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MUMBAI : Arun Nanda who joined the Mahindra Group in 1973 and has held several important positions within the Group over the years. In an interview Nanda who recently retired from the Board of Mahindra Lifespace Developers, the group’s real estate arm as its long-standing Chairman shared his key learnings from the decades spent in the group. Edited excerpts.

As you look back, how do you see the decades you spent at the Mahindra group?

It’s been a very rewarding journey and I strongly feel that empowerment along with trust, which gives you the confidence to do things, helped. I have been extremely fortunate to have promoters of Mahindra group who have always entrusted me with responsibilities without having to worry about failures. Many years ago when one of the small businesses I was heading failed, Keshub Mahindra, our chairman, told me “if you had not failed in one of the many businesses you started, I would have thought you don’t take risks" . Can you imagine the level of confidence a young professional gets from this. The other is value system. I have completed forty nine years in the Mahindra group and not one night, did I go to bed thinking I did something wrong. So this journey was possible, because I was never once asked to do something, which was against my value system. Another key learning was respect for an individual irrespective of social standing and seniority. Both Keshub and Anand Mahindra for example would always introduce Mahindra group employees to others by saying “ meet my colleague" instead of "He works for me/us".

What are your thoughts as you step down from Mahindra Lifespaces ?

The good news is that we today have a balanced portfolio of residential and industrial land. There is a healthy pipeline again coming up because for the lack of better word, upstart real estate developers have all disappeared from the market. We have zero debt at a standalone MLDL level, 60 crores debt at a consolidated level, which is about 3.5% of our balance sheet. I can safely say that we have built a company which is not fragile. In the last year, we started doing redevelopment. We have got two projects under discussion for redevelopment, because that is a less capital intensive project. We are also focusing on JVs with land owners.

How were the early days of the real estate business for you ? Looking back, what do you think has worked the most for you?

See real estate at that time in India, was run only by non-corporates and the beauty of this business was, if you are inefficient, you made more money, because the property prices increased faster than the interest rates. There was no RERA and a large portion of the businesses was transacted in unaccounted cash. So when we came into the business it was very different, because we did not transact in cash and we did not have historical land banks either. But slowly we were able to make inroads. We did a few projects in Mumbai but the real success came from the Mahindra World City near Chennai which is India’s first integrated business city. It is a project that I take immense pride in. That after having not succeeded anywhere, I went to Mr. Narayana Murthy and told him that we were trying to create something futuristic and you believe in the future. Your team has said this location is not in the main corridor. I just want to know if I am doing something right and futuristic. Few days later, one morning, I got a call from my Chennai office that Narayana Murthy had visited the site and soon enough Infosys decided to set up its offices in the project and after that followed many other global and domestic names.

What made Narayana Murthy make up his mind ?

Narayana Murthy is a man of few words. I just thanked him. I did not ask but I feel a few things worked for us. One was obviously the quality of infrastructure and the project was clearly ahead of its time. We built 100 feet wide roads, water management systems and most modern infrastructure with focus on sustainable development, amongst others. It was something which was not done before. Second, was the concept of work, live, learn and play. Despite being an industrial park, we had schools, hospitals, shopping complex etc., and we had planned for residential projects too with various amenities including children and employees could cycle to work, which were very new concepts those days.

What according to you has kept the Mahindra group going despite growing competition?

I feel that the fabric of the Mahindra group is such that merit is encouraged and rewarded and which is why you have seen so many prominent leaders who have made a mark for themselves and are widely known beyond the group. Most of Mahindra’s leaders came early and have risen through the ranks. The only common thread was that these were driven individuals and some of us had an entrepreneurial streak in them, which was recognized early and nurtured.

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