Aditya Chellaram: Forging New Ground In The World of Real Estate Sales
At Paramantra, we believe that leaders don’t fit into conventional boxes. They are innovators and bring in novel solutions to pressing problems. Leaders in the truest sense are unafraid to be proved wrong and believe that constant learning is key to success. These traits visibly peek through in the personality of our next interviewee in the Lessons from Sales and Marketing experts’ series.
Aditya Chellaram is a young and dynamic individual who fulfills the role of Executive Director at a leading furniture brand. A brand that has successfully extended their expertise in the world of Real Estate. Aditya belongs to a strong lineage, where his great-grandfather was instrumental in founding the first commerce college in Bangalore. He carries this lineage on his able shoulders – aware of the responsibilities that come with taking the brand forward. He is a millennial and yet, has understood that the right combination of patience and perseverance can churn the wheels of long-term success.
A Walk Down Nostalgia Lane
Q: Why don’t you begin by telling us about your formative years starting from academics to the point where you ventured into your career?
A: My family is from Bangalore and so am I. We have been here for over 100 years now and my great-grandfather started the first commerce college in Bangalore. The Furniture business is about 54 years old and the Real Estate business is less than 10 years old. I went to school to Mally Aditi and post that I went to UCLA for 4 years for my degree.
As far as my work experience goes, my most formative experience was working in CBRE in the US. I leased industrial spaces to companies, so nothing very fancy. But it was here that I got the opportunity to work with Bennett Robinson – who is the highest grossing broker in the US. He was an eccentric man with a lot of cool quirks. For instance, he would implement rules where you could only wear white shirts and grey trousers to work. These were interesting experiences. It was a difficult job but also a place where I learned a lot about work ethic.
I returned to India and joined a company called Redwoods. They were a small boutique consulting firm. My role expanded to doing pretty much everything during my time there from retail to office to industrial. This is where I learned the nuts and bolts of Real Estate. From sourcing retail properties for Apple to finding Industrial land for Iron Mountain, a cold-chain logistics firm – I did it all.
Bringing In Modern Sensibilities To An Established Family Business
I left there after a year and a half because my family business needed some help in leasing out flagship office building in central Bangalore. We didn’t really have a dedicated leasing team at the time and my uncle wanted me to set one up. So, I did. I moved back and brought a friend onboard. Then in about 6 months, the building was leased out. It wasn’t anything we did – the building was in a very good location and pretty much leased itself out.
During the next year and a half, I worked very closely with my team in Chennai. We tried to market our residential properties there. We had to sell 2 residential assets which turned out to be a real struggle. The market had tanked by the end of March 2015 and we went from doing 10 sales a month to 2 sales a month. This was coupled with a price hike and we had to break down our marketing office. It was like the opening of floodgates all at once. Since then marketing has been a little slow in Chennai, but we have managed to revive sales thanks to Paramantra and our team. We learned from these downfalls and operationalized the sales process. Today, things are more streamlined and work in a systematic way rather than being haphazard. All in all, it has been a good journey.
It was during this time that I decided to apply for another job since I felt I need some outside experience with a larger developer. At that point, I didn’t feel I had the wherewithal to take my family business to the next level. So, I moved to Mumbai and worked with Wadhwa, a large Real Estate firm. Their primary focus was on developing residential properties. I think the key skills that I picked from there was the professionalization of work. Questions like ‘How to get finance on projects? How to get debts on projects? What constitutes as safe debt and what does not – these were some pressing questions I found answers to. I was also helping them plan a 450-acre township. So, it was a great learning experience.
Another plus was that I got to work with Mr.Navin Makhija. He was a great mentor and I learned a lot from him. With all that experience, I came back to Bangalore about 8 months ago and initiated the launch of our project in Chennai. It is a large Grade A, IT Building very close to the airport. You could say, this is our big foray into Real Estate. We are also looking into launching 2 other projects in the next 6 months – one will be residential and one commercial. So bigger and better things are on the horizon.
Saying it Like It Is
Q: You have considerable experience in sales and marketing. What has been your key takeaway from both these fields?
A: I realized early on that I wouldn’t be great at residential sales. I usually tell the truth about things which clearly doesn’t work in that setting. I have done a reasonable amount of commercial sales and this is something I understand inherently. We have been in the furniture business and I understand office spaces, layouts, planning, and design. So that side of sales I do understand.
In terms of marketing, I decided to give it a chance when I returned to my family business. During that time, we spent about 30 lacs on marketing alone – which was something that we had earlier spent over a 4 year period. So, we essentially doubled the marketing budget. We worked hard but unfortunately for us, online marketing was just coming up then which meant people were not attuned to putting up their data online. Today, the business of online marketing is much more established. Around this time, a lot of external factors affected the kind of success we could have otherwise achieved.
At that point, the market was so bad that people were offering 5-10 lac discounts right off the bat. There was a huge dip in the market. We as developers, were much safer, who were debt free and funded internally, had projects that had already sold 300 units. We were not going to give deep discounts just to finish the final inventory, which other developers needed to do. We stuck to our guns and sold 3 apartments a month and it brought us to now, where we are nearly sold out. Slow and steady is how we played it, and everything fell into place.
Challenges Faced and Lessons Learnt
Q: Have there been any challenges you faced which made you feel like you were sailing on unchartered waters? How did you overcome it?
