When I’m hiring, I look for integrity, aptitude and attitude!
Real Estate

When I’m hiring, I look for integrity, aptitude and attitude!

Iconic developer MR Jaishankar, Founder-CMD, Brigade Group, has blazed a stellar trail across the real-estate landscape. That legacy of excellence continues with his daughter, Pavitra Shankar, Managing Director, whose story is testament to the fact that legacy is not an entitlement ...

Iconic developer MR Jaishankar, Founder-CMD, Brigade Group, has blazed a stellar trail across the real-estate landscape. That legacy of excellence continues with his daughter, Pavitra Shankar, Managing Director, whose story is testament to the fact that legacy is not an entitlement – it is an earned privilege. And she has honoured that legacy richly – after forging her individual path, studying and working overseas, she has returned to pay it forward, bringing a unique perspective and leadership style to the family company. FALGUNI PADODE, Group Managing Editor, speaks to her in a free-wheeling conversation that reveals the woman behind the designation. You have studied abroad; you did your MBA and then you came back. Was it part of the plan or did it just happen? It just happened. Growing up there was no pressure to join the business. And frankly, I really didn’t have too much interest in it then. I went ahead to do my undergrad in the US. I didn’t want to join a construction firm after that, even though occasionally my dad may have dropped some hints! My mind was always towards finance, numbers… so, I was in consulting. But eventually, when I applied for business school, which was about four years into my career, it was time to think about what to do. I got accepted at Columbia. I had a small break before I started school and decided to come home. I was about 26 then. I had already worked for somebody else in the US but never worked in India, except for some internships. So, that summer I interned at Brigade; I shadowed my dad. And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it! That was in 2006. I had always thought I would argue too much with my dad to have a good working relationship. But I think because I had worked for other people and had other bosses, I realised what I was looking for in a boss, in terms of the kind of leadership somebody brings to the table. People always said, “your dad is so humble, transparent, has so much integrity.” I didn’t really know what that meant until I was actually working with him. And that just changed my mind completely. It was a complete 180°. I decided I would come back and join the business. So I went to Columbia; they had given me a real-estate fellowship. New York is a great city to learn about real estate; some of the most amazing buildings are there and you have access to the entire ecosystem, whether you are an architect, builder, investor or financier. So, did you return after the programme to India? Initially, I had planned to move back in 2008. But I ended up marrying someone who was not ready to move back to India ASAP. We ended up staying in the US but I wanted some experience in real estate. I joined Rockwood Capital, a real-estate private equity firm based in San Francisco. It’s completely opposite of where I am today. But that experience and perspective are valuable because when I’m sitting across an investor today, I know what’s going on in their minds, what they are looking for in a partner. But as it was taking us time to move back to India, I told my dad I needed to get closer to what Brigade was doing. I felt completely out of the loop. He advised me to get into sales – sell to the NRIs. And though I didn’t see myself as a salesperson and wasn’t keen, looking back, it was great because it was a sort of non-noticeable entry into the company, and specifically into the residential business. That must have been a learning in itself…. Yes, a very fundamental way to understand the residential business is to sell and to interact with customers. I realised almost everyone had a terrible story about investing in real estate in India. So that feeling of assuring people that they’re investing in a trustworthy brand came in. I got into the entire system from there; I had the ability to travel back and forth, because I was now flexible with my time. I did that until I could physically move back to India, which was only in 2016. And the natural transition was to enter the residential business. At that point, I was already 35/36. Your sister Nirupa, who is now the Joint MD, was already in the business, but in hospitality. Yes, she had moved back to India in 2009, so she had already been here for seven years when I joined. She entered the business pretty much as a trainee as she had come out of hotel school. I already had a bunch of work experience so I came in at a fairly senior level. We also had a CEO who left in 2017. It was pretty hands-on after that. I didn’t want to do strategic roles or shadowing; I wanted to roll up my sleeves in an executive role. It started off with marketing and expanded to our sales strategy and very quickly ballooned into the entire residential division. About a year after I had taken over, we were able to launch some pretty large projects and scale up residential portfolio. And since then, we’ve been on a mega growth expansion on the residential side. It has been a very exciting journey. When you came back, were there any legacy issues to deal with? Honestly I was surprised by how much people were glad that I was back! I also worked towards gaining that kind of trust and respect because I wanted to get into the details and really understand how things get done. Naturally, as someone seeing things from a fresh perspective, I wanted to drive a lot of new changes. And that has happened over time without too much resistance as I have always explained my rationale and vision for driving these changes. My approach is to try it out in one project on one small team. And if that works, everyone else will ask for it. I don’t have to push it through. Because of my experience with customers, improving our customer experience has dictated my changes at the organisation and that has helped us undertake a fair amount of digital