The city of Pune is at the cultural heart of Maharashtra. From its historic roots as the capital of the Maratha Empire, the city is now the second largest in the state. Located three hours from Mumbai, it is India’s eighth-biggest metropolis and an increasingly important economic and industrial hub.
This is in large part the reason why Mumbai-based Lodha last year chose the city as its first point of expansion, after building up an impressive portfolio of projects in the Maharashtrian capital.
The company has created landmark developments across residential, retail and office spaces, winning the trust and appreciation of its patrons time and again. Lodha World Towers, Lodha Altamount, Lodha Park are just a few of the firm’s iconic constructions.
"We are known for our luxury developments in all our Mumbai projects, and we wanted to bring that to Pune," says Tikam Jain, CEO – Pune at Lodha.
While the company has also extended its reach to Thane, Hyderabad and even London, Pune remains a major part of the company’s future plans.
A learning curve
Jain came to Mumbai first with his former employer, Sharad Constructions – work experience that he believes has been crucial to his long-term career success. At the time, he says he was still oblivious to many aspects of the real estate industry, such as the role of architecture and the approvals process and perceives this time as an important learning period.
"I was given full freedom to learn every aspect of real estate, starting from land procurement to the planning and the execution," he recalls.
I was given full freedom to learn every aspect of real estate, starting from land procurement to the planning and the execution.
He’d work until the early hours of the morning, even sometimes watching the concreting take place on a number of projects as late as one or two in the morning. "I learned a lot of things – how to get approval, what the role of a plumbing consultant is, lots of the nitty gritty details of the approval process. I learned how to plan sales, how to form a society," he says.
Although much has changed within the industry as digitalization has become more prevalent, that he says that experience provided him with an invaluable foundation. "Those 13 years gave me great confidence in terms of real estate problems," he says.
"I now knew where to go, how to resolve them, whom to contact. So that was a wonderful learning for me and that really helped me to achieve my present success."
Making a mark
His long history with Lodha started in 2005, when Jain first joined the company on the project management side before taking the lead in terms of procurement. This was a domain that eventually led Jain into the world of design control, with him setting up a dedicated department to oversee the costs involved in architecture and engineering.
But then the company, led by "visionary" CEO Abhishek Lodha, decided to broaden its reach, with Pune first on its list. After much consideration, the company opted to enter into joint ventures as it sought to establish a footprint in this new market.
"There was a lot of opportunity in Pune. Lots of builders had land but they didn’t know how to monetize it and how to develop a project," Jain says. "We had that expertise, and it was a great combination where we joined hands with some of the developers and the land owners to start joint ventures, and now we are planning the projects."
Appointed CEO of this new venture, Jain continues to be based out of Lodha’s Mumbai offices but spends three-to-four days each week in Pune. "It was a very exciting new start for me," he says. "It was a very challenging role and I always enjoy challenges."
Jain already appears to be well on track. Lodha currently has two live projects in Pune with more in the pipeline. Within the next three years, he hopes to have built up the Pune operation to be number one in terms of sales and development potential within the city. By delivering quality projects on time, Jain is optimistic that he will make the local operation a resounding success.
A bright outlook
Other factors are also coming into play to ensure Lodha’s future success. Jain has noticed positive signs across the real estate industry as the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. "There are opportunities in the Pune market and I’m trying to grab those opportunities to become a reputable and respected developer here," he explains.
Then there is Lodha’s considerable expertise in development. "We have found that most cities, but especially Pune, are lacking in terms of a broad layout. There are a lot of individual buildings, but they don’t have any program or any good amenities," he says.
"With all our success and buying power, we want to bring those things to Pune and that will be our USP. These are the opportunities we really want to focus on and see the results in within the next three-to-four years."
Wherever there is IT development, it means commercial development will also be there. Then there is a need for residential because if you look at the traffic in all cities, you see that people want to stay very close to their workplaces and to minimize travel distance as much as possible.
To do this, Jain intends to implement an analytical approach and, with his talented team, has conducted an in-depth study of the city. "We have to be present in all the geographical locations of Pune, so north, south, east and west," he explains. "We want to have one or two projects in all of these areas."
Keeping an eye on Pune’s standing as India’s second IT hub after Bangalore will also help Lodha identify the most promising opportunities. "Wherever there is IT development, it means commercial development will also be there," he says.
