Having made his millions in the Canadian real estate market, Canada’s first Sikh billionaire, Bob Dhillon, feels India’s real estate market has a lot of potential if the government makes the right moves.
“The Indian real estate market is a developer’s dream. It is fascinating. It can be the No.1 market for growth,” Dhillon, who has charted an amazing success story for himself by becoming the biggest landlord in Canada with nearly 10,000 properties, told in an interview.
“Technology is the key in real estate. You guys (In India) have not gone vertical so far. With the kind of demand and urbanization, you need to go vertical like Manhattan, Shanghai or Toronto.
“That requires technology. There is a lot of catch-up to do,” said Dhillon, who is based in Calgary and whose assets are pegged at Canadian dollars 1.2 billion.
Dhillon, who loves to talk about his success, feels that certain policies, including ownership rights, land acquisition and others, make the Indian real estate market “uncompetitive” for investors from other countries.
“The policy on acquisition of land is non-competitive. The negatives here include issues like ownership rights, landlord tenancy rights, politics of the business, repatriation of capital, lack of technology…
“Securitization of the real estate market is also required. The real estate GDP here is extremely low,” said Dhillon, the president and CEO of Mainstreet Equity Corp in Canada.
Mainstreet Equity, which went public in Canada in 2000, has been listed as the highest performing company on the Toronto Stock Exchange with overall returns of 1,270 percent over the last 10 years, Dhillon pointed out with a sense of pride.
Having visited India as part of the delegation of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others in recent years, Dhillon says the new NarendraModi government was making the right moves but a lot needed to be done.
“India needs trillions of dollars for infrastructure. Modi is making all the right moves but unfortunately execution goes at the state level.
“Sometimes, that is extremely challenging. If you really bring in free market, create proper governance and allow repatriation of capital, the influx of capital will begin. If you want to have a ‘Make in India’ policy, which is a great strategy, real estate has to play a key role in this,” Dhillon said.
“Black money is making the values artificially high. Real estate prices in India, based on world standards, are too high. It is artificial wealth. It’s beyond me why the Indian government won’t be wooing people like us to invest. Real estate market in India is neither free nor controlled market. You have to decide either way,” he said.
Dhillon, whose real name is Navjeet Singh Dhillon, belongs to Tallewal village near Barnala in Punjab.
Born in Japan in 1965, where his grandfather had moved from Punjab to get into shipping business, Dhillon’s family lived in Hong Kong, Japan and Liberia. Having lost everything in Liberia’s civil war, the family moved to Canada in the 1970s to begin from scratch.
“For me, it has been an unbelievable journey. I never had an easy break, to be honest. Our Punjabi DNA is to own real estate. At least I am in the game. I am 100 percent self made.
“I have believed in diversification. I own an island in Belize, have a credit card processing company, merchant process companies and other businesses. These are pretty diverse things I do. But I have very strong roots with Punjab and India,” said Dhillon, who holds a MBA degree from Richard Ivey School of Business.
Dhillon started his real estate journey at age 19 by buying two old houses. He renovated and sold them.
“I made 17,000 dollars from these. First thing I did was to go and buy a Mercedes. The only game in Calgary was real estate and manufacturing. Grew up seeing icons like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Donald Trump and Steve Jobs.
“I got into real estate and became a millionaire very early. I never had a job in my whole life. All I did was buy, develop, re-develop every type of real estate till I took my portfolio public,” said Dhillon, who studied in Shimla’s Bishop Cotton School from kindergarten till he was a teenager.
Dhillon, who has business interests in three continents, has written a book on Belize. “It’s a reference book on how (to) retire and do business in Belize,” he said.