I am 10 minutes late for my meeting with Revathy Ashok at the Oberoi in Bangalore. I send her frantic, apologetic SMSes only to find out that she is even more delayed. Stuck in front of the Oberoi for the last 20 minutes, she says. We meet in the lobby and spend a pleasant few minutes complaining about Bangalore traffic. It occurs to me that this, then, is what binds us urban Indians from Bihar to Bangalore. It isn’t the national anthem or the tricolour; it is shared traffic woes.
Bihar, incidentally, is where Revathy grew up. She moved to Bangalore when she was 16 to pursue an undergraduate degree at Mount Carmel. After writing the CAT exam on a lark, she got into IIM, Bangalore, where she met her husband, Ashok—himself no academic slouch, having graduated from the IIT, Madras. They have two children—a daughter, Lavanya, who is working in the US, and a son, Vishruth, who is in Class 11 at National Public School in Bangalore. We get all this out of the way in a few minutes. This perhaps is how women bond—by sharing stories about kids and husbands.
The coffee shop at the Oberoi is an oasis of calm after the cacophony outside. We settle into a booth. Revathy politely waits for me to order even though I’ve made it clear that I am the host. It is 11am—too early for gin and too late for coffee. I order a watermelon juice and she, an orange juice (“no sugar please”).
We lean back and take a measure of each other. She is an attractive woman, with an erect bearing and easy smile. Clad simply in a brown cotton salwar-kameez, she is wearing a maroon bindi, which makes me happy. I may get into trouble for saying this, but over the years, I find many heavy-hitting corporate women embrace the distinctive sari, but give up on the bindi.
As director of finance and information technology of the newly formed TSI Ventures, which bills itself as India’s first “fully integrated” real-estate firm, Revathy is at the forefront of what she calls the “corporatization” of real estate.
TSI ventures comes with a prominent pedigree—it is a joint venture between ICICI Venture and Tishman Speyer, which owns such New York landmarks as the Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building. Revathy’s job is to bring good governance, quality, predictability and sustainability into the nebulous world of Indian real estate. “Indian real estate is where Indian telecom was 10 years ago,” she says. “We would like to make real estate a tradeable commodity.”
Having raised $700 million (about Rs2,900 crore) in assets, Revathy and her team now get to “play on a large canvas”, as she says. The firm has invested in two massive real-estate ventures, both near Hyderabad. Andhra Pradesh is much more proactive and open to groundbreaking ideas than others, says Revathy.
The first is a Rs1,000 crore commercial complex near the Indian School of Business. Designed by the legendary I. M. Pei’s firm (Pei Cobb Freed and partners), the building hopes to secure a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating given by the US Green Building Council, which makes me silently jubilant. One area where India can leapfrog China, after all, is eco-sensitive development. China’s much-lauded speed of growth and let’s-sweep-it-all-under-the-carpet approach have contributed to rampant, perhaps irreversible, environmental damage that the Chinese government is only now waking up to. India’s cautious approach may be more responsible. Consider: 14 Indian buildings have received the hard-to-secure LEED rating given to buildings with “sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.” In contrast, China has a paltry three buildings. Korea and Pakistan have none.
I begin to ask Revathy about her views on the environment but then stop myself. I don’t want the interview to be about my agenda. What fascinates you about your work, I ask instead. The scale of impact, she says. The second project that TSI Ventures has invested in is a 400-acre township outside Hyderabad. They plan to build homes that she hopes will change the way people live.“Real estate is so much more macro than the other things I have done,” she says, referring to her previous jobs as CFO of Syntel and Microland. She clearly enjoys working in a start-up. She says that she enjoys building a team, setting standards and achieving goals.“I am very tenacious; I work hard, I am very direct and perhaps sometimes I can be pushy,” she says. “But at the end of the day, you have to make a difference.”
Revathy hopes to make a difference philanthropically at some point, too. Education and health interest her and she wants to make a “meaningful contribution” in those areas.What about spare-time pursuits, I ask. What spare time, she chuckles. The Ashoks travel widely, having been to Cambodia, Egypt, Thailand, Malaysia, “the usual suspects”, she says. She loves to read and, in fact, wanted to pursue a double major in maths and literature for her PhD before life took her on a different track to MBA school. She is a voracious reader with Amitav Ghosh being a particular favourite.She enjoys movies, everything from “art films to chick-flicks”. Both the Ashoks cook, using recipes from their travels, but it is the husband who manages the personal finances of this director of finance. He is much more meticulous, she laughs.
We finish our juices and get up to leave, or rather, to face the traffic separately.
Name: Revathy Ashok
Education: This IIM Bangalore graduate completed her schooling from Bihar’s Mount Carmel Convent and graduated with a BSc from Bangalore’s Mount Carmel College.
Work Profile: Started her career as a research associate at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and then at National Institute of Bank Management. Has more than 26 years of experience in various business and strategic roles. Currently, the director of finance and IT at TSI Ventures.
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