A: Most of life you are sailing on unchartered waters and the future is always uncertain. Well, there are instances that stand out. One instance, in particular, was an eye-opening experience. I was talking to our General Manager and he said, “Aditya, not everyone understands the depths of detail you are going into. Even if you try to show it, there probably will be one in a thousand people who will see it.” Now I am someone who has always been design-focused and look for aesthetics in terms of product and material. So, I was taken aback by his advice, but it also made me realize that there may be another way of appealing to customers. It showed me that I was not selling to me.
My customer was and will always remain someone else. I needed to understand my customers before I started selling to them. So, I dedicated the next 6 months towards understanding customer mentality. For example, people in Chennai didn’t want to stay in houses on the top floor. I thought the top floor would have the best view- there is this view of trees, lakes flanked by greenery on all side and just a nice landscape to look at. But the customers said no because the top floor would be the hottest. Gaining this understanding of customer behavior was difficult but very integral to our future development plans.
Another instance when this rationale played out was when we spent 2 crores on a clubhouse. This clubhouse had a wide swimming pool which was surprisingly left unused for a year. The reason was that the women didn’t feel safe. When we built it, we thought we had this centrally located atrium pool which was surrounded by all other apartments. But the women felt uncomfortable using the pool as people from other apartments would stand and watch. So, we put up these agro nets to make it look nice and it worked. Now, we have up to 50 people using the pool every day. It’s just these challenges you face and you learn from them.
Asking The Right Questions
Q: You come from a strong lineage. Have there been people, within your family or even outside, who have inspired you? It could be in terms of something they did or said that has stayed with you.
A: There are 2 people who have influenced me the most. One is my dad, who is by far the hardest negotiator I have seen. He finds value in any experience he is exposed to. He will travel to New Zealand and bring back concepts with the intent of utilizing these in his own work. With any new interaction, professional or otherwise, he thinks of how it can benefit him. If I tell him about a cool music system or a concept that I saw, then the first thing he will say is ‘Why don’t we do that in India?’ He is always trying to find value for himself in everything, which is brilliant!
He also taught me that if I don’t ask the right questions, then I will never get the answer. Another person within our organization is Mr.Gupta, our CEO, who has been a huge mentor to me.
A person outside the organization would be Mr. Vinod Rohinra. He gave me some very practical points at a time when we were struggling to rent out a property in central Bangalore. His advice worked wonders! The building was leased out in less than 6 months!
It’s great to have great mentors like that around you. I also believe that there is always time to learn. I am one who has always supported continuous education. Whenever there is a course or a conference, whether in India or abroad, I am the first one to be there.
Q: You did mention that you have an eye for design, so is this something you pursue creatively as well? Also, do you feel it is something that channelizes into your work?
A: I think work wise there isn’t anything specific, but I think observing different cultures has always helped me. Every time I travel, I observe and bring back different aspects of architecture, themes, and motifs into our own spaces. I was in Bali and it is the most gorgeous city in the world. The balance of traditional and modern in Bali is unlike any city I have seen. It has this harmonious blend of Australian and Balinese influences. The architectural style is beautiful and minimalist.
I also like wine, football, and travel. What I enjoy most is just experiencing and immersing myself in different cultures. From crazy world cup trips to Brazil to traveling to the smallest villages in Spain, where there are 2000 people who are watching a bullfight. These experiences really transform you.
Bridging The Chasm
Q: What do you feel is the next thing you want to work on personally or professionally? Not in a year or so, but a long-term goal that you have for yourself and your organization.
A: I think in the long term I have recognized that my skill as a connector can help me build stronger foundations. I can bring people together irrespective of where they are from. I think that my role as a connector will prove to be functional in this organization. I am technically not part of the management and neither am I part of the general employees. So, I form a functional role here. Today, I present options to people. I go to them and say these are the pros and cons and now you make the decision.
But I think now it’s time for me to take the reins in terms of taking the organization to the next level when it comes to design, quality, product delivery, and customer relationship. My core focus is to build products that are ecologically sustainable and extend into working and living spaces. It’s going to take some time to get there, but that is the vision.
Q: At what point did you realize that your role as a connector was a soft skill that you could exercise in different situations?
A: So, I didn’t learn the skill per se. I think I always had it. I have always been a good mediator between my sister and my cousins during childhood fights. So, that has always been there. But I think there was one instance where my fiance and I organized a burger tasting event. We brought in the 10 best burger restaurants in Bangalore to sell their burgers. The proceeds were then donated to this NGO which works towards the education of Dalits and Adivasis. It served a beautiful connect where 2 different aspects of society came together. On the one hand, it gave everyone who goes to these restaurants an opportunity to see what people on the ground were doing as well. It worked out as a beautiful partnership. I think that was the first time it really hit me that I had some useful skills.
When Commitment is Key
Q: Lastly, Is there anything you want to share with someone who is venturing into sales and marketing or just someone who is venturing into the professional world?
A: My advice to anyone young who is venturing into sales and marketing or just the business world is that impact is something that takes time. To actually feel that you are making an impact on your organization takes patience. All of us are so impatient today and want to make an impact within 6 months. Everyone is constantly seeking change. I think giving time to organizations and proving your worth is far more valuable than jumping jobs every 6 months. Employers today are looking for people who show a true level of commitment.
With those wise words, Aditya summed up the ethic by which millennials can abide. We would like to thank Aditya for taking the time and sharing his journey with us.
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