From becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 21 to his present top management position, Sanjay Dutt, MD & CEO, Tata Realty & Infrastructure Ltd and Tata Housing has successfully built a 25-year-long career full of adventures and challenges. During a particularly turbulent year for the real estate sector, he has sensitively navigated his company through risks and recessions to emerge stronger and more steadfast than ever before. In a forthright interview with Mohana M, Editor, Clean India Journal, he described his journey, how he deals with challenges, the future of buildings and FM, and his mantras for people management.
Moving up the corporate ladder before striking out as entrepreneurs is the common route for many. Your journey has been different. How so?
I started my career at a time when opportunities were less but I decided to venture out on a road less travelled. After completing my studies while doing summer jobs, I gained expertise in logistics and started my own enterprise Fast Forward, which became an aggregator for courier organizations who had no international network. Over three years, it grew into four cities with a network of franchisees across the country. However, owing to the unorganized nature of the business, I ventured into real estate investment advisory in 1993. In 1996, I became a founding member of CBRE and subsequently spent over 23 years in the world’s top three real estate consulting organizations, including Cushman & Wakefield and JLL.
I moved from consulting to real estate development in 2016, became the CEO India Operations and Private Funds for CapitaLand, after which I joined Tata Realty & Infrastructure Limited.
I have stayed committed to the real estate sector all my professional life, witnessed five property cycles and worked in three regional hubs of the country, namely NCR, Bengaluru and Mumbai. For some reason, each of my career moves has been during a recession of the economy or real estate sector. It instilled in me a drive to work harder and ultimately led to enhancing my learning. It also helped me form some great bonds with some amazing people and the journey has been worth the while.
I also attribute a lot to the early lessons of entrepreneurship where I learned cash flow, managing multiple challenges simultaneously and the importance of people in personal and professional life. Real Estate is said to be all about Location, Location & Location. For me, it has always been all about People, People & People. I did HR along with Marketing in my management program because knowing human behaviour is critical in business. The single most satisfying part of my professional journey is that I have made some long lasting professional relationships and today, this enables me to build, rebuild, repurpose and perform with the help of these professionals.
A large part of your journey has been in asset management. How influential has this experience been on your other roles?
Asset Management/Facility Management was one of the many functions of my portfolio throughout my career. It enabled me to understand the significance of environment, sustainability, functionality, viability and post-design-and-build life of an asset. The intrinsic value of the asset is not limited to the brick and mortar of the building but the ‘beneficial use’ of the asset and its contribution to productivity enhancement and enabling communities to prosper. Throughout my journey, I have used ‘reverse design engineering’ by incorporating asset management insights into the design brief with the planner and architects. Today, if you have multiple buildings in Connaught Place, Nariman Point and MG Road with the same land title, architect, builder and contractor but some command premium over others, it is largely due to asset management.
“The pandemic has accelerated action and paved the way for designing buildings that focus on the health and well-being of individuals who live or work there.”
The first wave of corporate parks in India was in the form of IT campuses. Post-pandemic, what new form do you think these will take?
We witnessed the rationale of green buildings over conventional during the last 20 years. Now it is all about wellness and smart developments that can cater to a dynamic world. We launched the ‘Intellion’ brand for our office developments based on three pillars: Intelligent, Collaborative and Dynamic. It ensures sustainability & wellness, promoting a sense of community and is dynamic enough to repurpose with the changing needs of the occupiers and the changing dynamics of various businesses.
Industrial townships and gated residential communities are being conceived across vast tracts of land, which require a massive amount of cleaning and maintenance. What role does facility management play in business development and differentiating your facilities from others?
High quality asset management drives capital values of the asset through a demand pull as many want to be part of that community. We continue to demand premiums as a result. Over 7 million sq ft office portfolio, 100% rent collection and not a single termination during the peak of the pandemic is heartening. Being sensitive to the residential communities, we have allocated funds outside of our commitments to ensure safety, recreation and wellness of the communities.
You were involved in the development of Amaravati, one of the few cities to be built from scratch post-independence. How did the need for streamlined cleaning and waste management influence the urban design of the city?
The entire development was smartly conceived. Lot of emphasis was given to basic but critical infrastructure and long term needs of the township based on the scale and increase in density. The future was incorporated in the present.
You have been associated with GBCI. What effect do you think the need for hygiene will have on the architectural design of the buildings of the future?
I am an advisory council member of the GBCI, and through my association, I understand the importance of the LEED green building program. Also, in light of the pandemic, it has been realised now that buildings play an important role in the safekeeping of human health. And while we have understood this factor for a long time now, the pandemic has accelerated action and paved the way for designing buildings that focus on the health and well-being of individuals who live or work there. In the future, I see this trend becoming more prevalent and people will prefer spaces that have incorporated elements like wellness, hygiene, natural ventilation, natural lighting and green spaces.
In your own words, you oversee 37 million square feet across 15 cities and 20 projects. This will call for different management and productivity tools to monitor diverse projects from a central location.
Tata values and work ethics are at the core of whatever we do. Recruiting, Retention and Harnessing the talent is core to our approach with the objective of building
a culture that inspires and motivates innovation and a sense of belonging and ownership. Learning & development, digitization and how to bring work flexibility at the workplace to enhance productivity are some of the other key drivers.
The past year has been turbulent for the real estate sector. What management mantras have helped you lead your company through these troubled times?
There is no doubt that the past one year has been a challenging time for everyone. For those of us in the business of real estate, we had our fair share of turbulence. When the pandemic hit, things took a turn for the worse and the Indian real estate industry was caught in the worst stage of its cyclical movement and we witnessed the fourth bottoming of the sector.
So, as far as the management mantras for dealing with the troubled times are concerned, we faced a dual task where, on the one hand, we had to find a way to keep the business running while on the other hand, we had to support our people. Both of these things we managed to do, and we did not allow physical limitations to hamper our team spirit. At Tata Realty, we made use of the digital medium, by making use of our pre-existing digital footprint, which was made possible due to the quick thinking of our peers who helped us connect online and also helped organize virtual interactions which helped us remain focused on making a difference to the organization and our people by adding value to it.
What advice would you give to a young FM professional who aspires to follow in your footsteps?
Apply common sense, bring objectivity to every aspect of business and focus on constantly enhancing the value of the asset. Ensure you are as strategic as you are grounded and connected. Generally, a hands-on approach is critical and investment in learning and development is vital for continuity.
If you were to picturise ‘Clean’, how would you define it?
It should lead to ‘awakening of all your senses’. I would picture it as ‘simple’ or uncluttered.