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For ITC providing great living environment to managers is a key differentiator

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-03-2017 Aniek Paul

Kolkata: Back in 2000, the US consulate in Kolkata was looking to sell a prime property in the heart of the city, a few hundred metres from the iconic Victoria Memorial. Though the Americans were in a hurry to find a buyer, the ask was high—$5 million. Take it or leave it.

Anand Nayak, who was at that time the group head for human resources at ITC Ltd, came to know that the US mission had put the Old Marine Club up for sale and rushed to chairman Y.C. Deveshwar, making a strong pitch for the property.

Rs15 crore wasn’t steep, but in those days, it wasn’t a small sum either, said Nayak. But because the property met all the requirements to build homes for ITC’s managers, he got his boss’s approval in “less than a minute”, recalled Nayak, who retired a year ago, having worked closely with Deveshwar for more than 20 years.

What stands on that property today is Victoria View, a condominium with 44 apartments overlooking the Victoria Memorial.

ITC is currently building such condos across the country: two in Chennai, and one each in Guntur, Bengaluru, Munger, Chandigarh and Mysuru, in addition to such gated complexes, which it already has in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad, Hardwar, Gurgaon and Munger.

For ITC, “providing a great living environment for its managers is a key differentiator” as an employer, said Nayak. Deveshwar used to say we owe it to the families of our managers. Soon after he joined as the chairman in 1996, he asked Nayak and other key people in the leadership to create an “employee value proposition, which is different from other companies”.

Deveshwar said housing could be a key differentiator in ITC’s employee value proposition, which also included providing opportunities to young managers to learn faster than at other organisations and to lead projects early in their careers, said Nayak.

In 1996, ITC acquired the first exclusive residence for its managers—a tower in Gurgaon built according to ITC’s specifications.

And Deveshwar went far beyond this vision statement to make sure that the homes that ITC built for its managers fully met his expectations, said Chittaranjan Dar, head of research and development and projects.

The chairman would insist that all our properties had large elevators, or stretcher lifts, because he wanted these homes to be friendly to “elderly parents” of ITC’s managers, said Dar, who personally oversaw the development of many such complexes.

And Deveshwar ordained that these complexes should be “elegant and not ostentatious”, according to Dar. They should have enough living spaces for children and all basic facilities of a condo such as fitness and recreation centres, but at the same time, they should be easy to maintain.

When ITC acquired a 6.5-acre property in Bengluru to build a new residential complex for its managers, Deveshwar said it must be built to be better than the one in existence at that time. So ITC built only 80 apartments in the Jakkur neighbourhood of Bengaluru, where “200 apartments could have been easily accommodated”, said Nayak.

Most are three-bedroom apartments of 3,600-4,200 sq. ft, fully geared, so that a person moving in “didn’t have to buy even a wardrobe”, said Dar.

Deveshwar would personally inspect many sites under construction—most recently, he arrived unannounced at a site in Ahmedabad two years ago where only around 20 flats were being built.

And as intended, these complexes become homes to a thriving community tied together by an organisation with diverse cultures from across India. This intermingling of cultures makes for a better upbringing of children, said Neel Kingston Jasper, head of corporate planning.

“These are intended to be ecosystems to maximise happiness for everyone in the family,” said Jasper, who has previously lived in ITC-provided homes in other cities but now lives in Victoria View. A native of Bengaluru, his mother spends a couple of months every year at his new home, where his school-going daughters are football champs within the complex.

For a company investing to build long gestation businesses ground up, retention of talent is of paramount importance. “Several times, I have been told that our managers were tempted to start new jobs outside ITC, but their families refused to move,” said Nayak.

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