"Then there is a need for residential because if you look at the traffic in all cities, you see that people want to stay very close to their workplaces and to minimize travel distance as much as possible."
On top of that, growing demand for luxury developments in Pune will work to Lodha’s advantage, according to Jain. "We are known for our luxury development in all our Mumbai projects, and we want to bring that to Pune," he says. "We plan to really deliver that luxury to Punekars, so let’s see the response. If the response is good, then we may expand in that direction."
Not only is Lodha applying the "best in class" amenities to its spaces, but it is also catering to the unique wants and needs of the local community. Balconies are apparently a must, Jain reveals, as is parking for "two-wheeler" vehicles – a popular mode of transport among local residents.
The world of real estate is undergoing significant upheaval as new-fangled technology and techniques significantly slash the time taken to perform a variety of tasks. For example, the slab cycle has been reduced from 28 days, as it was when Jain first graduated from university to its current timespan of just four-or-five days. That means that Lodha can perform three cycles each month.
Where the company used to use predominantly ply and wood-shuttering, now it opts for aluminum shuttering, while its use of tunnel formwork allows it to cast walls and slabs in one operation in a daily cycle.
"We are always very innovative and progressive – we don’t want to lose any opportunity in terms of technological advancement," Jain says.
Precast construction, growing in popularity in India, is another area that Lodha is keeping its eye on. "We are working on precast with good quality and good finishing," he continues.
Raising the Bar
One project that Lodha has already completed in Pune is Lodha Belmondo, located on the outskirts of the city on the banks of the picturesque Pavana River. Set across 40 hectares, it heavily features nature in its design, responding to the need for connection triggered by the isolation of the pandemic.
There are tennis courts, basketball courts, jogging tracks and a one kilometer riverside promenade. Other luxury touches include a "gourmet" restaurant and spa.
It was originally intended as a second home, offering weekend getaways for urban residents of both Pune and Mumbai. "But because of the industrial proximity, many people are using this as their first home also," Jain explains.
The project demonstrates Lodha’s superlative approach to amenities as well as to quality and design. Clubhouses are a crucial feature, as are well-equipped gyms and high spec banquet halls. "We want to provide maximum amenities to take care of the needs of all age groups, from small kids to old people."
"For our mass housing projects, this technology will ensure better and faster construction. At the moment, people consider precast as leakage construction, but we are confident that by using this precast, we will change the whole perception of the customer and it will be a faster and smoother construction."
As the company seeks to streamline its operations, sustainability is top of mind, according to Jain, with the company favoring materials that are environmentally friendly. "There is a lot of talk around ESG, but we are really doing the work, looking at our carbon footprint from every angle," he says.
According to the S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment, with a score of 75/100, Lodha sits in the top one percent of 858 real estate companies worldwide. Its score also ranks it number one for sustainability among real estate companies in India.
On track to be carbon neutral by 2035, the company also unveiled the Lodha Net Zero Urban Accelerator in 2022 to help it get there. The accelerator will use "facilitated multi-stakeholder engagement, integrative design, and research and development" to generate scalable solutions that will drive India’s real estate sector towards a zero carbon goal.
The road ahead
While Jain concedes that a recession will have unavoidable impacts on the business, as would any major changes in the common rules regulations that govern the industry, he is not overly concerned.
"The demand is there. It is a good time for real estate and with our ability of execution we should be successful," he says. "A lot of people are ready to shift from Mumbai to Pune because of the great lifestyle."
Success has no definition. Success is basically whatever you decide.
The abundance of available land and potential for joint ventures means that Lodha simply has to bring its strong work ethic to the table in order to secure its success in Pune, he adds.
"We have developed good systems and procedures, which give clarity of thought to all of our associates. Ours is an organization that empowers at all levels. Our focus is on each and every aspect, whether it is big or small."
This is a big differentiator for the company, particularly when it comes to the often tedious checklists involved in each project, with Lodha’s system set up to make this as efficient as possible. "We don’t leave any corner unattended. For doing the work in such detail, we need a good number of people – and this is how we are different," Jain says proudly.
"We always keep stretching ourselves. If we can run 10 miles, we target 12 miles. So success has no definition. Success is basically whatever you decide. That’s why today, we are one of the most successful developers in India."
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