By Shouvik Mandal
As I chair Apeejay Real Estate’s annual budget meeting, my first as the company CEO, I share with the wonderful team our target of doubling our turnover in the upcoming Financial Years. We have achieved a growth of 41% in turnover over last 3 years and eyeing to make it to 100% over next 3 years based on the current Financial Year turnover. The team all seem ready to deliver and I feel blessed for the beautiful teams that I have been part of at Apeejay. From joining Mr. Jit Paul’s team in year 2000 to now being part of the corporate leadership team, it has been quite the journey from an Executive – Accounts to Assistant Director – Finance!
Often I come to work at our HQ, an office made by Apeejay Real Estate, known for cutting edge contemporary design & aesthetics and I recall the time when my workplace was outside Mr. Jit Paul’s cabin in the Family Offices in Apeejay House. His was an office I was familiar with as I used to come to see him on assignments from my previous employer. There was a solid team working on the goal of overhauling the old system in Group’s commercial operations in real estate. One day he asked me to join and just like that, I said “yes.” I was inducted into his team as Executive – Accounts in Apeejay House Private Limited in May 2000 and i joined the challenging task of streamlining our real estate papers & interests. Our brief was to systematize everything and I became very close to Mr Jit Paul during this period. My next assignment also came from him. Four of us in Finance were sent to take an exam conducted externally to test our knowledge in income tax laws and general taxation in his Board Room. Once the results were in, Mr. Jit Paul picked me to be a part of the Income Tax affairs team in Finance and from then on, I started interacting with Mr Jit Paul on a day-to-day basis. This was over and above my existing responsibility of Real Estate affairs at that time.
Only performance counts in our Group and I was a high performer and thus roped in and contributed to some of the most landmark initiatives during that time. Corporate restructuring and consolidation was underway. I became part of the team reporting to our current Director – Finance Mr Ashoke Ghosh and we worked on creation of Shared Services for Apeejay Surrendra Group. The Shared Services company was set up to monitor Corporate Affairs across the Group and it was a pool of excellence that initiated and guided Finance, Treasury Operations, HR, Corporate Communications & Information Technology. Since its incorporation, the company owns the Apeejay Surrendra Brand and licenses its use to the Group companies and is charged with ensuring high standards of corporate practice, ethics and governance by the Group Companies. I was shifted to Apeejay Surrendra Corporate Services in 2001, was quite literally a home grown talent in the midst of what was a very exciting phase.
There is a sense of generosity and kindness that I feel in Apeejay, that is rare. Once I did a mistake which cost the company a loss of Rs. 2 lakhs. I was a junior and too scared to face Jit Paulji. I gathered all my courage to confess to him. I disclose the facts before him honestly and truthfully expecting a thrashing from him. But the response to this mistake was a life lesson which showed me that we must never allow ourselves to muddle through mistakes but learning from errors is a big plus. The difference is huge! I never committed that kind of mistake again. This was what I was told by Mr Jit Paul and it really meant a lot! “So Mandal, I have invested Rs. 2 lakhs to develop your skill and I expect you to become more sharper and wiser!”
As I grew through the ranks – in nine years, I was a young Deputy General Manager – Corporate Finance – I knew I needed to learn different kind of skills to serve the Group’s goals and my own professional growth goals better and this could come with understanding intricacies of real estate and NBFC operations. But I was never able to bring up the topic of ‘leaving’ with Mr. Jit Paul. I ventured out to work in SREI for four years and then for a couple of years in Mani Group only once he left for his heavenly abode. I returned to Apeejay in 2016 as Assistant Director – Finance back to our Shared Services company with a specific additional responsibility towards our real estate division. The real estate operations in the last six years of my absence was now well organized under Apeejay Real Estate banner and had a strong annuity content consisting of earnings arising from rentals from our commercial properties like Apeejay House in India’s metro cities giving it sustainable profit and cash flow.
The last two years I have worked with the team to create our warehousing facility in Ballabhgarh, Haryana, which is partially operational and services the supply chain needs of some of the world’s best brands. We have expanded our serviced offices & plug-n-play brand, Apeejay Business Centre, which I directly head as Director on the Board and Apeejay Real Estate’s turnover has incremented handsomely every year.
My performance led to my elevation to Chief Executive Officer of Apeejay Real Estate a few months ago. I continue to hold the Assistant Director – Finance portfolio in our shared services company.
My time today is choc a bloc with travel for development plans of Apeejay Real Estate’s interests pan India. In my shared services company role, I am called upon for other responsibilities and one such assignment has taken me to UK to the headquarters of our FMCG brand Typhoo UK for a quarter in the current financial year. It was a very interesting experience because I was part of Apeejay M&A team that handled the Typhoo brand acquisition for Apeejay Tea in 2005 alongside Chairman Mr Karan Paul. I have fond memories of frantic work on complex restructuring, consolidation, as well as M&A during those early years in 2000s. However those days of working till 2 or 3 am every day are over and I recall fondly that even though there was no work life balance, none of us had any debilitating stress – just a buzz and an excitement of what we were part of at Apeejay as the third generation of the Paul Family took over the business.
