Binitha Dalal has been with the Rustomjee Group for almost 13 years, a group which is family to her.
“I’ve seen the organisation since the day it started,” says Binitha, who is Head of Fundraising. “I was about seven years old when I went for the first Bhoomi Pujan on site!
“The Group was started way back in 1995 by three of the most dynamic people I know, namely Boman Irani, Chandresh Mehta and Percy Chowdhry. I’ve seen the hard work they have put into build the brand that is Rustomjee and I’m fortunate to call them my family.”
Fresh out of university in 2007 and working out what to do with her life, Binitha was the only undergraduate picked out of campus by TCS, who normally only take postgraduates. She then moved to Godrej Properties, but had her eye on a career in education before real estate became her passion.
“I helped set up the Rustomjee Business School in 2008, and then one of my uncles said to me, “Before you take up a role in philanthropy, learn the real side of business so that you will treasure philanthropy even more.”
Binitha joined in operations and was put through the grind to be given an understanding of the whole construction process from conceptualisation to completion of a project. She treasures the insights gained from visiting the building sites at 8am every morning with the Director of Operations Chandresh Mehta.
But it was the Lehmann Brothers crash that she believes provided her greatest learning experience at the time.
“In hindsight, I feel I’m very fortunate that I got to experience the Lehman crisis, because that really shaped a lot of what we do today and how we approach our business,” Binitha explains. “It actually changed the way people look at money, money management, investments, and fundraising across the world.
“The most important part for any business is to manage money as well as to get the right partners in because it’s crucial to have good financial partners with alignment of longterm stability and growth.”
“Finance is like your fire power, it’s your resource that actually oils the entire engine of an organisation.”
Binitha is the convener of banking at CREDAI National (Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India) as well as the Joint Secretary at CREDAI MCHI. She has also co-chaired CREDAI Youthcon 19, an event which had the Hon. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi as the chief guest.
“I don’t think I saw fundraising as an opportunity, I saw it as a calling,” Binitha reveals. “Finance is like your fire power. It’s your resource that actually oils the entire engine of an organisation.
“Most of the bank MDs today are my friends. I will not call them my lenders, because I’ve actually been part of their journey as they’ve moved up the ranks. We go to them when we’re acquiring a new asset, when we’re looking at something new and take advice, because they have their ears to the ground and they are a part of our growth trajectory. Having their buy in on our key decisions is important to us.”
The future looks bright
Predominantly a residential real estate driven company, the next few years will see Rustomjee looking at other asset classes, its thinking shaped by the 2019 lockdown. The Group also hopes to further strengthen the partnership with their township project with Keppel Land.
“I think we’re poised in the right position,” says Binitha. “We don’t have too much debt. We’re not that levered. I think we’ve done brilliantly to manage our cash flows and work well with the resources we have. We are definitely looking forward to the future and the good times coming to us in the next few years.”
Binitha believes that the biggest challenge the company has is the constantly changing policies and the retrospective change in laws which cause harm to the project implementation cycle.
“I literally tell my friends, we have to be really crazy to love this industry, because every morning you wake up to some amount of uncertainty, either on a regulation, or on customer behaviour, or on the pandemic.This industry is affected by everything that happens. It’s extremely regulated but it’s the human spirit, agility and sheer love for the industry that mean we continue to do what we do.
“Being in business for the last 25 years and being blessed with one of the best teams, we’ve been able to manoeuvre our way around a lot of these challenges that we’ve come across over the years.”
One reason Rustomjee has done so well in the last quarter of a century is its desire to stay ahead of the competitor curve, in terms of corporate governance, processes and systems. The company worked with KPMG back in 2005 before other real estate companies were working with the ‘big five’. It moved to SAP in 2010 and to a cloud data system six years ago.
“When the pandemic hit us, a lot of people had downtime, where people could not work,” explains Binitha, “but because all our data is on the cloud system we can work out of anywhere. My architecture team, my billing team, my accounts team, everyone was working and not a single day of productivity was lost.
“We are also looking at businesses in the financial services sector as we truly believe that finance is the fuel on which growth is built.”
Relationships are also integral to Rustomjee’s success.
“We really work on partnerships. We are absolutely partnership-driven in everything. Everything!” says Binitha. “We believe that we need to grow our partners and those partners will in turn grow us.
“You don’t really work short-term in businesses, because it takes years to build an organisation and years to nurture it.”
“I may get a better rate of interest from another lender, but if my existing lender is giving me the transaction, I will go ahead with that, because you always work long-term. You don’t really work short-term in businesses, because it takes years to build an organisation and years to nurture it.”
Although the list of key partners is small, including the likes of Ikea, Keppel Land, State Bank of India, ICICI, HDFC and Piramal, they are all valued highly.
The company also gives back to the community though, having run a skills school for children in villages for well over a decade; helping to empower them long before CSR became a thing.
Money may be at the centre of what Binitha does, but she has no doubt how you actually measure success.
“If you would have asked me about three years back, before the pandemic, I would have said numbers are the measure of success, but I think today it’s all about your happiness quotient, because that’s where you really make yourself.
“If you are happy with what you do, if you’re happy where you are, that’s when you will not just grow but when you will be truly successful in life.”