Can a real estate company pull it off in the FMCG sector?

Gautam Kundu believes it can and that his Rs.3,000 crore group can’t get it that wrong in the lack of organic growth

34-4It was part curiosity and part admiration, praise and compliments that prompted 4Ps B&M to do a checkout on the Rose Valley group of companies. Can one banner really manage to successfully broadbase its activities and fan out to deliver such excellent brand equity across such an astonishing range of diverse sectors, comprising hotels, resorts, amusement parks, media & entertainment, residential townships, fashion, commercial complexes & shopping malls, IT, healthcare, education, social welfare, FMCG, garments, housing finance, and travel & tourism? The young, soft-spoken but dynamic Gautam Kundu, Chairman of the Rs.3,000 crore-worth Rose Valley group, smiled before unveiling the curtains to allow us a warm entry into his fascinating “Valley”.

First question – the name. How, when & why? “Good question. When my brother and I started this organisation in 1997, we were into rose plantation & floriculture. The name emerged automatically offering a lovely, feel-good glow. As the activity-base grew and new verticals bloomed, we saw no reason to change the name.” Powered by the spirit of adventure, innovation, enterprise & drive to break new ground whenever and wherever possible, the Kundu brothers zoomed ahead, swooping in on sectors offering exciting growth potential. Hotels, resorts & amusement parks were the next stop. Presently over 40 projects are at hand of which over 20 are functional. A pan-India focus with an emphasis on the eastern sector (their home turf), their hospitality wing have a presence in Goa, Haridwar, Jaipur, and Port Blair, with many more on the anvil, all set to be complete by 2016. Their jewel-in-the-crown however continues to be Mandarmoni, a spectacular resort spread over 100 acres of land, on the sea-front, a four hour-long drive from Kolkata. Luxury fuses with leisure activities and the range of water sports available can be compared to any resort anywhere.

While diversification into real estate – constructing housing complexes in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Maharashtra, MP, Odisha for middle and lower income groups – can be seen as a logical extension, the group’s thrust into FMCG appears confusing. Cakes, cookies, spices, salt, sugar, oil, packaged drinking water… the list is long. Explaining the serious plunge, Kundu says, “Nothing except the spirit of insightful marketing intelligence pushes us to discover gaps and fill it. Hence, despite stiff competition from established giants in the FMCG space, we continue to enjoy a larger customer-base wherever our products are marketed.” Over time, the drive to make Rose Valley a diversified giant led Kundu down the path of media business. Today, he owns a bouquet of satellite channels – Eastern India’s biggest network – and a Bengali daily paper Teensho Poishotti Din [Three Hundred & Sixty-five Days]. The next stop was film production. Recalls, Kundu, “We entred this business in 1990 with a Bengali film Guru Shishya, that turned out to be a super hit. Since then, we have produced over 20 films, mixing mainstream commercial with art-house fare. This year, we are all set to have the highest strike-rate in the industry with a release planned every month. We have got into the business of film distribution as well.

After showbiz came fashion. Today, he is into the menswear segment, offering premium formals & smart casuals. The brand is called Apple. A women & kids segment for formal, fashionable wear is on the cards. Kundu’s next stop in this segment will be the gold jewellery space. Starting out with a launch of ten shops in Kolkata during the 2013 Bengali New Year’s day [Poila Boishakh], he plans to go pan-India with over 100 shops over the next two years. He has business interests in other areas too, but these are his main initiatives and focus areas at present.

31-5Isn’t the head-honcho worried about the total lack of organic continuity in the product/service mix he currently offers? Not really – because each business is a separate group company, headed and handled by experienced professionals from that sector. Kundu claims that all persons in charge of his businesses are those with proven capabilities in their respective field. “It is their call and they are given full freedom with accountability. It’s working fine,” says a confident Kundu.

Regarding competition, he believes there is room for any player who has the determination, talent & commitment and is prepared to work hard. Totally conscious of the SWOT model, he is aware that his group’s basic strength lies in the Eastern belt of the country, and that he has a long way to go before he can create equity for the Rose Valley brand beyond his home turf. “Our concentration is obviously on the area where we have our base and enjoy huge customer loyalty. We will expand, but strategically and gradually.” In future, Kundu plans to get into providing education and healthcare to people across India. “My aim will be to catapult our turnover from new businesses like these from Rs.3 crore to Rs.30 crore to Rs.3 lakh crore!” Quite an ambitious count.

From humble beginnings to the owner of a Rs.3000 crore business empire, Kundu still believes that commitments to social upliftment of the underprivileged is as important as serving your business customers. “Our seriousness towards addressing needs of the less fortunate found reflection in a recent conference on CSR that we held in Singapore. Also our initiatives in the area of building orphanages & old-age homes and providing free education & healthcare [among others] reflect our involvement in this critical space,” says Kundu. His attitude is a reflection of what the company stands for. Serious when it comes to business, serious when it comes to society.

You may have never heard of the Rose Valley group or even the Kundu brothers if you’ve not visited the Eastern parts of India. But it lives and continues to earn money and fame. Actually, being low on publicity is how the intensely private and closely held company likes it. To be honest – Kundu does.