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Mumbai’s most reclusive billionaire

india Updated: Mar 09, 2008 01:36 IST
Saurabh Turakhia
Saurabh Turakhia
Hindustan Times
shoppers stop

You don’t see him on Page 3 or TV. You don’t see his interviews in the pink papers. But when the history of India’s retail revolution is written, Chandru Raheja’s name will figure prominently.

Few know of the man ranked 368 on the Forbes rich list and valued at $3 billion (Rs 12,000 crore) — he is media-shy and attempts to reach him failed. But India Inc universally acknowledges him as one of the pioneers of the retail boom.

Long before Big Bazaar became the mecca of the splurging masses, there was Raheja’s Shopper’s Stop, and in its wake followed other landmark projects like Hypercity, Inorbit and Mindspace.

If they are household names today, it has a lot to do with the quiet, cool-as-ice 68-year-old.

Raheja, chairman of the . Raheja Corp, got Shopper’s Stop when the family businesses were divided in the mid-1990s. At that time, the retail venture was quite new. Those were tough, nervous times but he backed Shopper’s Stop’s management team led by managing director BS Nagesh.

His temperament carried the business to where it is today. Shashi Kumar, chief investment officer at a large real estate fund who worked with Shopper’s Stop as head of business development for five years, recalls his interactions with Raheja. “He is cool and composed. He has the big-picture vision,” says Kumar, adding that his straight-dealing style is a characteristic that’s getting increasingly rare among Indian businessmen nowadays. “Never will he recommend any vendors or discounts, or come in the way of his businesses being run professionally,” adds Kumar.

Age is no dampener for Raheja, who believes in empowering people to get the best out of them. It’s a testament to his vision, say industry analysts, that he foresaw today’s mall mania by developing Inorbit, leveraging the group’s presence in the real estate and retail space.

Raheja developed the Mindspace IT-BPO complex in Mumbai first and followed it up with an encore in Hyderabad. Today, state governments across the country want to replicate this model.

Shubranshu Pani, managing director (retail services) at the Jones Lang Lasalle Meghraj consultancy, credits Raheja with giving the information technology industry the real estate infrastructure it required in Mumbai. “His group has been one of the principal architects of realty development in the city. Its professionalism in all the areas it operates in is admirable. It sets the standards in quality and infrastructure it provides to end users, commercial and retail,” says Pani.

Raheja is as well-networked in business and financial circles as he is fiercely protective of his privacy. Known to be a risk-taker and opportunity-spotter, he is also credited with being the first Raheja to look beyond the family’s stronghold, Mumbai. The very fact that he has steered clear of all controversies despite being in real estate and retail for so long is testimony to the way he conducts business, say industry watchers.

That grace, say those who know the family, is also evident in the way he has brought up his sons, Neel and Ravi.