The second generation leads the way ahead
Real Estate

The second generation leads the way ahead

When her father PS Patel, Chairman, Managing Director and CEO of PSP Projects, asked her to join the company, she wanted to be onsite and start from scratch. Not the easiest decision for a father, considering not many women choose to work at construction sites. But for Pooja Patel, Executive Director, PSP Projects, a six to eight-month experience onsite was necessary to develop a better understanding about the work. “The fieldwork gave me exposure in execution and to unseen challenges, which I would not have realised sitting in the office,” she affirms. “If you want to do good things, you need to have that onsite experience.” Indeed, of her nine years at work, seven years have been onsite. Confident and outspoken, Patel elaborates upon her overall experience and how the second generation is focusing on the company’s growth in a virtual conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN.

In your career spanning nine years, which do you consider your most challenging project, and why?
In 2014-2015, my first project was for the Gujarat Housing Board (GHB). At that time, this Rs 500 million project was the biggest for the company. It was the first design-build project that PSP had undertaken, which included all activities such as core and shell, fire safety, handover and more. In 2016, I was at the World Trade Centre site in GIFT City. It was a Rs 1.6 billion, mass concrete, core and shell project. It had two-basement G+28 and was 110-m tall. At the time, PSP had cast the largest draft in Gujarat, 3,300-3,500 CMT. It was a different project altogether. Further, in 2017, we were awarded the Rs 1.5 billion project for the interiors of the Vidhan Sabha. The same year, we were given the Surat Diamond Bourse (SDB) project. After handing over Vidhan Sabha, I worked on SDB for two years. All the projects I have worked on have been different from each other. But in terms of challenges, yes, SDB was the most challenging one. We had done similar activities in the past, but the sheer volume we had to handle within the set time and conditions was a challenge in itself.

When you face first-time challenges such as at SDB, what keeps you going?
As my father is a civil engineer, I visited sites with him when I was younger. When I was three, he was working on the Gujarat High Court and would take me with him onsite when I was bored. I have literally grown up on construction sites. When you grow up seeing such sites day in and out, it offers a new type of insight and you eventually want to do it.

Being the second generation, what is your vision for the company?
It is my responsibility to serve customers with the highest standard, integrity and trust. Without trust, I do not think we would be able to deliver quality and timeliness. We can only achieve that with a collaborative team approach.

How do you view your success over the years and what are the key factors that have contributed to your growth?
When you just step out of college, one realises the gap between theory and practical knowledge. You only know that a foundation, concrete, formwork or steelwork exists but how it is to be implemented, in what sequence, you learn on site. For every project, I was involved in the company process. When I was at GHB, I only looked after planning, monitoring and quantifying in terms of how much material to order, in what time; is the project running on time; these are some of the steps I took care of. In the Vidhan Sabha project, I was involved in purchase and was exposed to planning and budgeting. At the time, we were also awarded the interiors work for the BJP Karyalaya in Delhi. I handled the project coordination for both these projects in terms of procurement, delivery and monitoring. When I went to Surat, apart from these, I also handled billing: procurement and finance. So, gradually, I have gotten involved in every step of the project and company process – from tendering, planning, budgeting and procurement to finance and billing.

You are currently involved in project planning, material procurement and execution. What are the current challenges day to day in this area?
Initially, when I was onsite, we did not have an established planning department. Periodically, my father would visit us and we would have site meetings where he would give us tasks and timelines. It was a long but fruitful process. Even my father realised that if I was able to systematically finish the work on time, maybe it could be implemented at the company level as well. It is helpful to have a dedicated person for every project. We then developed an SOP for all our projects and have a kick-off meeting for every new project. Once everyone is briefed, we move on to planning and budgeting. This allows me to negotiate and process everything efficiently. We also do a monthly meeting to review project timelines and bottlenecks. This allows us to course-correct and mitigate if needed.

At the start, my father would visit every site. When I was working on GHB, I would collate the data, review it and report to him. It took many trials and errors to develop an SOP for review and planning; for every project, we make slight changes to the format as needed.

Minimising labour costs and material mismatch is crucial for any company. Have you helped PSP achieve this?
We do monthly meetings and kick-off meetings. At a company level, I always have a broad picture of procurement and planning and know the timelines of every project. I approach a vendor for multiple projects. Depending on the volume, it also allows me to break-down the vendors into smaller chunks in case they alone are not able to supply.

Construction has been a male-dominated industry. What are your thoughts on this?
Construction is a male-dominated industry. On a personal level, I do not allow biases, and I focus on getting the work done. Back to my engineering college days, in a class of 136, only 12 students were girls. Since then, I have been mentally prepared of this being an ongoing scenario in the industry as well. I recall that when I joined the company in 2014, there were no separate restrooms for men and women; this was a change I insisted on after my first six months. I am glad to be the stepping stone for this in my company. We did a pilot project where the entire team, right from the supervisor to the project manager, was female. Now, women are opting to go onsite and then it is their choice if they want to work onsite or in the office. I have not faced as many challenges being in a male-dominated industry because I am second generation and people are going to respect me for that. But you always have to tackle certain situations regardless.

Who is your inspiration?
My parents. You learn the most from the people you spend the most time with. In my personal life, my mother has been the biggest teacher and my father in the business side of things. My zeal to learn was cultivated by my father. I do consider that I am like my father. I have observed him closely and he is upfront about his reasonings behind a decision. He is a big part of my learning.

Going forward, how do you foresee the growth of the company and yourself?
Learning never ends; there are so many new technologies coming up that have a learning curve. My father told me on my first day that you might not learn something new every day but any chance you get to adopt new technologies and processes, you should be willing to take it.

In terms of growth for the company, new turnkey projects are going to be a huge benefit. Design-build and precast projects are going to be major subsequent growth. We have established a precast plant and are increasing focus in that area.

