Building a brick & mortar empire

Moumita Bakshi Chatterjee | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 15, 2012

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I have cheated death on five occasions, switched almost overnight from the rural backwaters of Uttar Pradesh to being chauffeured around in a Rolls-Royce, rubbed shoulders with the English high society and almost married into it – but fate intervened and sent me back to India and to a cavalry regiment of the Indian Army.

On that racy note, DLF Chairman K.P.Singh plunges into a narrative about his life in his autobiography ‘Whatever The Odds: The Incredible Story Behind DLF’.

The book comes at a time when land acquisition issues are under intense public scrutiny and farmers’ agitations have led to the crafting of a new land cquisition policy.But, controversies aside, the book offers a first-hand account of how a real estate baron grappled with a maze of archaic laws and town planning norms, persuaded lawmakers to change some obsolete ones, and went on to build, brickby- brick, what is today India’s largest real estate company.

The book is punctuated with gripping anecdotes on the deciding moments in Singh’s life and the turning points both on his professional and personal fronts. The book documents the journey of DLF, its early setbacks, the happy milestones and the constant battle for survival. Singh reveals how his father-in-law, Chaudhry Raghvendra Singh, pained by the slow progress of his real estate venture, had almost closed DLF down after private sector developers were forced out of the business of urban land development because of Government regulations.

In 1975, nudged by Chaudhry Saheb, Singh himself came close to selling shares in DLF but then quickly decided against it, after being advised by two DLF loyalists.

“It was January 1975. I picked up my pen to sign a share transfer form. I was about to sell all my shares in DLF. On the desk before me was a cheque in my favour for Rs 26 lakh…It was the amount I would get for severing my links with DLF forever,” he writes.

The flow and rhythm of the narrative offers readers a glimpse of Singh’s persona as a businessman, a doting husband, a loving father, and a devoted son. And it underlines his versatility. Singh admits there were times when he would start his day chasing different levels of bureaucracy to navigate complex regulations and laws, and a few hours later, with equal ease, trudge the dusty lanes of Haryana villages to share a meal with the farmers.

He would chat with them in the local dialect, in an attempt to persuade them to sell land. The same afternoon, he would play golf with the elite before dressing up for dinner with the global CEOs.

That said, the journey from the rural belt of Uttar Pradesh all the way to the billionaire club was not an easy one for Singh. He describes how Bansi Lal, an influential politician and then Union Defence Minister, unleashed a relentless campaign to destroy his company. Singh admits that Bansi Lal managed to keep the company in check for almost 20 years, from 1970s to the 1990s.

From the difficult decisions to the most daunting personal moments, the book has it all. Singh talks with emotion about his wife Indira’s miraculous escape after a chopper crash in the hills of Mussoorie in December 2000 and her subsequent battle with small cell lung cancer. “Indira was the wind beneath my wings,” he says.

Between the covers, Singh also talks of his own near-death experiences. Woven subtly into this 322-page narrative is Singh’s mantra for success: doing thorough groundwork and background research before crucial meetings; building long-term relationships and maintaining them; dreaming big; and never losing sight of the goals even in the toughest of times.

In his darkest hours, Singh says he found inspiration from an old Urdu couplet: Kund-e-mukhalif se na ghabaraye eh akab/Yeh to aata hai tujhe uncha uthane

ke liye (O Eagle, do not get scared by the gusty storm coming from the opposite side - It is coming only to uplift you). That, perhaps, aptly summarises Singh’s journey so far.

Published on January 15, 2012
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