Pavitra Shankar:Executive Director:Brigade Group.

“Most customers care about the size of the unit, how many bedrooms, the views and so on. But there are other things that totally impact your day-to-day experience, which is the efficiency of the space within your apartment, the experience of moving around within your community, and your opportunities to connect within your living space,” Pavitra says. “These are some things that we really pay attention to and I think that’s why Brigade communities continue to command a premium.”

Paying attention to detail, prioritising customer service and showing uncompromising commitments to quality and innovation have made Brigade’s communities coveted. The same practices have commercial customers putting a premium on its properties, too.

A disciplined approach

Bangalore-based Brigade has become one of southern India’s most important builders, with the company expanding into Chennai, Chikmagalur, Hyderabad, Kochi, Mangalore and Mysore. Its reputation has analysts and bankers asking about national expansion. But Pavitra prefers to remain disciplined.

“It actually makes sense for us to focus on fewer markets and instead invest a lot more time and bandwidth in developing them.” Pavitra says. “Real estate is, in the end, an extremely local business and those who can develop local skill sets, local relationships, are the ones who will succeed.”

Growth has been brisk at Brigade since Pavitra started as Executive Director in 2016, averaging around 20–25 per cent year over year. The growth is welcome – Brigade is a listed company – and been a characteristic of it’s 35-year history. But she says the company is striving for sustainability rather than growth for the sake of growth, meaning some time to “digest” the results of recent years may be necessary for setting the foundation for future expansion.

“We’ll be very focused in terms of where we expect the growth to come,” Pavitra says. “We also want growth to happen in a profitable way.”

Unique perspectives

Although born in India, Pavitra studied in the United States. She earned an economics degree from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Columbia University in New York City. After this, she worked in private equity in the United States, focusing on the real estate sector. The experience allowed her to see “how an institutional investor like a real estate fund or private equity fund would look at a deal. So I was seeing things from the other side of the table,” she says. “The US is also a very mature real estate and capital markets space and India is heading in that direction.”

She returned to India in 2016 and found her experience in the United States beneficial as it brought new perspectives to the Brigade team.

“I came from a very different kind of professional culture, which I think is also very appreciated by my team because not only am I from the promoter group, but I’ve also worked elsewhere in extremely professional environments,” Pavitra says. “So they see it as a great mix of both having the owner mentality, but at the same time, having a professional attitude.”

One of Pavitra’s priorities at Brigade has been staying focused on “the basics of the business”. Those basics, she says, include customer centricity, giving a quality product, and finding the right locations. Another basic is “building the right kind of organisation to stay resilient and reflect our values and culture”.

Brigade’s corporate culture and values can be summed up in the acronym “QC-FIRST”, which, Pavitra says, “stands for Quality, Customer Centricity, Fairness, Innovation, Responsible Socially and Trust”.

“You can’t have growth and you can’t have great performance without having the right culture in place,” she says. “You have to be qualitative and you have to make culture a really big part of it and you have to make it very clear to people what your values stand for.”

Putting those values into practice means seeking feedback from customers – and making sure it flows from sales and service staff to managers and executives. That feedback is crucial as customer expectations change.

“One of the biggest shifts happening in the industry is how can we take this real estate industry and give the same quality of service that people expect just because they deal with the Amazons and Swiggy’s of today,” Pavitra says. “They expect every transaction to be so simple.”

Brigade takes the same approach with suppliers as it does customers, stressing honesty and ethics in an industry where “there are many who have no intention sometimes to even finish making payments”.

Being attractive to suppliers burnishes the Brigade’s reputation and brings additional benefits – especially with designers, architects and landscape consultants.

“People who are passionate about pushing the boundaries really do enjoy working with Brigade because they know that we don’t have a cookie cutter approach to everything,” she says.

Greenifying processes

The issues of sustainability and social responsibility increasingly loom larger for companies the world over, including Brigade. Pavitra can point to Brigade’s practices and projects as examples.

“We don’t believe in greenwashing,” she says. “We believe in measures that actually will have impact and change people’s behaviour for the better, and we believe in putting in infrastructure that will help our future customers.”

Brigade has been installing forward-looking features in its developments like outlets for electric vehicles as well as electricity and water meters.

“We want to be seen as a sustainable developer. We also have been trying to greenify and to plant a lot of trees within our projects and in our neighbourhoods,” Pavitra says.

“It’s important that in addition to wanting to be a profitable company, wanting to be an organisation that meets the customer’s requirements, we also want to meet society’s requirements and create spaces that are good for the environment and are sustainable for growth of our cities.”