Jyotsna Hegde, President of Sobha Realty in Dubai, discusses what makes India a promising real estate market in the future.
Jyotsna Hegde, President of Sobha Realty in Dubai, has recently been recognised as one of the 'Women of Influence in the Middle East' in the corporate and business workspace this year.
Hegde wears this honour lightly, even though it captures the fruitful journey that she had embarked upon ever since she showed up with an appointment letter which tasked her with being a secretary to Sobha Group Founder and Chairman PNC Menon in 2004.
She remembers that fateful day vividly as it was the first day that fashioned the rest of her life as a professional. Her eyes roll back the years, as she peers closer into the screen of her cell phone during a zoom call, in this era of social distancing, to state definitely, “To be honest, I just wanted to make sure I got a paycheck at the end of the month,” she confessed. “I was initially living in Dubai, but I returned home to India with my son for personal reasons. In India, Sobha was the first company to give me a job. It was a survival thing. There were no other considerations, or strategic decisions - just a paycheck.”
That initial paycheck has grown significantly along with Hegde's profile in the company. Today, she manages the financial and operational divisions of Sobha Realty, Sobha Hartland Contracting and PNC Architects. In addition, she oversees strategic initiatives across the group's subsidiaries and works closely with sales, business development and corporate relations teams. Identifying and pursuing the group's growth prospects in new sectors and geographies is also part of her remit. Hegde's global view has resulted in the group opening a swanky Sobha Global Studio office in London, which overlooks Hyde Park. This decision is part of the overall plan for the company to list on the London Stock Exchange in the future. The other overseas address is a sales office in Shanghai, no doubt inspired by the expectation of Chinese investment.
“From a branding perspective, the presence in London has done wonders for us,” Hegde admitted. “London is one of the financial capitals of the world and there is a varied presence of investors in our products - Indians, Arabs, Europeans and even Chinese - who have made the city their home. Being there gives us rare visibility and this explains the rationale behind our marketing office being located in a very upmarket area. It helps to spread awareness of our products which result in enquiries back in Dubai and the sales force close the deal from there.”
When the world finally stops teetering precariously on its axis, a phenomenon brought about by widespread disruption and havoc inflicted by the coronavirus, the Sobha Group, according to Hegde, will move forward in a measured manner to become a global company. “We have the wherewithal to do that,” she said. “Recently, Harvard University did a case study on us as a model of backward integration. We are the only company in the world which is fully backward integrated at a time when people are outsourcing as a way forward. We have total control on all our processes - from design and engineering to construction. We only build for our projects.”
In these testing times, Hegde confesses that the immediate priority would be to, “Consolidate our business in Dubai before embarking on the path to globalisation. Real estate is a geography driven industry. When we came to Dubai, it was a test for us to operate in a foreign environment. We have built a reputation for ourselves and feel that this model can be replicated on an overseas project. We are confident we can grow in different markets.”
The global breakdown of markets notwithstanding, Hegde urges caution but offers cautious optimism to investors and owners. “The potential to buy will become greater in the next three to six months before normal activity resumes. China is coming back to normal and Africa cannot be ignored. Yes, we all need to re-examine our targets at the end of May, but there is no reason to slow down efforts. The worst thing we can do is to take a step back. One cannot control the environment. It is not the first time we have gone through situations like this and it won't be the last either. This too shall pass. People get so fixated by the problem that they forget to look for solutions.”
But first things first, there is the challenge of taking a bigger slice of the real estate cake in Dubai. Hedge dismisses the theory of inventory overdose in the market to state, “Even in the worst of times we see that there is a market of about $8 billion (AED 30 billion) of real estate business in Dubai. Year-on-year, the stats show a population increase. If the population goes up by 4 per cent a year, there is a significant pot to play with. Sobha does its business in a niche segment and, in this case, we have the potential to target $0.8-1 billion (AED 3-4 billion) in annual sales.
“Opportunities are also going to be unbelievable in India with falling prices. India is going to be unstoppable since there is a market within the country itself. The real estate sector should not be affected.”
Hegde's ability to make considered assessments is a testimony to the hard yards that she has put into the real estate industry. The ability to graft and adopt a fair but no-nonsense approach into her projects. “I prefer to call a spade a spade and this is useful to the person I am interacting with,” she confessed. “I am an actioned-oriented person. That's my strength. I didn't go to an Ivy League school to earn a degree. I find such people have a regimented way of thinking. Their learnings are infinitely textbook. Nothing can replace practical knowledge. To be able to conclude things is the biggest gamechanger.”
Robin Chatterjee is the Director of Content at 'India Global Business' magazine.