S Narendra; Provides fire protection and security solutions

Secret Sauce Follows the integrated approach to make sure that the customer gets all the services under one roof. Went global early and now gets 25 percent of revenues from overseas.

Financial Dashboard AIG Investments (now PineBridge Investments) invested Rs. 50 crore in 2006 for 23 percent. Recently Standard Chartered PE invested Rs. 150 crore, at four times the valuation that Pinebridge invested at.

What the Smart Set Saw A company that looked and behaved like its IT peers but was catering to a faster growing construction industry.

N R Narayana Murthy probably doesn’t know N S Narendra though both of them attended the same college--Mysore’s National Institute of Engineering--but 20 years apart. The similarities don’t end there. Like Murthy, Narendra also founded his company in a small room with a capital of a little more than Rs 10,000 back in 1993. And very much like Infosys, today Firepro is a synonym for its industry - fire protection and security solutions.

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And to do that, Narendra first focussed on project delivery to differentiate Firepro from the mom-and-pop companies that had come to dominate the market. So when Intel was developing a 500,000 square feet property in Bangalore and had a specific deadline to finish it, it chose Firepro. “This is important because about 35 percent of the business comes from repeat customers,” says Narendra.

But when the competition from multinational like Honeywell and Siemens increased, Narendra did what nobody else had done before. “We followed an integrated model from 2000. While others would specialise in security and automation or fire suppression system, we brought every service under one roof as technology was evolving. We even now work with IT companies like Cisco to provide network solutions like developing city surveillance system for Bangalore.”

And to make sure that he always had the edge, Narendra invested in people. Of the 1,500 employees, 80 percent are technically qualified. He even managed to lure people employed with international fire protection companies and information technology firms to work for him. And Narendra has been willing to pay for talent with salary packages for senior positions increasing five-fold within two years.

Firepro’s revenue have jumped from Rs. 20 crore in 2002 to Rs. 500 crore last year. A fourth of this revenue comes from international operations – another differentiator for Firepro. Next on his agenda — one on which Narendra has made “a certain amount of investment” (as he puts it) — is providing premium home automation solutions for high-end customers.

The initiative has also seen the company trying to transform itself from a business-to-business company to a business-to-consumer company. It has opened an outlet in Bangalore with plans for more in other cities.

The big question, of course, is whether the Indian market has evolved enough to demand expensive home-security solutions that involve using the remote control or a handset from anywhere in the world to monitor what is going on at one’s home? Narendra is willing to take the bet and so are his two investors – AIG and Standard Chartered PE.

(by Prince Mathews Thomas)

VA TECH WABAG

Water treatment company. Bought out by Rajiv Mittal and his colleagues with private equity assistance. Took over its parent to become an India-based global player.

Secret Sauce VA Tech Wabag’s Austrian roots and local management gives it a twin advantage of global technology and economical costs.

Financial Dashboard This has been one of ICICI Ventures best investment ever. It sold a part of its stake realising an annualised return of over 240 percent over five years.

What the Smart Set Saw A competent management, a bunch of patents and a growing opportunity.

Many years ago, Rajiv Mittal was just another employee in UK-based Wabag Water Engineering, which later became VA Tech Wabag. A quirk of circumstances and the early leadership lesson saw Mittal stave off big competition from the likes of engineering giant Larsen and Toubro to buy the Indian arm of VA Tech in 2005. Another set of events finally culminated in Mittal buying out the Austrian parent in 2007, overnight making him a global player with a presence in 19 countries and a large research establishment in Vienna.

The demand for water industry is exploding. The desalination business is expected to grow at 26 percent per year. It is this opportunity Mittal is poised to tap.

Mittal and his colleagues, who had invested Rs. 10 crore for a minority stake in 2007, are worth more than Rs. 400 crore for their current 38 percent stake. Investors like Singapore Investment Board, Passport Capital and Satra have latched on to the story buying 30 percent in the last one year. ICICI Ventures, which helped Mittal in the management buyout, made its biggest ever return when it sold a part of its stake. As Mittal and ICICI Venture mull an initial issue of shares in the coming months, VA Tech may well be poised to be the next hot stock on the block.

VA Tech has a great presence in the government sector--cleaning up sewage water in cities and fixing drinking water supplies. Mumbai, which now sends its sewage into the Arabian sea, is set to put out a $1billion contract in the next couple of years to treat it and reuse the water for non-potable purposes. Mittal has been making his rounds to the city and is confident of winning a few contracts. Recently, his firm won the biggest desalination project in Chennai, with IDE as its partner.

However, the opportunity is attracting serious competition already. Having managed to set up a Indian multinational leader, VA Tech now has to defend it turf, retain its talent and keep its cost competiveness to stay remain the leader in its business. Mittal is already tied up with Chennai-based Anna University to do local research and is also setting up a local research centre to augment its existing centre in Austria. Says Mittal: “Water technology is still evolving and we have as much as an opportunity as anyone else in the business.”

