Youthful Promise: Jitu Virwani
Determined not to become one of the real estate industry’s old-timers, Embassy Group Chair and Managing Director Jitu Virwani is investing heavily in the next generation in more ways than one.
The real estate industry is replete with its giants – ‘old-timers’ who run the risk of falling away as the world rapidly evolves around them. Although Jitu Virwani has been in the real estate business for almost 30 years, having taken over the Embassy Group from his father in 1993, he is determined not to fall into this trap.
Now, as Chair and Managing Director, he is taking dynamic steps to stay at the forefront of the latest trends, placing the company’s future firmly in the hands of the younger generation.
When he took Embassy’s helm, Virwani’s dream was to transform it from a tightly-knit operation into a large real estate group. It’s an ambition he has certainly achieved, with the business now active in a variety of sectors ranging from high-end residential and commercial properties, to a school and even an equestrian academy.
By thinking outside the box and continually innovating along the way, he has given the company a youthful energy that looks set to secure its success well into the future.
Virwani’s quest to support the next generation of workers as they enter the world of work has seen Embassy look beyond its own walls to invest in the co-living segment with its Olive by Embassy brand.
With an investment of nearly US$5 million in the first phase, these developments will target millennials in four cities across India – Bengaluru, Goa, Hyderabad and Mumbai, before being rolled out to additional areas.
Embassy has also invested over US$200 million into its partnership with co-working and flexible workspaces provider, WeWork, who is now present in India across six cities and 40+ locations.
"Our entrances into both the flexible workspaces and co-living segments represents a break from the traditional ways of building and how India is changing," Virwani says.
Our whole idea is to empower the youth and enable people to make decisions rather than micromanaging them.
That’s not to say that the company is overlooking the country’s senior population. Another venture, in partnership with assisted living community operator Columbia Pacific Group, will plow an investment of approximately US$60 million into multiple projects over a five-year period, which will total a 93,000 square meters of senior-living facilities.
Serene Amara at Embassy Springs is the first project under the tie-up. Embassy Springs is an integrated township spread across 117 hectares in north Bengaluru. The first phase of the township features 220 units in one- and two-bedroom apartments while the second phase will offer 180 homes in a premium-priced category.
It’s through such projects as these co-living and assisted-living developments that Embassy will extend its network across India, according to Virwani.
Another offering will also help it to go after that goal – its property management arm, Embassy Services, which helps it to maintain close connections with customers after the completion of any deals.
"Embassy Services delivers a lot of customer service after the handover so the whole Embassy culture continues through the office park," he says. "That’s a big differentiator for us."
A better life
Virwani’s faith in future generations is also shown in his ongoing investment in education.
"A lot of people wonder why I got into education," he reflects. "At first, it was actually connected to my business needs. A lot of people were coming to Bengaluru from overseas wanting to get their kids an education in the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum."
In the absence of a suitable option, Embassy ventured into the field to establish Stonehill International School in 2008. It was one of the first schools in south India to offer all three IB programs.
But it’s an interest he has become passionate about, going on to support no less than 61 government schools across India with infrastructure support, health programs, books, uniforms and stationary, sports and extracurricular activities, career counseling and an improved quality of education.
This commitment to family values is apparent throughout Embassy’s operations, underpinning its company culture to ensure staff are nurtured and empowered to achieve their full potential.
"Everything’s about people," Virwani stresses. "Our key measurement of success is to have a good team, so we have retained the culture from when we started out as a small organization. Our whole idea is to empower the youth and enable people to make decisions rather than micromanaging them."
Caring for the wellbeing of its staff is also a priority for Embassy, with the company launching a number of initiatives such as online platform Wellbeing on the Web to support their health and fitness. It also participates in a wide number of corporate social responsibility initiatives, recently the Pedal for the Planet event in Bengaluru.
In recognition of its efforts, Embassy has received numerous awards relating to happiness of its employees over recent years including being named as a Dream Company to Work For in Real Estate by the World HRD Council.
Meanwhile, it is also focusing on enhancing its environmental, social and governance presence, with Virwani describing Embassy as "a very environmentally friendly company".
He points to its 100 megawatt solar park as a great example of its work on this front. The solar park in the Bellary district of Karnataka is owned and operated by Embassy Energy, the energy-focused subsidiary of Embassy Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT).
The park has the ability to generate around 200 million units a year and Embassy Energy supplies power to tenants across three developments – Embassy Manyata Business Park, Embassy GolfLinks and Embassy TechVillage.
"Most of our business parks are supplied with green energy," Virwani adds.
Involving its people in greener practices is also top of mind, with Embassy introducing the Urban Green initiative, which promotes farming in the workplace. The project yields around 6,000 kilograms of vegetables each year and is helping to inspire a love of sustainable farming among staff.
There is also a car-pooling initiative, Green Rider, which encourages staff to share rides to work, thereby reducing CO2 emissions.
Embassy Services delivers a lot of customer service after the handover so the whole Embassy culture continues through the office park. That’s a big differentiator for us.
Above all, particularly with a growing number of smart buildings under development, Virwani sees great potential in technology. It’s a belief that gathered immense weight for him during the pandemic, when the world of work switched to a remote model.
"Most of the big companies in the real estate sector are full of old-timers like me, some much older. And we’re very poor with technology," he reflects.
This technological prowess is one of the many reasons why Virwani believes young people will play such an important role in the company’s future path.
"Our belief is that today’s younger generation in India are more intelligent than the times where I come from – they are much more hardworking, much more honest," he says. "Just by spending time with the younger people working in our organization, we’ve seen technology become a big part of our growth."
In the next 10 years, India’s mid-level residential segment is just going to explode.
Embassy cannot afford to lose that momentum, particularly as the world of work continues to evolve following the pandemic.
"A lot of sales and customer service will be done through technology rather than personally bothering people," he predicts. "It’s the way forward."
Already the company relies heavily on technology, so the focus will be on further harnessing this to enhance Embassy’s offering, particularly with regards to the younger generation.
"In the next 10 years, India’s mid-level residential segment is just going to explode," Virwani says. "There are so many young people with aspirations and good salaries, couples with dual income, looking to live a better quality life."
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