Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kedar Vanjape: Maverick in Motion

Kedar Vanjape, 38, represents the changing face of Real Estate, away from the surreal towards the real. His corporate den, situated in a quiet corner off a busy road in the heart of Pune, hardly looks like a real estate developer's office. Basking in the glory of bright sunlight, adorned with minimalistic decor, blessed with an inviting sit out balcony and to top it all, manned by a friendly and courteous staff, the cosy place looks more like a sport and recreation club. But if you suspect business would be amiss in this laid-back space, you are sadly mistaken. The whole office is buzzing with positive action, staffers greeting prospective clients and helping flat owners with different modalities.

The man at the helm, Kedar Vanjape, is in the thick of things himself: taking phone calls, attending to visitors and also addressing the flurry of questions I throw at him. One look at him and you can make out his humility is not for the sake of advertisement. He's unassuming to the core, and delightfully blunt in his observations, calling spade a spade on just about every issue under the sun - real estate included. His phenomenal life story is an inspiration for all those who wish to tread on the offbeat path to success and achievement,who wish to scale new heights and yet stay grounded at all times.

Hailing from the small town of Kopargaon in Ahmednagar district, Kedar aspired to earn his laurels in the medical field, following in the footsteps of his Surgeon father and Gynecologist mother. When he could not secure the requisite marks for enrollment into the medical stream, he opted for engineering and cleared his Industrial Engineering from VIT, Pune. His first tryst with employment happened with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in the capacity of a Junior National Consultant. Life was going the UN way when he got what he thought was an irresistible offer. His cousin Sanjay Deshpande, who worked with the renowned DSK Developers, asked him to join him. "Honestly, glamour was the biggest pull for me at that age, having seen Sanjay's life style from close quarters. I was convinced, at first sight, that real estate was the ultimate gateway to a life adorned with swanky cars and palatial homes."

So, Kedar took the plunge in the brick and mortar world, armed with his starry-eyed ambition and steely resolve. But to his utter dismay, Sanjay quit DSK and started out on his own in quick succession. Having burnt all bridges, Kedar had no option but to stay put, and somehow try and come to terms with the new reality. He decided to take the challenge head on and the ensuing effort earned him rich dividends. In a short span, he got quality exposure in different facets of realty - desk work, drawing blueprints, managing contractors, supervising sites, customer facing, ensuring legal formalities, marketing, liasioning with government offices - you name it, he did it. The depth and gravity of the grassroots experience helps him to this day as he's on first name terms with most stakeholders in the business who have moved up the value chain in terms of designations but still value their relationships with him above mere transactions.

His dogged determination and back-breaking effort saw him rise to the position of Executive Director at DSK Developers. But after this elevation, his career suffered the consequences of the glass ceiling effect. "I have learnt a lot from the founder D S Kulkarni, especially about maintaining a judicious balance between lifestyle preferences and professional decorum. Having said that,I found him highly insecure in matters of succession planning and delegation of authority. My ambition, soaring on the wings of my capability, was bursting at the seams then and I just couldn't continue in an environment which, knowingly or unknowingly, sought to clip my wings."

A chance encounter with the legendary Daji Kaka Gadgil (of P N Gadgil Jewellers fame) proved the decisive turning point. The Gadgils wished to venture into real estate and found in Kedar the perfect partner to take the idea to fruition. The four-year collaboration indeed turned out to be quite fruitful and they completed many a sterling project in the given span. It was in June 2013 that Kedar branched out on his own under the name Kedar Vanjape Developers Limited (KVDL). The failing health of Daji Kaka Gadgil and his demise in Jan 2014 left a permanent void for Kedar, as his chemistry was solely with the doyen of the jewellery industry, not with his successors.

KVDL has undertaken several landmark projects on the outskirts of Pune, with few on the verge of completion. But KVDL narrative is incomplete without the mention of an incredible life lesson that Kedar learnt from his mother.

Having seen a fair amount of success, Kedar was tempted to upgrade his lifestyle at a juncture when the construction industry was on a downturn. "I somehow could foresee that this slowdown was not a market correction, it was a business correction, yet the lure of an affluent lifestyle was overpowering." Kedar reveals.

So he went ahead and bought a plot of land to construct a lavish bungalow for the family. Subsequently, he also decided to buy his dream Merc car and wanted his mom to accompany him to the showroom for paying the booking amount.

She agreed to accompany him but posed three questions upfront

1. Can you afford the car?

2. Would it match your persona? ,and,

3. Is there a compelling need for it?

His mom herself answered the first two questions in the affirmative but passed the third in his court.

"My answer was obviously a big resounding 'No' and the car purchase plan was scrapped on spot." Kedar reminisces.

But the radical thought chain didn't stop at that. Kedar then had a detached re-look at the plan of building his bungalow under the new microscope and the honest answer was a 'No' on that front too. Without second thoughts, he sold off the bungalow plot and what's more, he even sold his residence flat and shifted to a rental accommodation, only to self-fund his construction projects rather than rely on a potential mountain of debt in an era of constrained resources.

The timely advice from his mom turned out to be god sent indeed, as Kedar gradually built his fortune brick by brick without succumbing to the lure of ostentation or lavish display of wealth, the defining traits of the real estate fraternity otherwise.

Kedar's approach to development is a sterling case study for all practitioners of the construction business. Transparency is the hall mark of every KVDL project. Comprehensive monthly reports are sent to every buyer, conveying the progress of under-construction projects, thereby weeding out any fear and uncertainty from the buyer's mind about the fate of his decision post purchase.And every project has stringent self-penalty clauses for non-completion of projects in the committed time frame.

Kedar and his team deserve rich accolades for their pioneering strides in an industry shrouded with secrecy and better known for shady dealings. The executive team, however, needs some value-added training in client-centric communication and proactive conversation. The KVDL intent is not in question but the content is far from compelling, so also the website communication which hardly does justice to the KVDL's sterling ethos and essence. The founder conveys all the right messages in his impromptu conversations, but it's high time the team does the same in respective roles.

KVDL, given its conviction, has the capability to become a global thought leader in its own right. If KVDL doesn't reach where it should in the time to come, it would go down in history as a Greek tragedy of epic proportions.