transformation. You are a woman at the helm of a company. How do you view women in the workplace and, in this regard, are there any changes you have brought in? Before having children, I really did not understand why people made a big deal about women in the workplace because I was naïve enough to think that attitudes and workplaces had modernized sufficiently. However, there are so many reasons why women just do not make it to leadership levels – and that has to do with societal conditioning of both men and women, the extra burden of household management/childcare/eldercare, conscious and unconscious biases at the workplace, and a system that just does not support women working outside the home. No matter how successful the woman, it is rare to find a partner who supports her in the same way if the roles were reversed. So therefore, I do have a lot of empathy for the working women in our company. It’s important to be visible as a woman leader, even more so in this industry – one, so that our story inspires and encourages other women, and two, to use the position to advocate for and impact policies that can help women enter the workforce and remain in it long enough to advance into leadership levels. I see it in our own company. So many women come and say they feel so proud to see a woman at the helm of Brigade, whether it’s me or Nirupa, even though we’re not engaging with them on a day-to-day basis. In fact, quite a few of our male counterparts tell us the same and that it is inspirational for their daughters! What we have done over the last few years is to engage with the women in our company and find out how they want to address their growth plans in the company. I realise not all women want to go to senior management. They may have their own trade-offs to make at home or otherwise. So, we ask them what they want, whether it is mentorship, training, a special project – or are they fine where they are? The idea is to let people know that they have a voice. If you don’t choose to use it, you can’t complain. Either be part of the solution or don’t complain. Where we do need to work more is on women in senior leadership. Our numbers look great because of both Nirupa and me. But we need to a little bit more aggressively to figure out how to get female representation at certain levels without necessarily making it seem like a quota. Because then it doesn’t get the buy-in of the whole organisation. When you’re hiring, what is the key attribute you look for? I have three! Integrity, aptitude and attitude. Integrity is non-negotiable. You can read some cues; you get a gut feeling. As for aptitude, I’m not looking for a rocket scientist but there should be some level of smarts. And, of course, attitude. You want people who are comfortable when they are speaking, can loosen up a bit, maybe crack a joke, light up when they talk about something they're passionate about! Eventually, if people have these three qualities, they can do anything once they understand your work ethos, and will flourish, even in a new position. Does one have to try harder being a family business – and a public company? I think being listed puts you in a different realm. My dad holds it as a huge milestone and sign of responsibility. As you are in the public gaze, there are more demands on how you conduct yourself in terms of business. You have to be seen in the forefront of bringing about change, whether it is adoption of sustainability or good workforce practices. Being a family-owned, promoter-driven business, we still have to show we can go toe-to-toe with a corporate. There is also a benefit of being family-owned, a different sense of belonging that makes it special. We want to use that to our advantage as that sets us apart. But I feel there are things that can be done better in terms of structure and delegation and holding others accountable. As family members, we take a lot of the accountability ourselves. That is always a bit of a challenge. As they say, you can’t have it all. So, have you faced a challenge balancing everything? It depends on the day I’m having! Many days, it feels like a challenge; many days, it feels like this opportunity has been the best thing in my life. I know it is a blessing. But when a lot is happening at once, you wonder how anybody can expect this of someone. I’m 43. I have two kids who are 11 and six. Sometimes, I just want to be mentally and physically present with them instead of going to a meeting or dealing with a difficult situation. There are points in time where you are excessively consumed by work. And then there are times when I can take two or three weeks off to spend time with my kids. I think this has developed over time without having a huge sense of guilt about it. I’m ambitious and want to grow the business. It is about recognising that this is the time in your life when you have to work hard and also balance raising a family and finding the small joys in everyday life. What, then, is the plan, and dream, for Brigade? The plan is to continue our growth in the markets where we operate – Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad – to be in these multi domains of real estate, continue to be a firm known for high-design quality, focus on the customer, and to do things the right way that is sustainable for our cities. That is more important to me than being the biggest or most financially successful. My goal is to still have this company being meaningful in the next 37 years, and we’ve just finished 37 years. It is about resilience, being a special brand and taking forward my dad’s vision. My dream, too, is to make our own special mark on the way people live, work, and play in our country, and to create a fantastic atmosphere for all those working with us to make it happen. If you can have joy when you’re working, the sky’s the limit. Look out for Nirupa Shankar, Joint MD’s interview in the May edition of CONSTRUCTION WORLD.

Related Stories

Gold Stories

Hi There!

Now get regular updates from CW Magazine on WhatsApp!

Click on link below, message us with a simple hi, and SAVE our number

You will have subscribed to our Construction News on Whatsapp! Enjoy

+91 81086 03000

Join us Telegram