Today, my job is about taking us to the next level which is very exciting in itself. So I am glad GM-HR Ramakrishn Ghosh asked me if I was ready to come back. At that time, I was on a family vacation in Singapore. I’d really enjoyed working with SREI and Mani teams for four and two years respectively and I would like to believe that I created a lot of value for both of them but I was now ready to return to Apeejay with a much stronger skill set and business head mindset. I love my job here at Apeejay.
Opportunity to shine makes leaders out of professionals and professionals become leaders because they see an opportunity where and when others don’t!
Our real estate team is dedicated and supportive of each other, so everyone has a part to play in the deliverance of our goals as a business. I encourage my team to be honest and truthful and my ask of them is that they work hard and be team players. Working with the Chairman, Mr Karan Paul, has taught me many things and probably, the most valuable learning has been watching his demeanor and the way he deals with people and issues with utmost patience. Outside of work, he is like a friend and takes care of each and every need but at work, he is completely transformed, unbelievably sharp with figures and extremely professional. It is a treat to watch how he runs Apeejay businesses with complexities as different as chalk and cheese. It is like a switch he turns on and off from one business to another. I really don’t know how he does that but it is certainly an ability I want to aspire to!
I am often asked if finance expertise is critical for a Chief Executive Officer. I think it is not a pre-requisite to be a CEO but indeed it was a big advantage for me along with my experience in NBFC and real estate intricacies. I watch expenses closely because every money I save, is money earned and that I am never penny wise and pound foolish. I am never bogged down for too long with any failures. I take failure in my stride because it really does teach us a lot and is the pillar of success. Ms Priti Paul, who leads the Real Estate division from the family, is ambitious and wants to take Apeejay to a new height and working with her is exciting. She works hard like our Chairman and in a personal space, I always get a feeling that she is like an elder sister taking care of every need during long meeting hours or even during my never ending travels.
My vision is to create the most valuable and beautiful warehousing and industrial park of India at Ballabgarh and Apeejay Global Logistics Park is well on its way towards that goal. Apeejay Business Centre is small in size compared to international brands that they compete against in the market but we are growing aggressively yet organically. Our knowledge of hospitality is in built and the comfort we offer our clients is unique to us.
Scale at any cost is not the most important in business operations. The ethics of the Apeejay is to sustain. That is why we are there for more than 100 years and that is why we will be there for the next 100 years.
I remember when I first did the budgeting exercise for our commercial real estate interests in 2000. The area I used to sit has totally changed just like our real estate business that has totally changed except for the basic tenets of how we do business in Apeejay.
As I meet different kinds of people and see varied as well as tough business situations & negotiations, I am more than convinced that the most complex to execute, yet, the most simple way to live by is to “be simple and be humble”. I can see that as a person I am loyal to my job and I love to take challenges on any given job. Being a self-motivator, I fall in love with my job till it attains its goal. It is that simple for me and I learnt that from Mr Jit Paul. Mr Jit Paul was a mentor to me and I still recall how he used to solve problems. It shows me the path of light even today when I am faced with any problem. It helps to distress when you have a reference to context when problems tend to linger and can cause stress because immediate solutions may well not be in sight at that moment.
I was closely acquainted with impact of stress on a colleague recently and feel grateful for habits I inculcated early in life. First thing in the morning, I am out and begin the day by keeping myself physically active. When in Kolkata, I can be found every morning at Rabindra Sarobar in Southern Avenue on my daily run! I also hold on fiercely to my hobby – painting.
Painting has taught me to give attention to everything – big or small at work, at home, my mental and physical health. For example, I have found the time to add my voice to Apeejay Blogs on request from my colleague in Communications and this I writing it in the middle of a budget week!
As a painter I know that the tiniest leaf, the thinnest ray … the faintest throw of light, the mildest colour change has a role to play in a lovely painting . Similarly at work, we have to find the time to tackle the multitude of tasks and goals. While it is okay to prioritize and delay tackling the ones, one knows can wait for attention, we must come to most tasks and complete them – each of them has a place in the big picture. In another week, Apeejay Real Estate budget will be final to be discussed with the Family Leadership team well ahead, I suspect, of any other group company and I would hopefully have this blog published too – This happens to be the first blog I have ever written!! That, in itself is a significant milestone.
Shouvik Mandal is Chief Executive Officer, Apeejay Real Estate and Assistant Director – Finance, Apeejay Surrendra Group.