Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Ayesha Thapar transforms from a fashionista to a businesswoman

How Ayesha Thapar transforms from a fashionista to a businesswoman


I have never modelled," Ayesha Thapar tells you. Then what was it that she did all these years when she posed in designer outfits for glossy magazines?
She describes as "interesting" the amount of attention "a few" photo shoots that she "did in jest" have generated, she was just trying to get rid of her fear of facing the camera. Hard to believe? "But it is true," she insists.
Thapar is daughter of Vikram Thapar and CEO of Indian City Properties Ltd (ICPL), the real estate arm of the privately held Thapar Group inherited by IM Thapar which is present across segments such as coal trading and infrastructure development. Her father and brother Varun look after the coal-trading and infrastructure divisions.
Thapar, it was clear when ET on Sunday met her at Thapar House, 124 Janpath, New Delhi, can be very argumentative. "But she also sees reason. She is extremely flexible," says 23-year-old social entrepreneurSamayak Chakraborty who first met her at a conference in Delhi last November. After a chat with him, she agreed to co-float an NGO, Nimaya, to fund women entrepreneurs.
"She is a next-generation entrepreneur with a totally different vision," adds Chakraborty who in 2007 founded the Electronic Youth Media Group and became one of the country's youngest CEOs.
"I prefer using my brains to my looks," Thapar says. Somewhat unusually for business family scions, she has a graduate degree in economics, from Wellesley College, Boston. She also majored in mathematics and took a minor degree in painting.
So, when did she quit posing for glossies? More than a year ago, Thapar, now in her 30s, was at a photo shoot for a fashion magazine in Mumbai. Halfway through the exercise, she got up and said, "I don't want to do this." Back then, she was one of the best-known faces of Delhi's Page 3 circuit, but she didn't want to play the role of a fashionista anymore, she decided. She walked out and later paid for the shoot.
She was already heading ICPL, which, by her own admission, "was not that active when I came back to India four years ago from Miami". She returned to Delhi after her four-year-old marriage with Turkish businessman Engin Yesil ended.
ICPL has some 40-50 heritage properties across the country. With Thapar at the helm, it is developing the top 20-25 of them, some of them high-end residential or commercial properties. They include a residential building at Carmichael Road, Mumbai, a commercial-cum-residential building near Tollygunge in Kolkata, a villa cluster in Goa, a residential complex in Hyderabad's Jubilee Hills and a high-security "private-gated community" (cluster of villas) in Delhi. The Kolkata property, a mix of commercial and residential flats, will also house a restaurant and an art gallery.
Thapar goes on to say that she expects to complete developing these premium projects in Kolkata, Goa and Hyderabad by 2013, and the one in Delhi by 2014. In Rishikesh, where ICPL plans "a hospitality-cum-highend luxury destination", work is expected to conclude in the next three years. The first major development by ICPL, One Forbes, a high-end commercial building in Mumbai, was completed in 2007.
It houses the offices of Tata Motors, Tata Capital, SNG & Partners, etc. The ICPL CEO is now looking at "redoing" Thapar House on Delhi's Janpath. A Mumbai-based analyst says that ever since Thapar took over the reins, ICPL has been tapping one opportunity after another.
"The company has been making the best use of its existing properties in some of the most expensive locations in the country, and that will give it space and freedom to expand further," the analyst said, asking not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media. Private equity fund manager Amit Bhatiani also talks about Thapar's "flexible bent of mind". Says Bhatiani: "She focuses a lot on the user, and not just on increasing floor space index. She has picked up the basics of real estate very quickly."
Thapar feels that it shouldn't surprise anyone that she is "doing well" in her business. "It is in my blood," she says. She lists her previous "successes": helping boost revenues at her former husband's varied business operations in the US, especially his telecom company Tel3.com.
About the real estate business she is now in, Thapar notes, "We always try to be as conservative as possible. You have to be very careful about what you do." She didn't disclose details of the company's investment.
If you go by demeanour, Thapar looks much more of a businesswoman than a fashionista these days. Walking out of that fashion shoot would appear to have served her well. But let's not forget, she points out, those Page 3 days helped her overcome the fear of being photographed.
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