When you’re given a larger platform, you rise to the role
Real Estate

When you’re given a larger platform, you rise to the role

Honouring the legacy of her iconic father, MR Jaishankar, Founder-CMD, Brigade Group, along with her sister Pavitra, Nirupa Shankar, Joint Managing Director, helms the group’s office, retail, and hospitality verticals. Impassioned and articulate, she speaks about the journey, opportu...

Honouring the legacy of her iconic father, MR Jaishankar, Founder-CMD, Brigade Group, along with her sister Pavitra, Nirupa Shankar, Joint Managing Director, helms the group’s office, retail, and hospitality verticals. Impassioned and articulate, she speaks about the journey, opportunities, trials and triumphs to FALGUNI PADODE, Group Managing Editor. You have studied hospitality from Cornell University. Yes, when I decided to study hospitality, Brigade didn’t have a hospitality practice. In fact, I tried many different careers through internships when I was in college. My first was in advertising, because I like the creative side. The second internship was with mergers and acquisitions, because I like the corporate side. And the third was with Leela Palace in Bangalore, where I did sales and front office, and I really enjoyed my time there. But I really wasn’t clear about what career path I wanted to choose. Students who aren’t sure about their career path land up taking a consulting job – as you get to work with multiple industries and sit in interesting boardroom discussions despite being a fresher. I got to work on projects for top-notch clients such as Bank of America, the Federal Reserve Bank, Apollo. There was no plan to come back to India then? I was clear that I wanted to get outside experience before coming back home. I didn’t want to finish college and immediately work at Brigade. I was keen to get a job in the US on my own merit, not because of any connection my father had. I worked with Ernst & Young for about three-and-a-half years. During that time I worked on a hospitality project that I thoroughly enjoyed. So I decided to take up evening classes at the New York School of Continuing Education. Ernst & Young had a hotel practice but it was small and niche and only consisted of people with a degree from the Cornell Hotel School. When I asked if I could transfer to the hospitality practice, they said I needed a Masters from Cornell. So, I did that. But once I finished my Masters from Cornell, I didn’t want to return back to consulting. I had a couple of job offers in Singapore and Goa but I decided to come back to Bangalore and Brigade because I had the opportunity to set up and launch the company’s hotel practice. When was this? This was in 2009; we were launching our first hotel, Grand Mercure Bangalore. Since then, of course, we’ve grown to eight hotels and we are building another six more. At the time, hospitality was a small part of the business, less than 5 per cent. But as it was a small practice, I could make decisions even though I was still fairly young, as opposed to the larger residential business where I would have had to just “observe”. In the smaller hospitality practice, I had the freedom to makes decisions and even if I made a mistake, nothing would come crumbling down! I wanted the opportunity to make decisions, right or wrong, and learn from them as my learning style is ‘doing’, not ‘observing’. I did that for almost seven years. In fact, one of the reasons I left consulting was because while you show people the path, you really don’t get involved with implementation and see the results of all the gyaan you gave! Were there fewer legacy issues to deal with? Maybe. But honestly, I didn’t really think about legacy. I was just passionate about the hotel business. As a second gen, you do come in the shadow of your first-generation entrepreneur, who is usually a visionary. So, part of me has always wanted to stamp my own credibility. I have been doing my own little entrepreneurial ventures within the purview of services that Brigade has to offer. I do it out of passion and to have the confidence of setting up new ventures and running them successfully. It’s very different when you are working with your own baby versus somebody else’s. Of course, with time, Brigade has become Pavitra’s and my baby. The hospitality industry is now booming…. When we entered the hotel business about 15 years ago, nobody could understand why we were in it because it is a difficult business that requires a lot of patient capital. The cash flows don’t come as easily as residential; you need deep pockets. But the Indian hospitality market has been very resilient post-Covid and is doing very well right now. It’s a good time to be in the hospitality space. There are only a handful of builders in this space in the country. And we are looking to capitalise on this growth and double up on our existing portfolio within the next five years. You are now responsible for the growth of your company. What responsibilities do you have? Our father has been very systematic in the way he’s gone about things. I’ve been in Brigade for almost 15 years; I initially joined as a management trainee. I went to every single project just to check the customer experience of each project; even those built 25 to 30 years ago. I took on smaller but very focused roles first, such as vice-president of business development only for the hospitality domain, which was a small part of the overall business. I gradually grew my role. My dad waited for 10 years before he even put us on the board! I have had 15 years to work and be very hands-on before