(by T Surendar)

SUDHIR GENSETS

Makes power generators using know-how from Cummins. Promoter Sudhir Seth is transforming the business into a service-driven one.

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Secret Sauce Extensive range of electricity generators powered by know-how from a three-decade-old “marriage” with Cummins, all put together at six manufacturing plants

Financial Dashboard Net sales - Rs.900 crore; Net profit margin–between 11-12 percent. Net sales CAGR over the last five years 21 percent. Goldman Sachs and GE Investments together invested Rs.300 crore in 2007 for a 10 percent stake, valuing the company at Rs.3000 crore.

What the Smart Set Saw An efficient, stable and profitable market solution to India’s perennial power woes.

More than three decades after Sudhir Seth decided to manufacture power generators to address the electricity shortfall faced by small and medium Indian businesses, the energy shortage hasn’t abated. Meanwhile, Sudhir Gensets has become a Rs.1,000 crore company with over 40,000 customers across India.

With a 60 percent share in the segments that he operates in, Sudhir is today buys giving his business a services touch. The company has now started to rent out gensets to real estate and infrastructure projects. The company expects this new revenue stream to account for 5 to 7 percent of revenue.

Sudhir’s rapid growth over the last few years was powered to a large extent by the telecom and real estate sectors, both of which were building cell sites, homes and offices at a furious pace. As growth for both sectors got broad-based towards middle India, where power was unreliable at best or absent at worst, Sudhir became the de-facto power utility.

But with telecom and real estate growth rates much slower than earlier, the company started looking for newer sources of revenue. The services business has emerged as one answer.

Till now Sudhir Gensets was only interested in making the sale, with post-sale servicing being done by local dealers. But after realising the importance of steady maintenance revenue, it has started offering its own maintenance services to customers in Punjab to begin with. Seth says the pilot has been extremely promising, even helping it grow its marketshare by 5-6 percent in the state due to a better understanding of customer needs born from frequent service interactions.

Offering turnkey project management and implementation services around power projects and electricity contracts is another area of growth. “Rather than selling our products to contractors, we become the contractors,” says Seth’s son, Rahul, who is also the company’s joint managing director. “The response has been so overwhelming that we are setting up a new manufacturing plant in Manesar to address this additional demand,” says Seth.

(by Rohin Dharmakumar)

CEBBCO

Makes steel bodies for goods carriers. Promoted by Kailash Gupta and Ajay Gupta

Secret Sauce Technical knowledge that combines knowledge of motion technology and steel fabrication.

Financial Dashboard Jacob Ballas, which has New York Life as its anchor investor, has invested in the company at a valuation of Rs. 110 crore. Today the company is being valued in the range of Rs. 500-600 crore.

What the Smart Set Saw An entrepreneur who had built deep relationships within the heavy vehicles industry and who was nimble enough to adapt his business model in the worst of times.

Guiding Light To use knowledge and technology to be the largest player in fabrication for goods applications like trucks and railway wagons.

For Ajay Gupta, opportunity was born out of a crisis. Gupta had just invested Rs. 40 crore to automate his plant when the goods carrier market went into a cold freeze in 2008. “In adversity, you can either sit and wait for the situation to clear out or try and figure a way out. Ajay did the latter,” says Vinay Shah, CEO, Mosaic Capital, whose firm also provides corporate finance advice to Cebbco.

Forced to look for alternatives, Gupta figured that Cebbco’s fabrication strength and domain expertise could be applied to one sector that wasn’t moribund: Indian Railways. He decided to move into the territory decisively. And in a short time, he established a successful business there.

Gupta took charge at Cebbco, his father-in-law’s company, only five years ago when it was a Rs. 20-crore company making “bodies” for Tata trucks. Aided by low costs of conversion, Gupta took the business to Rs. 116 crore. The railway business is helping the fast ramping up.

There is a risk that it may get some tough competition for the wagon business. But Cebbco is going beyond just wagons and doing refurbishment for locomotives as well. His investors believe that Gupta should not take his eyes off the core business. “I think Railway business is great and it was commendable the way Ajay has gone out and got this business, but he should keep his core business extremely competitive,” says Bharat Bakshi, Jacob Ballas.

(by Shishir Prasad)

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SHRIRAM TRANSPORT FINANCE

Belongs to Chennai-based Shriram Group. Lends to small truck owners. Focusses on the segment not taken by banks.

Secret Sauce Built scale in a niche business by understanding the customer well.

Financial Dashboard ChrysCapital invested at Rs 35 per share in 2005; TPG Newbridge came in at Rs. 112 per share in 2006; JM Finance/Blueridge/Tiger Global paid Rs 300 per share in 2007.

