Anshuman Magazine of CBRE discusses effective leadership, millenials, Trump's America, and his core business -- the real estate market -- with Nivedita Mookerji.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
One of the best known names in Indian real estate, Anshuman Magazine, is clearly fond of restaurants with history. We arrive at The Spice Route in The Imperial on the chosen date and decide to sit outside as the restaurant is freezing cold. Magazine, who has stayed with CBRE for over two decades and is now chairman, India and South East Asia, tells me that maintaining air-conditioning temperature is a challenge in most parts of the world, including Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong.
While we order our drink -- mint cooler -- Magazine explains why The Spice Route is his favourite restaurant.
"It took them seven years to do the interiors, and that's not usual. I like the place for the story it tells about the spice route from India to South-east Asia and also about the human cycle."
He promises to give me a tour of the place once lunch is done.
After we order our lunch -- appam, Malabar meen curry and Sri Lankan chicken with fresh yoghurt -- the most difficult part about eating out, we talk about his frequent travels. I tell him how his office is always telling me that he's travelling, and we laugh about it.
But he says it's not fun to travel so much, calling it a "corporate punishment''. So much travel is one of the most difficult parts of the work, he says.
Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States -- those are his usual travel destinations on work. Within India, it's mostly Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Chennai.
His travel brings us to post-Trump America. He's travelling to the US that week for the first time after Donald Trump took charge as president of the USA.
He believes globalisation and protectionism are happening together around the world, not just in the US. He says that Trump is doing things that are positive for America, and that will benefit India.
"I expect increased investment from America to India."
He's betting on increasing consumption levels in India to help attract investment. Just like it helped China.
Piping hot appams and delicious curries are here and we are enjoying the meal. Between our bites, we talk about foreign investor confidence in India.
Are they apprehensive about the unpredictability of Indian policies, as some of them point out?
According to Magazine, it is to some extent difficult to do business here. But significant investment will come, even from Asia, especially Japan and China.
"Some investors complain about policies, but we are in a better place."
My guest refers to competition between states and their ranking in ease of doing business as a positive step. Ranking of the states through the 96 steps for doing business is interesting, according to Magazine.
He agrees that "India is a huge ship, and it will take time to turn it around". It's true, he says, we are still not where we should be and some investors want to exit.
He's emphatic that despite the country's demographic advantage and economic growth, India is not the only opportunity for investors. They have a lot to choose from, and India cannot forget that it is competing with many other countries across sectors.
We are repeating appams by now and get into a conversation on regions in India, languages spoken and, strangely enough, journalism.
The manager comes in at this point and says he loves journalists and that they do a great job, offering pens and notebooks in case there was a need to jot down points.
We go back to what we were discussing earlier on travel and the places he likes to visit.
Singapore seems to be his top choice. Reason: It's very efficient.
"Everything works there," is how he describes the place, particularly mentioning Singapore's housing-for-all initiative. House ownership has positive implication for health, work, productivity of a nation and overall happiness.
In India, that focus is missing, he points out.
The other city which has a huge buzz is New York from the point of view of work. According to Magazine, "They have the most hard-working people in New York."
At this point, I ask Magazine if he thinks Indians are hard-working. "Yes they are, but they could be more efficient.'' Perhaps, because that's the culture here, or maybe it's a mindset issue.
We get to work-life balance and how the young generation is driving the change at workplaces.
Millennials want gyms close to their workplace, a study showed recently. In India, they want their workplace to be close to restaurants. Who thought of those things earlier?
"They want to work hard through the week and want their weekends."
We are almost through with the main course, and it feels good to talk about Goa -- how it has become a 12-month destination because youngsters are flying to Goa for weekend holidays now.
According to Magazine, a work-life balance will make India more efficient... I try to convince my guest that he should go for another appam, but he believes he's overeaten.
What about his core business, real estate? Is there any sign of revival?
He points out that residential sales are not as bad as the perception is. He expects high supply of affordable housing in the months ahead.
The office space is doing brisk business, with IT and ITES being the key movers. The goods and services tax (GST) will have a significant play in real estate too, he says.
"GST will be a game changer for the country."
It's time for dessert. We narrow down on "pineapple delight", diced pineapple with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream.
Magazine doesn't have a sweet tooth, but we share the dessert.
I ask him about his long stint at CBRE, and whether he was ever tempted to move to any other job. He's been in only two jobs after completing his MBA from England in the late 1980s.
He joined CBRE when it was setting up the India business and the company was called Richard Ellis.
The only other company that he has worked for is HEG, which was a French joint venture and was into graphite electrode export.
That was the time when India was not on the global map, he says. "The late 80s to now -- there's been maximum change anytime in history -- no mobile and no internet to the 24X7 connected world."
Then multinationals were beginning to set up their offices, and so did Richard Ellis, which was servicing companies across the world, with Magazine as its first India office employee.
"I got contacted to get into real estate. I had no clue about real estate.''
His parents didn't quite appreciate it as real estate didn't look like a good fit after studying in England. But Magazine was impressed when he spotted a Richard Ellis signage at a remote place in Zimbabwe while he was on an assignment. Again at Harare airport, he saw a Richard Ellis signage. That convinced him it was a good brand, and the compensation package was good, making his decision to take that job and stay with it that much simpler.
The India office has 6,200 people now, Magazine tells me. "It's been an exciting journey... I didn't get tempted by big job offers.''
Real estate has its hook, he realises. "Which other business is there that touches every business?"
Dessert is all polished off and we enter the last leg of the conversation about how good a boss he is.
"You should ask my colleagues, I get a mixed reaction on that one (laughs)..."
Does he scream and shout when work is not done? "Never, I get surprised when bosses shout."
He tells me he's very surprised when he hears the line "the boss is in a bad mood". He believes no boss can bring his bad mood to the workplace. Anybody who raises his voice or is disrespectful has no business to be a leader, he concludes.
Before we leave, as promised, he takes me on a tour of the restaurant.