taking on a Joint MD role. Initially, I focused on only certain parts of the business every year and I tried to grow my skill set in each of the different domains. Now, of course other than the overall company, my sister and I both have focus areas so that it is easier for us to manage our time. She looks after the residential portfolio, which is 60-65 per cent of the overall portfolio, and I look after the office, retail, hospitality and our facility management portfolio, which is about 35 per cent. However, in terms of value, both are around the same. Sometimes, when you’re given a larger platform, you rise to the role. And I feel we have been able to do that. How are you empowering women in the workplace? Typically, in the construction industry, only 12 per cent of us are women. If you look at the corporate world, I would say it’s about 20-25 per cent. But if you look at the senior leadership role within the corporate world, it’s 5 per cent or so. Women get married and have kids and that does result in a drop-off of women in the workforce. For both my children, I took my six months off but worked only for half a day for the following 6 months as it was difficult to have such young kids and a full time job especially since both, my mother and mother-in-law, were also working. The most important thing when encouraging women to come back into the workforce or to stay in the workforce is giving more flexibility in terms of allowing women to take a longer break if they need to, yet accommodating their career aspirations by keeping roles to come back to. Another important aspect is safety. We have many women engineers on our sites; we ensure they leave at a proper hour to get home safe or get a drop back home. We have flexible timings for women who want to come a little late every day, or leave a little early. After six months’ maternity leave, if someone wants to take more time, we are flexible with that. We also have mentors for our “women Brigadiers” and often sit with them to chalk out their growth path. Currently we have 3 women directors on our board. We have had women as independent directors on our board way before it became a law. My father is a feminist – he always encouraged my sister and I to work without thinking too much about gender. He never shied away from putting us at construction sites, going to speak to landowners, doing the grunt work. Please share your fitness journey. I have always been into sports. I used to play basketball and tennis growing up. But due to the lack of warming up, strength training, and stretching, I developed severe knee pain and had difficulty walking. I was only 18 but couldn’t even climb a flight of stairs. So, my fitness journey started from going to physiotherapists, going to the gym and exercising all the muscles around my knees. I became a gym rat for many years. But after my first child, I gained 23 kilos or so. Then along with the gym, I started running. At the age of 34, I did my first 10K. Then, I had my second child at the age of 37, and again I gained 23 kilos. That’s when I started triathlon training. I stepped up the pace and could do an Olympic distance triathlon in 2021. After that, I did a half Ironman in 2022 and a full Ironman in 2023! For that, you have to swim 3.8 km, bike 180 km and do a full 42-km marathon, all in 16 hours or so – I did it in 14.47 hours. What did it do for you? It brought discipline into my life in terms of eating better, cutting down on alcohol, sleeping early. Initially, I wondered what I was signing up for. But then it’s a different kind of fun. Your friends change, your lifestyle changes, everything changes. Now I’m in my 40s and realise it’s not so bad to go to bed by 9 pm! Due to training hard, I had to cut down on a lot of social things but I obviously couldn’t let the ball drop at work. So, it brought it in discipline there too, in terms of time management and efficiency. I started having shorter, more efficient meetings, I would constantly be on my phone when in the car doing calls and meetings. To keep my fitness up, I walked and talked when I could, ate meals faster, and utilised my time in the most efficient way possible. Tell us about your experience as a TEDx speaker. The first one was nerve-wracking. The topic was more work-oriented and, honestly, I felt like it fell very flat. I memorised the whole thing – I didn’t trust myself to go natural. I came back home extremely disappointed. So, I signed up with Toastmasters for an eight-week crash course on public speaking. And then, I had the opportunity to speak at another TEDx. This time I just spoke from the heart without memorising or using a teleprompter. I tried to connect with the audience a little more, tried to make them laugh. I spoke about getting my triathlon journey started and I felt the talk came out more passionately and naturally. In fact, I do a lot of talks on the journey to Ironman. The learnings are applicable even in the business world. For instance, problem solving. Ironman is a huge task when viewed in its entirety. But when you break it down into smaller tasks, everything is possible. There is a method to the madness of doing things step by step. It is also about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. One meets so many people along the way. In the last few kilometres of the race, you might be tired and your body might want to hang in the towel, but the people around you fuel you on. You also learn to listen to your body. Sometimes it is okay to stop and take a break. You just come back stronger.

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