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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

Last updated on: July 23, 2012 17:17 IST

From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

At 46, Colonel A. Sridharan VSM, recipient of the Vishishta Seva Medal, took retirement from the Indian Army to be an entrepreneur.

Though the initial days were tough and a learning experience for him, today, the Colonel is a successful entrepreneur with his business expanding to many places in India.

His business is building retirement homes for the elderly; not a charity organisation, he insists, but a business that will bring a smile on the faces of the elderly. You have to be above 50 to buy a property in Covai Senior Care Constructions Pvt. Ltd.

Started first in Coimbatore, today he builds homes in Pondicherry, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Soon, he will be in Pune too.

Here's how the Colonel turned his dream into a reality.

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Image: Colonel A. Sridharan.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Wanted to be an entrepreneur when in the army itself

Though I always had this entrepreneurial streak in me, it was destiny that made me one eventually. I joined the NDA (National Defence Academy) as a 16-year-old, there was no question of me dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur at that age.

The desire to be an entrepreneur came in the early 90s when I saw the architect building my house.

I enjoyed seeing my house come up and it was a happy feeling to experience it. It was he who first asked me why I could not be building houses.

I felt construction is one industry where you can see a home coming up in front of you and it makes people happy!

Eventually on July 4, 1995, at the age of 46, I left the army to be an entrepreneur. Like America got its independence on July 4, I also got my independence!

If you had to work, there is no better place than the army. But I wanted to be independent and my ideas to be implemented. But I had a tough time convincing my family, especially my wife. All of them felt I was mad to come out of the army to start a business.

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Image: Serene Homes.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Starting a construction business

I started a private limited company with three people, who knew the industry, as my partners. We invested Rs 5 lakh each and with about Rs 20 lakh, we began our venture.
I was the only novice in the group but I had the talent for marketing, advertising, writing and dealing with customers. So, I became the de facto the face of the company.

We bought 18 acres of land and started developing it. It was a great learning experience for me in all ways as the partners left midway with all their money, leaving me with a lot of debt! But I didn't give up as I had given a word and I carried on.

After all, I was a retired Colonel from the Army. It was my initiation into the civil sector and I learnt the harsh realities the hard way.

But I finished the project and it took me six years to finally come out of the tangle. My investment was Rs 5 lakh in 1995 and in 2001, I had made Rs 8 lakh. It was a bad beginning but a great learning experience.

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Image: Serene Homes.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Lessons from the first initiative

The first lesson I learnt was, you can't trust everybody on face value and the world is not so straight. But if you have the commitment to do something, you can achieve success.

You have to be very straight in your dealings. There has to be transparency in whatever you do. I developed an image that the Colonel would not cheat.

This was what I learnt when in uniform. This is the culture I developed in my company later on.

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Image: Serene member.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Starting Covai Property Centre

I started Covai Property Centre with the Rs 8 lakh and appointed four people. I had the choice of sitting at home enjoying my pension but I didn't. I had the motivation to succeed.

For three years, I struggled to establish my company. I did buying, selling, constructing... you name it, I did it.

The first big project I got was from three brothers. That was the first full fledged project I did and there were 28 apartments. It was followed by another 13 acres to develop a gated community of villas. Many more projects came up.

And my business grew, the number of people working for me grew and I was making profits. The real estate market also was good in 2004-05.

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Image: Serene members.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Building homes for senior citizens

Initially I just wanted to be a developer and not one developing for senior citizens. The change happened in 2005 when I was offered a piece of land to develop. I decided to think differently.

My wife and I had been visiting a senior citizens' home regularly and we used to spend time with them. My daughters had already left India by then.

That set me thinking. I asked my wife, what will happen to us when we also grow old? Who will take care of us?

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Image: Colonel Sridharan.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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That was when the land was offered to me, a piece of land that had no school or college in the near vicinity but there was a temple nearby. I thought, why not build a comfortable retirement home for senior citizens?

It was not meant for charity but targeting the middle and upper middle class who are used to a particular life style.

I wrote a paper on the idea and put in on the internet with questions. The response to the questionnaire was fantastic. When I launched the first 48 houses, in the first three months, nobody purchased. But in the next three months, I sold all the 48 homes. The idea was a huge success.

That was how Covai Senior Care Constructions was born as a separate wing. I bought the next six acres from the same person and built another 42 houses there.

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Image: Serene members.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Houses for those above 50

I decided that I would sell my houses only to those who are above 50. Usually, they occupy the houses only after retirement.

It is like building a house for your retirement. Till he comes to live, he can rent it out to those above 60 too, but through us.

Services at the houses

What we provide is community living and provide services from housekeeping to gardening to catering. There would be a community centre, club house, medical centre, ambulance, a nurse on call and a doctor checking on them regularly.

It would cost a couple around Rs 15,000 per month to live and the property belongs to them.

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Image: Serene homes.


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From an Army Colonel to a successful entrepreneur

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Moving from Coimbatore to other cities

When we found that most of the senior citizens would like to live in the place they are used to, we moved from Coimbatore to Pondicherry, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Soon, we will be in Pune.

We have also named our brand as Serene Retirement Communities and all of us belong to the Serene family now.

My question is, if McDonalds can give the same quality food all over the world, why can't Serene give the same facilities all over India?

We have 300 people working for us now, which excludes the labour. So far, 250 of our houses are occupied and by 2014, we will have about 3000 houses and we will look after about 4500 retired people.

We are growing by 30-40% every year. We make at least 20% profit out of each venture.

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Image: Serene members.


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Future plans

In November this year, I plan to start an Assisted Living Centre with 56 beds for those who cannot move freely and need assistance. If a person is taken care of well in such places, children who stay far off will also feel happy.

After that, I plan to have a Memory Care Centre for those who suffer from Alzhemier's and dementia.

In our Coimbatore centre, we have tele-medicine facility making use of ISRO's satellite which I will expand to other centres too.

We are the largest retirement community in India and it gives me tremendous satisfaction that I am leaving behind a good model that has social implications.


Image: Serene homes.


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