What the Smart Set Saw An ability to minimise risk in a segment considered high-risk.

Guiding Light To streamline the business by eliminating the middlemen dominating the truck resale business.

It is an unusual business model by any count. As soon as its customers become large enough, Shriram Transport Finance Company (STFC) asks them to take their business away to a bank. The company will only lend to truckers who own between one and four trucks. A bulk of the lending is for the resale of old trucks. Yet, the model, which has helped build a customer base of 1.4 million customers and an asset value of 27,000 crore for the Chennai-based company, has been hugely successful. STFC has over the past 30 years built up a rapport with the trucker fraternity which has been impossible for anyone else to replicate so far.

So how does one make money by lending to a category that was left out by traditional lenders for being high-risk? “Serving sub-prime customers was no easy task,” says R. Sridhar, managing director of STFC. “For years, STFC would get a lower credit-rating because of the customer profile, leading to more expensive funds. Finding resources from the banks and institutions for this large but credit starved segment was an ardous process.’’

Despite this handicap, the company was able to bring in institutional credit to the market that it built up simultaneously. The rates at which it lends have softened to 16-18 percent per year from above 20 percent even four years ago. Ironically, the company’s large customer base helps it spread the risk, says Sridhar.

One measure of STFC’s success is the returns that the Delhi-headquartered private equity firm ChrysCap reaped last month, when it sold off its holding at 11-12 times its investment. ChrysCap earned more than Rs 1,400 crore on the investment it made five years ago.

The focus at STFC these days is to expand the business further, by pushing out the traditional truck brokers who dominate the resale market. This is being done by organising the sales of repossessed trucks at auctions all over the country. STFC finances the purchase but without any commission, saving money for both buyer and seller. The company has begun maintaining a nationwide database of trucks, with pictures of the machine and details of its condition and age. Truckers can access these on touch screens and decide if they want to buy a vehicle.

(by Cuckoo Paul)

MANAPPURAM FINANCE

Thrissur-based lender against gold collateral. Promoted by P.H. Nandakumar

Secret Sauce Low-cost, high-speed working capital lending against one collateral most Indians have: Old gold ornaments.

Financial Dashboard Sequioa Capital invested in 2006 at Rs. 130 a share. UK-based fund Ashmore-Alchemy invested a year later at Rs. 170 a share. Today, the share price is Rs. 677.

What the Smart Set Saw Lending to customers who aren’t necessarily poor but who would never access a bank. All lending backed by gold!

Lending against gold is an age-old business and at the face of it quite simple. After all, what does a lender do? He assess the value of jewelry and gives out a loan on a substantial portion of its value. Theoretically, then, this should be a totally commoditised business. But then, there are some like Manappuram Finance that take it a professional notch higher.

Till 2006, the business trudged along with a growth rate of around 15-20 percent per year. Then in 2006, something changed. ICICI Bank saw a potential in bankrolling entities who were reaching out to the unbanked. And Nandakumar decided to step on the gas. He borrowed to boost his lending capacity, but also raised equity to keep a leash on his own gearing. As a result, Manappuram’s network has grown from 50 branches in 2006 to almost 900 branches today.

Nandakumar likes to keep each branch very small and leanly staffed. When the business grows, he doesn’t go for a bigger office but opens a new branch. “Our aim is to give a loan in five minutes. Today. it takes about 10-15 minutes still. We want to cut that down,” says I. Unnikrishnan, president.

The gold lender’s costing is his advantage. “Assume 20 minutes for a loan. So 25 loans a day? Assume 20,000 loan size. That’s just Rs. 5 crore business. My costs are less Rs. 2 lakh per branch. It would be hard for a bank or even an NBFC to keep their costs so low,” says Unnikrishnan. So players like Fullerton, Reliance Money, Shriram Chits and even Mahindra & Mahindra Finance tried getting into the gold loan business but haven’t been able to scale up.

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What’s next? “There is no reason why can’t grow to 2,000 or 3,000 branches across India. After all, gold is there in almost every Indian household.” Ask Nandakumar whether he sees any risks and pat comes the reply: “Yes if the price of gold falls to zero then we are in trouble.”

(by Shishir Prasad)

ACME TLELPOWER

Manufactures “passive” infrastructure products like enclosures, air conditioners and power management units for telecom companies. Founded by Manoj Kumar Upadhyay, 39.

