Business Today

In the land of plenty

From running a restaurant in London to managing a real estate fund in India, Ajoy Veer Kapoor has been on a roll.

Rajiv Bhuva | Print Edition: Jan 9, 2011

On April 20, 2005, three and a half hours after becoming a father, Ajoy Veer Kapoor took a flight to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil from London's Heathrow airport to make a presentation to the board of HSBC in the United Kingdom. Then Global Head of Strategy & Implementation (Real Estate), Kapoor found a pre-typed resignation letter with a handwritten note from his wife Foram. "It is time to go to India, follow your dream and create the business you always wanted to," the note read.

After the presentation, Kapoor spoke with board members and tendered his resignation. "I told them that I wanted to create an India-focused real estate asset management platform," says Kapoor.

Ajoy Veer Kapoor
MD, Saffron Asset Advisors

Previous employer HSBC, UK

Why I came back To set up an independent real estate asset management platform for high quality international institutional investors to invest in India

If I was not in India I would be in either Brazil or Africa using the opportunity of their fundamental strengths and the risk arbitrage to create an operational asset management platform

High point in India Many. The experience I gained as a managing committee member of Standard Chartered, meeting my wife Foram in Mumbai and getting married in 2003

Low point in India Leaving the family of Standard Chartered Bank, which offered me a learning platform between 1995 and 2004
Leaving HSBC was a tough call for Kapoor, who had been told that if he had stayed back at HSBC, he had a CEO role coming his way at one of HSBC's Latin American operations. But Kapoor resisted that temptation because he could see a bigger one on the horizon. "India was the country to be in for the next 20-30 years." Yet, Kapoor's decision also smacked of super timing. In March 2005, the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion under the Ministry of Commerce & Industry brought out a press note, allowing up to 100 per cent foreign direct investment in townships, housing, built-up infrastructure and constructiondevelopment projects. In May 2006, Saffron Asset Advisors, an India headquartered private equity fund management company, was born. Kapoor joined hands with Rohin Shah, a chartered surveyor and then Managing Director of Meghraj Properties Ltd. in London. Over the next two years, the company raised some $500 million. Its proposition: knowledge of the Indian real estate market coupled with world-class risk mitigation systems.

"We created structures for investors to participate in a transparent manner," says Kapoor. The going in real estate is never smooth, but with investors like Standard Life, Aviva and HSBC on board, Kapoor had reason to be upbeat.

Recently, Saffron announced the completion of a merger of its Mauritian fund management company, Saffron Capital Securities, and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Saffron Capital Advisors, with a Mauritius-based wholly-owned subsidiary of IL&FS Investment Managers Ltd, or IIML, India. IIML is a part of the IL&FS Group, and the merger has helped it create the largest alternative fund management platform investing in India. Kapoor believes that the benefits of the merger are mutual as both Saffron and IIML bring to each other their respective strengths and differentiated investment and execution knowledge.

Kapoor's uniqueness is that he is not a typical banker/advisor. When he was just 19, Kapoor started a restaurant called Calamity Jane in Hampstead in London. It was the first restaurant in London to have a drinking licence up to 6 a.m. "The food was not very good," Kapoor confesses. But it was a hit for obvious reasons. The other business he started was a chain of convenience stores, which began with the buyout of a burnt-down supermarket. Kapoor was at his innovative best when he got approvals to build flats above the supermarket.

Kapoor's strategy for scale was simple: buy properties in run-down areas of London and put up his stores there. Born in Karachi and raised across Kenya, the United States, Brazil, China and Saudi Arabia, before moving to Britain, Kapoor has certainly been there - and done what few would dare to.

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