The builder of all things

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on April 17, 2014 Published on January 31, 2014

Model builder: GVK Reddy at his office at the historicPaigah House in Hyderabad. Photo: PV Sivakumar

His empire has it all — the essential and the diverse. GVK Reddy on what makes him the ‘first and the best. On a Hyderabadi winter morning, I walk past the Rolls Royce parked in the portico of Paigah House to meet GVK Reddy, chairman and managing director of GVK.

On a Hyderabadi winter morning, I walk past the Rolls Royce parked in the portico of Paigah House to meet GVK Reddy, chairman and managing director of GVK.

The Paigah noblemen were renowned for their palaces and buildings in Hyderabad. The beautiful Paigah House, a cement and iron doff of the hat to a legacy of construction, now serves as the corporate office of the diversified GVK Group.

Flush from the successful opening of the Terminal 2 of Mumbai International airport, Reddy is waiting for me at his first floor office. His wife, Indira, who is the managing director of Taj GVK Hotels Limited, is with him. At 6 feet 3 inches, Reddy is strapping and fit, belying his 75 years.

Born in Kothur village in the Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh, Reddy has spent the last 25 years managing some pioneering projects. Some of these have come to fruition in the last 30 days. The majestic new international airport at Mumbai, T2, has just opened its doors. An expansion project of the Bangalore International Airport (BIA) has been commissioned and a major corporate social responsibility service of the Emergency Management Research Institute (EMRI) in Uttar Pradesh, offering emergency care services, has also started.

Speaking about the ₹5,500-crore T2 Terminal, Reddy says, “Such projects are for generations.” T2, Mumbai is part of ₹12,500-crore Mumbai airport modernisation project. Not only is it a place where planes land and take off, the airport is also a mega art gallery. “I do not hesitate to spend extra to add to the comfort and beauty, and don’t compromise on quality either even if it means extra effort. If we have to re-do anything, we will do it,” he says.

Even though Reddy has a strong focus on the aesthetic now, he began his career largely building the essentials — irrigation projects, canals, bridges and dams. Over the past three decades, GVK has been engaged in construction and infrastructure, hospitality, life sciences, retail, transportation sector (spanning roads and airports), power sector, mining, oil and gas blocks.

“The guiding principle for me and my family (wife Indira and son GV Sanjay Reddy) has been to be first and the best. This is not just a statement. We have always tried to achieve it in whatever we do individually or as a group,” he says with obvious pride.

In 1989, Reddy set up Novopan, a particle board manufacturing unit near Patancheru industrial estate, and later another plant in the US, and gradually diversified into hospitality with hotels in Hyderabad, Chandigargh and Chennai. A hotel in Mumbai is in the process of completion.

Once the company was firmly established as a builder of reputed hotels, Reddy went further. He developed the first independent power project in the country after liberalisation under the PV Narasimha Rao Government, and eventually added power projects and airports, in India and abroad, deepwater oil and gas blocks in the country and a coal mine in Australia. The company also has the mandate to develop two airports in the Republic of Indonesia.

For Reddy, the strategy to developing his empire has been a combination of organic growth and acquisitions. He has the propensity to set up his own projects at first and later consolidate them through acquisitions. This approach has been the case in not just the hospitality sector, but also the power sector, airports and even mining in India and abroad.

In 1996-97, GVK set up the first independent power project in the country, the 220mw Jegurupadu gas-based power plant. “Look at the background when this was set up. There was no lending mechanism for private projects. Yet we pulled it off. IFC, Washington, rated it as one of the best plants in the world, in the backdrop of some of the most trying times. The power plant was described as a horticulture project with a power plant,” says Reddy.

The company then moved to building roads and expressways. The first 6-lane expressway between Jaipur and Kishangunj was executed by GVK. “Later, we built on this by taking up more projects, both road and in the power sector. As we developed the gas-based power projects in Andhra Pradesh and a thermal power project in Punjab, we also looked at backward integration by acquiring oil and gas blocks in the KG basin and coal assets in the country and abroad,” he says.

The GVK Group trained its attention on airports first by acquiring a stake in the Bangalore airport. Once that was consolidated, Reddy went ahead and acquired the rights to modernise and develop the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai.

His ability to manage such diverse projects has earned him the admiration of his peers. “GVK is a person, who inspires himself and all young entrepreneurs by his continuous innovation, and by his ability to spot opportunity. From Novopan to airports is a long and different journey, but the destination remains the same. That’s success!” says E Sudhir Reddy, CMD of IVRCL.

GVK Reddy himself is more measured about his company’s growth trajectory. “We have grown the group with a string of acquisitions and the biggest has been the acquisition of the Hancock coal mine asset for $ 1.26 billion. This is a big project and one of the most integrated projects in the world which will see an investment of over $10 billion. We have teamed up with Aurizon and hope to finalise more partners, and expect to close finances by the year end,” he says.

When GVK secured the mandate of the Mumbai airport, there were many, including other industrialists, who had written it off. They knew how difficult it was to execute the project amidst challenges such as paucity of land, encroachments, and managing the work without disrupting existing operations. “These people have come back to compliment us,” he says.

L Madhusudhan Rao, chairman, Lanco Infratech, has known Reddy for many years. “GVK Reddy is a visionary who exemplifies the adage that success is only hard work, initiative and perseverance. His exceptional taste and penchant for details is reflected in each and every activity he undertakes, which make him unique and special,” he says.

Reddy was conferred an honorary doctorate by Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University and awarded Padma Bhushan in 2011.

Venkat Jagdish of OTS, is also an old friend of the family. Despite knowing them for two decades, Jagdish is amazed by GVK’s modesty “They have the best cars in the world and products from the best brands, be it clothes, watches, shoes. But somehow, they have this trait of maintaining a low profile and confining themselves to their inner circle. Their projects, however, speak for themselves.”

The other aspect of GVK Reddy is his interest in sports. He starts the day by playing a round of tennis. “That keeps me fresh and away from any stress that work could possibly throw at me,” he says. It’s no wonder then that a young Sania Mirza found an early sponsor in GVK.

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Published on January 31, 2014
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