Secret Sauce Materials that cool electronic equipment using very little electricity

Financial Dashboard Net sales (for the 14 months to May 2009) was Rs.2,130 crore; Net profit was Rs.505 crore; five year CAGR of 128 percent for sales and 122 percent for profit; Rs.300 crore cash flow generated from operating activities in a 14 month period; raised Rs.197 crore from DB International, Earthstone Holdings and Kotak Mahindra Capital in 2007 by selling 1.66 percent in 2007 and another Rs.400 crore from Monsoon India Inflection Fund and Jackson Heights Investments in 2008 by selling 3.35 percent. Acme’s valuation in both cases was around $3 billion. But when market conditions delayed Acme’s planned 2007 IPO, the company was forced to buy back most of the shares held by these investors.

What the Smart Set Saw A great inventor who understands energy applications inside out and has been able to build a business of Rs. 2,000 crore in just six years.

It is not often that a fast-growing company with revenues in hundreds of crores is able to expand without having to dilute the capital or borrow heavily. One could argue that when a company reaches revenues of Rs. 100 crore, its need for capital balloons and the entrepreneur must necessarily resort to external financing.

Manoj Upadhyay was able to reach Rs 1,500 crore without diluting any stake and needed to take just Rs. 100 crore as debt. Considering that his clients were huge companies like Airtel, Vodafone and such like his products must have enjoyed a huge advantage to command the premium that they did. His internal accruals were huge enough to fund the growth.

And he has done this through fulfilling a very simple need of mobile companies. He reduced costs of operating shelters that house mobile companies’ base-stations. Almost 35-40 percent of costs of running these shelters can be attributed to electricity costs in cooling electronic equipment inside a base station. Upadhyay’s company makes materials that maintain AC-like temperatures without electricity and even air conditioners without any compressors.

But with the telecom sector bleeding from falling tariffs and intense competition, Acme is trying a new tack to keep growing. It is setting up towers of its own. The maximum number of telecom towers that are economically feasible for operators is around 350,000, says Upadhyay. That number could be 450,000 if operators could get “Delhi prices in Mizoram” from their towers.

Enter “Ultra Low Cost Solution” (ULCS), Acme’s most complete and power-efficient solution for telecom sites, which it claims consumes 40 to 60 percent less energy than existing solutions. “A typical multi-site tower uses 25-30 KW of energy, we can now do it in 5 KW,” he says.

Upadhyay is now setting up his own towers using his ULCS solution, in remote and hitherto unviable locations, to offer them on a rental basis to telecom operators. The only other way his customers can buy ULCS is if they buy a ten-year service agreement from Acme.

As the telecom sector keeps attracting more and more entrants and they launch more services, expect Acme to retain its top slot.

(by Rohin Dharmakumar)

NITESH ESTATES

Bangalore-based real estate developer; promoted by Nitesh Shetty.

Secret Sauce Uses the joint venture model to build some of the best addresses in Bangalore.

Financial Dashboard Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, one of the biggest hedge funds in the world, has quadrupled its investments since 2007.

What the Smart Set Saw A young entrepreneur with verve and a differentiated, low-risk business model in a fast growing business.

Guiding Light For now, it is adrenalin. Says Nitesh Shetty, 32, “We wanted to show that young companies can fight the big boys.”

Nitesh Shetty was all of 24 when he started building some 80,000 square feet of property in the heart of Bangalore city where he grew up. Shetty, at that time, had no experience in the real estate business and his first tryst was a lost court case with a prominent city builder. Shetty had managed to convince the owner of the property to jointly develop the piece of land under his firms’ brand name. The trick worked.

Today Nitesh Estates is developing over 8 million square feet of hotels, housing, commercial and retail space in the country. This includes the Rs. 700 crore Ritz Carlton project – the first one from the global chain in the country. Pitched against veterans like Delhi-based DLF and Unitech who accumulated land over decades, Shetty has made a name for itself by a joint venture model. Nitesh Estate doesn’t buy land but instead it makes the land owner a partner and gives him a portion of the total revenue from the developed property. Not only does Shetty save the capital for buying the property, but he also saves a considerable time in land acquisition.

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Shetty, a national tennis player and a close friend of Mahesh Bhupati, started an advertising business borrowing Rs. 12,000 from his mother. His company, Serve and Volley, got a big break when it won the contracts for advertising in the Delhi and Calcutta Metros. Shetty wanted to do something bigger and a property in M.G Road, Bangalore’s high street bought him into the thick of the business.

In the real estate business, this far, only companies with big land banks attracted high valuations. Shetty, however, worked with an asset-light model through his joint ventures. After six years, Nitesh’s 8 million sq.ft. under development compares well with new players like India Bulls real estate and Phoenix Mills. Shetty’s projects are mostly in Bangalore but he is slowly expanding to other cities. The company is developing luxury villas in Goa and will shortly issue shares to raise capital to expand its operations. With cities like Mumbai redeveloping their old precints, Shetty is looking at a large opportunity that won’t vanish in a hurry.

(by T Surendar & Ashish K Mishra)

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