The Godrej business group recently commissioned a London marketing agency to redesign its brand image. The aim was to dust down the dowdy Godrej of Almira cupboards to something smarter befitting New India.
Though the sprawling Godrej empire is vast (sales last year totalled an estimated Rs246.57 billion), the group seemed to lack the sparkling edge of New India as represented by financial services, mass retail, telecoms, even foreign acquisitions. Godrej only went down that path recently, and modest it was too. That has now changed with the revaluation of the group’s huge and historically most passive asset — property.
With the repeal of the Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, long regarded as a drag on property-driven economic growth in Mumbai, Adi Godrej, chairman, is expected to gain control over nearly 3,000 acres of land in and around Mumbai. That will make him a significant player in Mumbai’s real estate market.
The traditional landed elite of Mumbai — many, such as Godrej, from the Parsi community–has watched as its unproductive land assets have in recent years been lifted, first, by a low interest regime and a revolution in financial products such as mortgages, and, more recently, by the ditching of a law that most analysts believe will be transformational for such businesses. Godrej stands at the head of this queue.
The self-effacing and gentlemanly Godrej remains calm as his historic business is changed beyond the rewording of his evidently redundant branding agency. Market estimates suggest that the group is in various stages of developing 20m sq ft of property and that the Godrej property unit, growing by a fifth annually, will be the group’s fastest-growing business in a couple of years.
But for all the fundamental change within his business, Godrej is simple at heart. Citing an early morning drive to his corporate office at Vikhroli, he is more likely to excuse himself from one of his wife Parmesh’s glamorous parties.
Catch him on an average weekend and he’ll be wind surfing, jet skiing or racing a couple of his kids and their friends around on a speed boat. Adi’s ruggedness and adventurous streak have given Parmesh sleepless nights. Once when he eschewed the car and chose to sail back from Madh Island he was even given up for dead – until search parties rescued him.
His office at Vikhroli is modest, he adheres to strict protocol and his matronly Parsi and Goan secretariat add a homely fuddy-duddy air. He talks with pride of his strong mother who was a keen Gandhian, a freedom fighter and a passionate philanthropist.
His unstinting support of his wife Parmesh’s legendary flamboyance speaks of a genuine liberal attitude. He is as committed in promoting his daughters’ careers in the Godrej company as he is of his son’s.
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