DS Kulkarni, Chairman and Managing Director, DS Kulkarni Developers
SHRIKANT RAO meets the Pune-based developer for an exclusive interview to learn about the formula of his tremendous business success.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of how an Indian real-estate developer palmed off a bungalow constructed by his firm in America. An Oriental man after visiting the property at Plainsboro, New Jersey, agreed to purchase it but offered an important rider: The deal would be closed only if his venerable 96-year-old mother, just arrived from mainland China, approved. The very next morning, the mater arrived in tow and was led to the offices of the developer. But there was a one hitch, the son pointed out. Mamma knew only Mandarin Chinese and could not understand a word of any other language on earth! No problem, said the elderly gent manning the desk nonchalantly. The next 20 minutes were spent on a guided tour of the amenities during which time the Indian escort described the layout of the dacha in a running commentary carried out in chaste Marathi. At the end of the mini walkathon, the conversion was complete. Mother China was all toothy grin and ready to move into the bungalow.
"That was just a triumph of marketing," says Deepak Sakharam Kulkarni, Chairman and Managing Director, DS Kulkarni Developers, dismissing the allusion to the incident with a wave of his hand. "Dreams are dreams, whether in Chinese, Marathi or English. And we are in the business of making dream houses."
And is it any wonder that the Pune-based developer, who is counted among India's top builders, should now dream tall? He is now eyeing the prospect of many more projects in the US for which he has purchased land and, hold your breath, he's even thinking of constructing a 150-floor skyscorcher in the Big Apple.
"It is the dream of my life," trills the man, who now presides over a Rs 4,000-crore turnover business empire with interests in real estate, automobiles, dairy technology, bike manufacture, design engineering, animation and gaming, digital products, pharmaceuticals, education, travel services and entertainment. It is easy to see why he is considered the most diversified of all real-estate developers in the country. Isn't all that activity kind of overreaching?
Not really, he says, looking both the questioner and the question squarely in the eye."Some Maharashtrian Brahmins are known for their madness to do any kind of work, irrespective of its magnitude." Selling vegetables, salted peanuts, lottery tickets and berries; distributing milk bottles and newspapers; founding a firm called Telesmell that involved cleaning and perfuming telephone receivers; taking up small contracts of plumbing, electrification, furniture and painting; and launching into the real-estate business by buying out and developing a gone-to-seed, twice-burnt-out, reportedly ghost-infested wada the man from Kasbapeth popularly known by his initials DSK has truly done it all.
Since his foray into real-estate activity in 1980, Kulkarni has delivered homes to over 40,000 families through the construction of landmark integrated townships like DSK Vishwa, the first-of-its kind in Maharashtra; DSK Ranwara, an exemplary project because of its eco-friendly systems like a sewage treatment plant (STP), rainwater harvesting and vermiculture; and the 32-storey, ultra-luxury Durgamata Towers at Cuffe Parade in Mumbai, made entirely of aluminium panels, which has won accolades for its architectural brilliance. In collaboration with Mantri Developers, DSK is also involved in the construction of the 42-storey Pinnacle, Bengaluru's and southern India's tallest residential tower.
The firm continues to expand through projects in Pune, Mumbai, Nashik, Bengaluru, Chennai, Coimbatore and even the US. It has also left its imprimatur through commercial projects like automobile showrooms.
How does he manage to do it all? "By running things according to system," he says, pronouncing the last word in a manner that sounds much like esteem. "I am the troubleshooter and take care of problem areas identified on a day-to-day basis. These could be related to budget, schedules or any part of the construction business. My wife looks after cash management. We have the support of 12 banks and have never allowed brokers, middlemen or partners to enter our work system. That way we have direct focus on the customer."
DSK's credo is Grahako devo bhava, or Consumer is God. "It is an article of faith for the company," explains Kulkarni. "We win the hearts of customers by conquering their trust. The client is my God; he is my brand ambassador. Our philosophy is very customer-oriented. We follow the Marathi saying, æNever put your hand in the customer's pocket but always on his heart.'"
The common man has always held centre stage for the company and DSK relies largely on its 95 per cent middle class base. "We are committed to transforming the concept of a ædream home' of the common man into a beautiful, affordable reality," he elaborates. "We are involved in projects of all types, from affordable housing to luxury and townships, but from the very beginning my focus has always been on the common man. The best way to have a loyal customer following is to ensure that you are close to them and in touch with their aspirations, see that your approach and offices do not intimidate them, that you address all their questions satisfactorily. My mantra, æGive your customers more than their expectations', has always worked to our advantage." And lest you think DSK only appeals to the middle class, Kulkarni hurries to correct the impression. "We have built flats worth Rs 3 lakh and luxury apartments that cost up to Rs 35 crore," he asserts. "Our projects are also a big hit with NRIs."
Marketing skills and hyperbole aside, it is a fact that the 63-year old builder has the trust of his shareholders, many of whom arrive in droves through the day at his office to lock their hard-earned money in fixed deposits. "They are family and I am delighted to have their trust, which is sacred to me. I will guard it with my life," says the man who now has native Punekars in thrall at his diurnal impromptu oratorial sessions he is also an excellent raconteur of stories. Much of this fondness for commonweal is translated into his organisation's offering to the public at large. This includes Mobilis, a laptop-like device for farmers and school children in remote parts of the country that works on solar energy; a robotic milk collection device for dairies; the DSK International School with facilities for courses in animation, product design and video gaming in association with The Chamber of Commerce of Grand Hainaut, Nord de France, and more.
So what's his tale for the future? There are townships to be built yet but there's also a dream city, the details of which he doesn't yet want to let out in the open; it will assume shape over 165 acre at Hadapsar outside Pune. There will be luxury hotels, sports complexes, academies for games such as football, cricket and tennis, schools, libraries, a marina, markets, malls, office blocks and fountains coming up in the zone. "We are going to develop all of these ourselves," says Kulkarni with a pride that can come only from past achievements.
But he is not one to be smugly satisfied. There are challenges that developers like him have to encounter even as they plan new ventures. While land acquisition has never posed a hurdle for him in all his real-estate ventures the DSK name has served to magically open doors in his native Pune Kulkarni believes the need for clarity in land titles and the delay in project implementation owing to the requirement for multiple clearances thwart rapid progress. "For my DSK Woods bungalow project in New Jersey I needed six clearances and got them within three months," he says. "Here I need 65 clearances!" In his view, such inertia can change with the entry of good people in politics. Perhaps he means that he is not averse to jumping into the political fray once again he contested the last Parliamentary elections on a Bahujan Samaj Party ticket to make a difference. "I need a platform to improve the system of the city and the country. I owe it to all the people who brought me up," says the businessman with a wistful look in his eyes.
For the moment though, his sights are set on taking his company forward. Are there plans to catapult DSK into the billion-dollar league anytime soon? "We are customer-oriented. Our dream is not important. Our delivery is more important. Wherever there is a good opportunity to serve the people, we will be there. Money will follow," says the developer as he gets set to leave for the location of his impromptu evening discourse. We believe him.
FACT SHEET Year of establishment: 1970 Group interests: Real estate, automobiles, dairy technology, design engineering, animation and gaming, digital products, pharmaceuticals, education, travel services and entertainment.
Centre of operations: Pune, Mumbai, Nashik, Bengaluru, Chennai, Coimbatore and the US. Turnover: `4,000 crore