Knowing your customer helps you innovate
A few years after Texas Instruments set up an R&D centre in Bengaluru in the mid 80s, other global firms began eyeing the city. It was an opportunity that was swiftly recognised and acted upon by the Embassy Group that has since emerged as a market leader in realty, providing corporate offices, industrial parks, warehousing, co-working spaces, apart from housing and hotels. Its customers are multinational and homegrown companies in BFSI, IT, Retail/FMCG, Automobile/Aerospace, Healthcare, Telecom and E-commerce sectors.
From dabbling in desktop publishing in its nascence in India to building up a portfolio of real estate assets, billionaire realtor Jitendra (Jitu) Virwani’s enterprises have always extended beyond the prevalent norms. A youthful 50 something, the Chairman and Managing Director of the Embassy Group is disarmingly frank about his motivation in this interview with Sandhya Mendonca; “the drive to make money makes me innovative”, he says.
Virwani was amongst the first to spot the demand for large office spaces with back-up power supply. Oracle was the first to sign up in Embassy Point. Embassy then marketed the functional efficiency of large spaces, offering 25,000 sq ft. From there, it was an audacious jump to building India’s first business park, Embassy Golf Links, with 4.5 million sq ft located on 65 acres, where the Hilton Hotel came up subsequently.
Embassy Commercial today holds one of the single largest private office park portfolio in India, spread out over 30 million sq ft of completed office space and 22 million sq ft in ongoing and future development.
In Bengaluru, apart from Embassy GolfLinks, the Group’s business parks include Embassy Manyata, one of the largest business parks in India, with a total developable area of 20 million sq ft. In Embassy Tech Village’s building area of 12 million sq ft, occupiers can use fully fitted interim office solutions while their offices are being constructed.
“Knowing your customer helps you innovate”, says Virwani. He has an uncanny ability to gauge the needs of customers before they do so themselves. When multinational companies didn’t want to buy offices, he readily agreed to lease them space. Not just that, he offered to maintain the buildings too, scoring another first. As the buildings were yet to be built, he put up incubation facilities for Fortune 500 companies as varied as Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, Fidelity and IBM. “They could start training people in these state of the art incubation centers right away while we were building their offices”.
Not just that, Embassy also gave them options on floor space next door at no extra cost. This bold decision like many others was a calculated gamble, and it paid off as most companies are conservative in their growth estimations and grow much faster. Thus IBM, which had thought its growth would require 700,000 sq ft between 2002-2009, ended up leasing 2 million sq ft.
This is the same reasoning that led to a partnership in 2018 with American coworking brand, WeWork. The concept led by his son Karan Virwani, is already a huge hit, and Virwani is sure that when the young companies grow bigger, they will move to one of many bigger Embassy office spaces.
The ability to grasp changing mindsets was evident when he began his foray in residential space by building small apartment complexes as Bengalureans preferred such sizes. As tastes began to change, he began adding club houses and swimming pools. Now, in the uber luxury Embassy Boulevard villa development he offers membership to the swanky Boulevard Club, which is accessible to non-residents as well; a strategic move given the long waiting periods to get into the handful of clubs in the city. The plush serviced Four Seasons Private Residences at Embassy One, is an adjunct to the Four Seasons hotel that the Group has built. Embassy Edge apartments are starter ‘smart’ homes for millennials from where they would probably graduate to one of Embassy’s many premium offerings.
The company’s and the city’s growth have to be simultaneous, he acknowledges and has pledged Rs. 250 crore to build a flyover in front of the Embassy Manyata Business Park and for a metro station at the Embassy TechVillage. The decision was a ‘no-brainer’ he says, as the flyover gives access to over 140,000+ park users. Where Embassy goes, others follow; metro authorities have since got similar sponsorships from a number of other businesses.
Embassy’s innovations include green initiatives such as using treated water in several properties apart from recharge lakes in Embassy Springs, the upcoming 300-acre township. Virwani had pioneered use of recycled water as early as in 1993 at The Embassy, a residential complex in Bengaluru.
With green energy gaining currency, Virwani is ahead of the game having installed a 100 MW solar plant in Ballari. Feeding into the state’s power grid, it reaches Bengaluru where the Embassy business parks tap into this green power. As Virwani sums up, “Innovation is staying ahead of the game”.
- Embassy has joint ventures with private equity majors; Embassy Office Parks is a joint venture with Blackstone and Embassy Industrial Parks is a joint venture with Warburg Pincus.
- Embassy’s operations span across Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune, Serbia and Malaysia.