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Building himself up

If one were given to using over used clich's from third-rate crime thrillers, one would be tempted to call Nitesh Shetty a real estate tycoon or magnate or czar ' or even all three in an orgy of triteness. One could also call him a self-made man, if the expression hadn’t gone woefully out of fashion.

Yet, that does not change the fact that all the clich's would fit 29-year-old Shetty as if they were coined for him. Starting out at age 20 with Rs 12,000 in his pocket and no godfather in the background, he’s built a business empire spanning no less than five companies operating in diverse fields. There’s Serve and Volley, an outdoor advertising firm, Nitesh Estates, the real estate business, Nitesh Infrastructure, Nitesh Healthcare, which is in the process of acquiring a hospital, and Nitesh Agri. All this even as he concentrates on and consolidates the core real estate business, marking out territory in his home-turf Bangalore and expanding to other cities, including Calcutta.

The year started out well for Shetty, what with Nitesh Estates receiving funding worth $100 million from New York-based financial capital firm Siachen Capital LLC to finance its new projects. Shetty is also confident of being able to acquire a fresh round of foreign direct investment to the tune of $200 million within the next year.

Then, in April this year, Nitesh Estates wrested a contract to build a residential complex for ITC Ltd from stronger and more experienced competitors. The Rs 100-crore housing project developing outside Bangalore is already on its way. Shetty’s company has also recently announced plans of developing a 100-acre integrated township in Bangalore with some of the FDI money. Meanwhile, its plush Forest Hills project of upmarket condos and apartments in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield is getting picked up faster than they can sell it, notwithstanding the fact that Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who’s been roped in for an endorsement of the project, has had a fall from grace.

But Shetty does not seem overtly perturbed by that as he sits in his chaotic office, surrounded by his IBM laptop and papers, and hands out his several business cards ' one for each of the companies he heads. Does he get confused sometimes and hand out the wrong ones' “No, not any more,” laughs Shetty. Do people refuse to take him seriously at times, given that he looks every bit as young as his 29 years' “Well, that used to happen a lot when I started out, but not anymore. But yes, people still say things like ‘oh, we didn’t expect you to be so young’,” he grins.

When he was younger, Shetty had dreams of making it as a tennis pro. He had won several state level championships too, but he decided to take a back seat from the demanding sport when he realised that he’d reached the peak of his game. “I didn’t want to do something that I would never be No. 1 at,” he says candidly. “Which is why I got into business. I had every chance of making it to the top here and I was confident I could do it.”

He borrowed Rs 12,000 from his parents and started out with Serve and Volley, his maiden business venture selling outdoor billboard space. Today, Serve and Volley operates in eight Tier A cities and has just won a contract from Delhi Metro for one of its latest stretches.

It was while putting up a billboard for this company on a property that he thought of entering the property development business. Working on a hunch, he approached the people getting it developed and managed to win the contract. That was followed up by applying for loans and getting the right people to work for him.

One of his first projects was a high-profile one on Bangalore’s main thoroughfare ' M G Road. “Nitesh Broadway (as it was called) went a long way towards getting us visibility and recognition,” says Shetty. Simultaneously, the company also got into residential projects, choosing to target the high-end and premium end of the market. “I realised early on that one had to find a niche in the market,” says Shetty. Projects such as Nitesh Park Avenue on upmarket Lavelle Road in the heart of the city, and Nitesh Long Island and Nitesh Key Biscayne in the outskirts with posh villas, row houses and town houses, set the tone for such projects undertaken by other builders. “The timing also proved to be right, with the number of successful people who didn’t mind paying for luxury on the rise in Bangalore,” says the young developer.

Having built projects worth Rs 400 crore in Bangalore alone, Shetty plans to use some of the FDI money to expand his base elsewhere in places like Calcutta, Chennai, Cochin and Delhi. In Calcutta, for instance, a software park in Rajarhat is already in the pipeline, with a residential complex also figuring on the company’s blueprint.

Meanwhile, the group has also bid for a high-profile hospitality project in Bangalore, and is awaiting the final verdict on that. “Real estate guys are diversifying into all sorts of areas, and I have similar plans for the company,” he announces. Retail, SEZs, hospitality, healthcare ' it’s all par for his course.

With fingers in so many pies, Shetty keeps track of all his ventures by hiring the best people to take care of the individual companies. “There’s no point in my getting involved in the day-to-day running of each business, but yes, I do give the broader directions. The buck stops with me,” says Shetty.

In all this, where’s the time to be young and play a bit' The bachelor, who shares time between his parents’ house and his own classy pad he’s had done up by the best people, admits there’s not much time for that. “But I don’t really miss it. I still play tennis on weekends, travel extensively ' most of the time on work but sometimes for pleasure too, such as making it a point to go for at least one grand slam event a year,” he says. Travelling takes up almost 18 to 20 days in a month, and he’s on a flight every third day, says the gizmo and car freak whose latest loves are a BMW S5 and an Audi.

He confesses he is at heart “a shy guy”, when it comes to socialising, “though you wouldn’t think that from the way I’ve gone around naming businesses after me,” he jokes. One can perhaps forgive a 29-year-old compulsive entrepreneur that much.

Photograph by Asif Saud

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