When her father PS Patel, Chairman, Managing Director and CEO of PSP Projects, asked her to join the company, she wanted to be onsite and start from scratch. Not the easiest decision for a father, considering not many women choose to work at construction sites. But for Pooja Patel, Executive Director, PSP Projects, a six to eight-month experience onsite was necessary to develop a better understanding about the work. “The fieldwork gave me exposure in execution and to unseen challenges, which I would not have realised sitting in the office,” she affirms. “If you want to do good things, you need to have that onsite experience.” Indeed, of her nine years at work, seven years have been onsite. Confident and outspoken, Patel elaborates upon her overall experience and how the second generation is focusing on the company’s growth in a virtual conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN. In your career spanning nine years, which do you consider your most challenging project, and why? In 2014-2015, my first project was for the Gujarat Housing Board (GHB). At that time, this Rs 500 million project was the biggest for the company. It was the first design-build project that PSP had undertaken, which included all activities such as core and shell, fire safety, handover and more. In 2016, I was at the World Trade Centre site in GIFT City. It was a Rs 1.6 billion, mass concrete, core and shell project. It had two-basement G+28 and was 110-m tall. At the time, PSP had cast the largest draft in Gujarat, 3,300-3,500 CMT. It was a different project altogether. Further, in 2017, we were awarded the Rs 1.5 billion project for the interiors of the Vidhan Sabha. The same year, we were given the Surat Diamond Bourse (SDB) project. After handing over Vidhan Sabha, I worked on SDB for two years. All the projects I have worked on have been different from each other. But in terms of challenges, yes, SDB was the most challenging one. We had done similar activities in the past, but the sheer volume we had to handle within the set time and conditions was a challenge in itself. When you face first-time challenges such as at SDB, what keeps you going? As my father is a civil engineer, I visited sites with him when I was younger. When I was three, he was working on the Gujarat High Court and would take me with him onsite when I was bored. I have literally grown up on construction sites. When you grow up seeing such sites day in and out, it offers a new type of insight and you eventually want to do it. Being the second generation, what is your vision for the company? It is my responsibility to serve customers with the highest standard, integrity and trust. Without trust, I do not think we would be able to deliver quality and timeliness. We can only achieve that with a collaborative team approach. How do you view your success over the years and what are the key factors that have contributed to your growth? When you just step out of college, one realises the gap between theory and practical knowledge. You only know that a foundation, concrete, formwork or steelwork exists but how it is to be implemented, in what sequence, you learn on site. For every project, I was involved in the company process. When I was at GHB, I only looked after planning, monitoring and quantifying in terms of how much material to order, in what time; is the project running on time; these are some of the steps I took care of. In the Vidhan Sabha project, I was involved in purchase and was exposed to planning and budgeting. At the time, we were also awarded the interiors work for the BJP Karyalaya in Delhi. I handled the project coordination for both these projects in terms of procurement, delivery and monitoring. When I went to Surat, apart from these, I also handled billing: procurement and finance. So, gradually, I have gotten involved in every step of the project and company process – from tendering, planning, budgeting and procurement to finance and billing. You are currently involved in project planning, material procurement and execution. What are the current challenges day to day in this area? Initially, when I was onsite, we did not have an established planning department. Periodically, my father would visit us and we would have site meetings where he would give us tasks and timelines. It was a long but fruitful process. Even my father realised that if I was able to systematically finish the work on time, maybe it could be implemented at the company level as well. It is helpful to have a dedicated person for every project. We then developed an SOP for all our projects and have a kick-off meeting for every new project. Once everyone is briefed, we move on to planning and budgeting. This allows me to negotiate and process everything efficiently. We also do a monthly meeting to review project timelines and bottlenecks. This allows us to course-correct and mitigate if needed. At the start, my father would visit every site. When I was working on GHB, I would collate the data, review it and report to him. It took many trials and errors to develop an SOP for review and planning; for every project, we make slight changes to the format as needed. Minimising labour costs and material mismatch is crucial for any company. Have you helped PSP achieve this? We do monthly meetings and kick-off meetings. At a company level, I always have a broad picture of procurement and planning and know the timelines of every project. I approach a vendor for multiple projects. Depending on the volume, it also allows me to break-down the vendors into smaller chunks in case they alone are not able to supply. Construction has been a male-dominated industry. What are your thoughts on this? Construction is a male-dominated industry. On a personal level, I do not allow biases, and I focus on getting the work done. Back to my engineering college days, in a class of 136, only 12 students were girls. Since then, I have been mentally prepared of this being an ongoing scenario in the industry as well. I recall that when I joined the company in 2014, there were no separate restrooms for men and women; this was a change I insisted on after my first six months. I am glad to be the stepping stone for this in my company. We did a pilot project where the entire team, right from the supervisor to the project manager, was female. Now, women are opting to go onsite and then it is their choice if they want to work onsite or in the office. I have not faced as many challenges being in a male-dominated industry because I am second generation and people are going to respect me for that. But you always have to tackle certain situations regardless. Who is your inspiration? My parents. You learn the most from the people you spend the most time with. In my personal life, my mother has been the biggest teacher and my father in the business side of things. My zeal to learn was cultivated by my father. I do consider that I am like my father. I have observed him closely and he is upfront about his reasonings behind a decision. He is a big part of my learning. Going forward, how do you foresee the growth of the company and yourself? Learning never ends; there are so many new technologies coming up that have a learning curve. My father told me on my first day that you might not learn something new every day but any chance you get to adopt new technologies and processes, you should be willing to take it. In terms of growth for the company, new turnkey projects are going to be a huge benefit. Design-build and precast projects are going to be major subsequent growth. We have established a precast plant and are increasing focus in that area.

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