Ayushi Ashar: Maharashtra’s Real Estate Princess on her vision for the Ashar Group

Ayushi Ashar, Director – Acquisitions, Product Planning, Finance, Sales, Marketing & Strategy at the Ashar Group, is a young but powerful force in Maharashtra’s realty landscape. This slender, feisty beauty with brains is quite the master at juggling it all!

By Andrea CostaBir

Can you tell us about your background and becoming the Director of the Ashar Group?
Equipped with a BBA in Finance & Consulting from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta, United States, I went on to gain rich professional experience at some of the most reputed firms including portfolio management at JP Morgan Chase in New York. After one-and-a-half years in corporate America, I rejected the offer at JP Morgan NYC to return to India – with a vision to transform the real estate landscape.

How did your experience in finance and consulting in the US shape your perspective on real estate development in India?
The US has a very deep and evolved financial market. I worked in portfolio management and private equity, which gave me insights into distressed asset acquisitions, strategic management and value creation. The fund sizes, risk appetite, market size and penetration were humungous – the way it should be for a developed economy of that stature. But I was still blown away!

It made me realise the potential and opportunity for growth in India. Five years ago – this was the time right after demonetisation and RERA – the Indian real estate sector was taking strong strides towards professionalisation. I could see the transition from ‘old school real estate’ to a new, vision-oriented way of doing real estate in India. I realised the “distressed assets” acquired by US PE funds is not too different from what developers in India do when they acquire a redevelopment or distressed land parcel. And thus, it was the perfect juncture to enter Indian real estate.

Please share your work ethic.
Creative collaboration, quick decision making, attention to detail, determination and consistency in driving results.

Do you adhere to any professional mantras that drive your career?
There is no room for ego in a team.
Always ask – for a more creative solution, for extra negotiation, for better quality. The world is your oyster, but only if you are persistent.
Everything you do is reflective of your personal brand. Speak with intent, write with clarity, present with logic – it shows when you put in the extra 5 minutes for details.

Can you describe the process of identifying and acquiring new development opportunities for your group?
We have clear short term and long-term goals for the organisation. I have a Business Development criteria with minimum project size, potential locations, IRRs and so on formulated to be in sync with these goals.
However, we are also very fluid and dynamic in our response to what the market needs and the value we can create. Outside of traditional real estate, currently we are exploring student housing, international-level college campuses, luxury villa schemes and convention centres extensively.

How does your company ensure that it stays ahead of market trends and adapts to changing market conditions?
Research & Data – we work with multiple agencies to analyse market trends and consumer behaviour. Our in-house and digital teams also conduct a lot of primary research.
Interaction with Industry Experts – from financial institutions to design consultants, we have an extensive network of experts who serve as advisors and knowledge partners.
Industry Forums – our procurement team attends multiple forums and factory visits internationally and in India to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new product and technology.

How important is it for companies to have a strong CSR program, and what are some of the key initiatives that the Ashar Group is involved in?
“For it is in giving that we receive.” – St. Francis of Assisi
Giving back to the community is one of the most important responsibilities of any company or individual. We work on multiple initiatives across urban planning, arts, education and healthcare. Key among them are:
110 bed multi-speciality hospital in Thane – launched in 2019 with a goal to provide Grade-A healthcare at one-third the price for the middle class.
Upcoming 600 bed international-standard cancer hospital in collaboration with JITO, Tata Memorial and Thane Municipal Corporation, which will service the needs of the entire MMR and Maharashtra state at large. This facility will also have a special paediatrics wing, dharamshala and trimandir.
Raas Rang – an initiative to promote culture and arts in Thane. It is the second largest garba bestival in MMR (after Falguni Pathak’s in Borivali).

What is the secret to maintaining a strong relationship with your clients and stakeholders?
It starts with intention and ends with action. Our word is our bond and over the years, we have been able to gain their goodwill and trust. We are proactive and straightforward in our communication and will go the extra mile to ensure all commitments are fulfilled in the right manner.
Today, we have completed 22 years in business with over 25,000 residents and 40,000 professionals occupying our spaces daily. Yet, we are the only developer in MMR with zero RERA complaints, zero consumer court complaints, and no disputes with landowners or any other stakeholders. It is testament to our commitment to doing good business and delivering promises.

You are young and already a big gun in your family business, and going from strength to strength in the construction world. What advice would you give other young professionals interested in pursuing a career in real estate development?
I believe your ability to succeed is directly linked with your ability to self-initiate, learn on the job and drive results. One should strongly pursue and prioritise working with a manager who acts as a mentor and is invested in your growth. The professional sphere then becomes seemingly less daunting and more enticing.

As a young woman in a leadership role in the real estate industry, what is the biggest challenge you face?
Real estate has predominantly been a male-dominated industry and stereotyping, not being taken seriously, and bureaucracy at various levels are common challenges for women across industries.
However, I have been raised in an environment where gender equality has been paramount. In fact, our office also has a 50:50 ratio when it comes to gender. So honestly, I don’t dwell on the challenges. Talent, hard work and initiative matter the most. Opportunities are endless and your work speaks for itself.

Trained in Kathak, the Indian classical dance form, from your childhood, you have a passion for dance and continue to perform at multiple forums including the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai. Tell us a little about your love for dance.
Dance, to me, is meditation. The strive for perfection in every move, rigor of rehearsals, thrill and confidence of being on-stage, story-telling through choreography, banter with the troop – it has shaped me as a person and continues to ground me.
Kathak especially – with its intrinsic footwork, beautiful chakkars and roots in Indian culture – is one of the most graceful dance forms. I started training in Kathak when I was seven or eight years old and it has been an integral part of my life ever since. I led a dance team in college in the US and continue to choreograph and train whenever I have the chance even today.

Any key lessons that you learnt from your parents which you implement in your daily life?
From my father (Ajay Ashar, Chairman & Managing Director, Ashar Group), I’ve learnt a long, long list but to keep it short: His willpower and ability to motivate and mentor people to accomplish things they didn’t even know they were capable of!
From mom, I’ve imbibed her compassion, attention to detail, and her unparalleled ability to work hard.
Also adding to the list is my grandparents who have had a profound impact on all of us. My grandfather – for his spirituality, zest to celebrate life and endeavour to lead and grow businesses with ethics. My grandmother – who was eternally young at heart and whose thought process was way ahead of its time. I am what I am today because of the freedom, opportunity and values they showered me with.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?
This is hard and my family and friends have seen me struggle. But I think it comes down to priorities and time management. Family comes first, and I am the first one to say yes to spontaneous plans made by my friends. However, it is never at the cost of work.
I am very ambitious and particular with my work, hence zoom/video meetings are a boon. It allows you to be at multiple places at one time. Credit is all to my team who share my vision and play a key role in making things happen.
I also have a fixed morning routine alternating between gym, yoga and dance. It’s my “me-time” and I love challenging myself to achieve new goals to keep it interesting (current goal is a 10-second handstand).
When everything fails, the easiest solution is to give up on little sleep and power through with coffee 😀

To sum up, what is a day in the life of Ayushi Ashar like?
No day is the same. It ranges from a full day of site visits to check production quality, to days of being couped up in office for 14-15 hours before launches. Some days are full of reviews and zoom calls to gauge performance and set targets for the next quarter. Other days are completely creative where I sit with the design and marketing agencies to work on product planning. On Sundays, I often visit potential new land parcels and sales offices to see customer engagement.
It’s a wide spectrum and I find it more exciting this way – but I micro-plan my calendar week-on-week and love my to-do lists and Notes app!

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