Meet the Indian billionaire looking to make a move into the UK property market

From his new Park Lane office overlooking Hyde Park, 70-year-old Indian-Omani property billionaire PNC Menon is looking expand his company’s operations into the UK property sector.

Sobha Realty’s Mayfair office is in 4800 sq ft of prime real estate, in one of the world’s most desirable locations.

However, this is a far cry from Menon’s humble beginnings.

Menon attributes a lot of his success to his start in life, and the growth of his business over the last five decades.

Having grown up in one of the poorest areas of India – Thrissur in the state of Kerala – Menon lost his father at the age of ten. His father was a businessman and his son aimed to follow in his footsteps.

After dropping out of education and at the age of 26, he moved to Oman, where he developed his own interior decorating business into a highly profitable venture.

Over the decades he has been the driving force behind turning the business into a multi-billion-pound empire in India and Dubai – and Sobha Realty has been recognised as the leading property company in India for the last four years.

But, why has he made this move? The new Sobha Global Studio is being launched in order to deliver four strategic objectives.

Firstly to showcase Sobha’s brand and luxury residences to a domestic UK audience and international visitors to London. Secondly to provide clients with a UK-based team of dedicated personnel. Thirdly to facilitate brand alliances and joint ventures with London-based luxury brands and real estate partners. And finally, to have a London HQ to help realise Sobha Realty’s long-term plan to list on the London Stock Exchange and enter the UK property market.

Why is the UK an attractive market?

Menon holds the UK economy in high regard, and revealed that it is still a very attractive proposition for foreign investment, despite the current political climate.

He comments: “The UK is the commercial capital of the world – Brexit or no Brexit. London cannot be touched – what it has is so powerful even with all the political uncertainty currently surrounding it. Even with the turmoil, London and the UK are still a very appealing investment.

“What the UK is currently experiencing with Brexit is just a temporary phenomenon, but due it being such a sustainable country, it will remain the commercial capital of the world. The continuity it offers outside investors is very appealing, as well as the current opportunities the UK, and London specifically, provide.”

Whether the Brexit issue will be solved sooner or later, Menon believes that it is just part of the way business goes over many years.

He comments: “Property markets are always cyclical – no matter what country it is. Currently, London is in the midst of a negative cycle, but it is on the upturn. Normally these cycles last for five years or so, but this last one has been negative for too long – and Brexit is causing this problem, due to the uncertainty around where everyone stands.

“The chronic indecisiveness is causing issues across the property sector. If it was settled, one way or the other as soon as possible, it would be very helpful. Everyone is just waiting to see what happens.

“Aside from this, the current negative sentiment, no matter the decision, makes it hard for people to make concrete decisions on long-term strategies. Unfortunately, this business is very cyclical, and so we are waiting to make our move.”

London: Capital of the world

As one of the company’s primary aims, Menon is planning to have the company listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

Sobha Realty’s ambition to add its name to the 2600 companies currently listed on the LSE, despite the current climate, has been a long-term plan for Menon.

He comments: “London is the centre of the global market – the capital city of the world. We are currently looking into making this a possibility, although it may be two or three years away – this is due to finding the clarity within the current market.

“We have now grown it into a worldwide business and want to grow it further – we are already operating in India and Dubai, with next year being our London launch. Within the next two or three years, we will be developing something here in the UK and aim to be on the London Stock Exchange.”

How does the UK property market compare to India and Dubai?

Although Menon’s current plan is to expand his company’s operations into London and wider UK, he initially made his fortune through property developments in India and Dubai.

Sobha Realty has risen above India’s history of corruption and large land mass to become the most prominent property developer in the region; and the company’s operation in Dubai has been helped by the large, unused areas in which it can expand. However, London differs in how it works with the space that is available.

Menon said: “No matter what country you are in – there is a top, medium and lower level of property. The major difference with somewhere like London is finding large amounts of high-quality space. Our office in Mayfair is a prime example of that. It became available at the right time for us, but there isn’t a lot of large development space available.

“Dubai has a wide expanse of areas that are being developed or are prime locations for developments, with London we’ll have to find pockets, or move out into the peripheries where we can find space to build.

“The reason we can look at the peripheries is that London is one of the best-connected cities in the world, with great public transport links.”

Full circle

With a property empire, a vast personal wealth, and a story that has seen him rise from one of the poorest areas of India to one of the 2000 billionaires in the world – PNC Menon has not forgotten where his journey began.

Over the last few years, he has committed to donating half of his fortune to helping school girls in India get an education.

Menon comments: “I give half of my wealth away to charity, which is very important to me. We spend most of it in India, primarily on girls education, where we are helping around 2000 children. I came from a very poor background, so I do know and understand the pain of being at the bottom. We run this to help the poorest parts of our society.

“A lot of billionaires and wealthy business people are doing it, and with the new wave of young wealthy entrepreneurs, and we will see the number of them doing it rise. They all know that it is very important to contribute. I started out in my working life to just make enough money to feed myself, and through all the little steps, I have grown my business and wealth to the point where I can do this.”

Being a billionaire

It is this wealth that has afforded him the opportunity to not only grow an international property powerhouse, but also help those who need it most in his home country.

However, as one of the exclusive people on earth who has hit the fabled billion-pound mark, one might believe that there was a unique strategy or key moment that kicked his business into overdrive – but this is not the case for Menon.

He said: “I became a billionaire by accident! No one can plan to be a billionaire – it is just the stages and steps of growing a business. There are only 2000 of us in the world, and not one of them planned on becoming a billionaire – it just happens.

“However, it did not happen overnight – we kept hitting the targets of £100m turnover, then £200m, then £300m, and so on – that is when you then see the growth trajectory towards a billion.”