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DLF: The Making Of A Global Real Estate Giant


Ever wonder where the Indians who answer your help desk calls actually sit? Chances are they're in an office complex built by India's most powerful real estate tycoon, Kushal Pal Singh. Among the 74-year-old former army officer's most successful holdings are scores of modern office buildings in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi. His top tenants: back-office tech operations and call centers run by the likes of British Airways (BAB), Electronic Data Systems (EDS), General Electric (GE), Honeywell (HON), and Nestlé.

Singh has been tireless in his efforts to lure the globe's biggest corporate players to his buildings. That has helped the developer, whom former General Electric CEO Jack Welch describes as "a true ambassador for India," parlay $1.8 billion in real estate investments into holdings worth about $24 billion. Now, Singh has even bigger ideas for his company, DLF Ltd. He's planning a July initial public offering of 10% of DLF, a deal that could fetch around $2 billion, making it India's largest initial stock offering. The booming Indian economy, says Singh, is creating "a massive opportunity for companies like DLF."

If the IPO on the Bombay Stock Exchange goes off as planned, DLF will rank among the top five global real estate companies. And the deal could make Singh India's richest man, boosting his wealth to some $20 billion. The rise of DLF could also help give birth to a modern real estate industry in India by creating a pool of millions of ordinary investors in a large real estate company, says S. Sriniwasan, who runs the Kotak Realty Fund in Bombay.

HOTELS IN THE WORKS

Singh, a master dealmaker, served his cause well back in 1989 when he wooed GE's Welch with four days of festivities. The highlight: a warm welcome at the ornate City Palace, the traditional home of the Maharaja of Jaipur. Colorfully dressed riders on elephants greeted Welch's entourage and a huge GE logo made of fresh flowers dominated the front lawn, according to Welch's 2001 autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut.

That visit set the stage for GE's move six years later into 50,000 square feet in Gurgaon. The deal made the American company DLF's most prominent tenant, helping Singh to land other big fish. Now, with DLF's upcoming public offering, a new round of growth is on the horizon: This year DLF plans to tie up with Hilton Hospitality Inc. (HLT) to build 100 hotels in India. After that? Singh is hoping for a joint venture in home insurance and would like to sign up a partner such as Walt Disney Co. (DIS) to develop theme parks.

By Manjeet Kripalani


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