The roll call of major property developers in the UK hasn’t changed much since the expansion and acquisition boom during the 1980s created the commercial and residential giants that dominate the stock market today.
But if 30-something brothers Ankush and Arjun Gupta get their way then their fast-expanding development company Gupta Group may join this bricks-and-mortar elite within the next ten to fifteen years.
Or at least that’s the plan if the pair can transform the results of their father’s decades-long habit of buying up London property into a national name.
Gupta Group has relatively humble origins, as anyone who has operated within the property market in Harlesden and Harrow over the past 30 years will know.
Their father Gopal is renowned within the legal and property development scene and received an MBE in the most recent Honour’s List, in part for his philanthropic work.
This has included giving thousands of London children work experience within his law firm, writing over 10,000 free wills for those in need and the family’s charity work in Delhi. He’s also gifted several HMOs to local authorities and in particular Brent council, and donated £250,000 to aid projects in India.
“We get our entrepreneurial streak from our dad; we were brought up in a privileged environment but we were never allowed to be lazy or complacent – we always wanted to achieve more particularly because our dad started with nothing,” says Ankush.
His sons have persuaded their 61-year-old dad to step back from running his law firm and the pair are now growing his property business, which he slowly built up over the past four decades years using the proceeds from his multi-disciplinary law firm.
Ankush and Arjun joined several years ago after graduating, in Ankush’s case as a lawyer and in Arjun’s as a pharmaceutical scientist. Talking to Ankush, it’s clear that their father’s reputation still looms large – a street largely owned by the family in Harlesden is sometimes referred to as Gupta Parade – and both he and Arjun cut their property teeth at their father’s two North London estate agency businesses before going to university.
“When my brother and I joined the company we decided early on that we’d eventually need to brand the business more aggressively’,” says Ankush. “My dad is very much an ‘under the radar’ kind of guy who didn’t want to advertise what he did.
“But we believe that we have to market the business because it gives us credibility in the sector and in particular when dealing with banks.”
Gupta Group is developing at breakneck speed with Ankush handling sales and growth while Anjun is ‘the numbers guy’ dealing with banks and managing agents.
The pair inherited a varied portfolio of commercial and residential properties from their father but they initially tried their hand with a house conversion in East London that made a reasonable profit. They then moved on to a second and larger residential project that made £1.1 million.
But their biggest residential project to date has been the remodelling of Hob Mews in Chelsea, just on the edge of the huge new Chinese-funded redevelopment of Lots Road power station and its waterfront into a new residential district.
“We sold two of those houses to international investors [for £6 million in 2014] and kept the remaining four plus the freehold because we could see their capital growth potential,” says Ankush.
Since that development the Gupta Group has been continuing its main thrust, which is to include more risk in its strategy and also concentrate on margin above all else.
“My father is a humble, down-to-earth guy who didn’t like being in the spotlight but he was over the moon when we all joined him at Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE for services to British business and philanthropy. It was an absolutely unreal experience.”
The list of developments under way is head spinning. Gupta Group is planning a significant regeneration project in Willesden which will include converting some buildings into residential units alongside mixed commercial and office; creating a new headquarters for the company at an address it recently bought on Wyndham Street in Marylebone and a 30-unit commercial development in Stansted.
There is also a mixed-use development in Sutton; an ongoing programme of both land buying ‘across the UK’ near motorways for logistics facilities and a plan to acquire small car parks for ‘drive-through’ restaurants.
“We also have an office development on Fenchurch Street in the City that my brother has concentrated and where due to strong asset management, we were able to fully let the building to some great covenants and enjoy a healthy return ,” says Ankush.
The two brothers also like to move fast and in July last year snapped up the former Wolverhampton HQ of failed construction giant Carillion from a private investor which had originally been on the market for £3 million.
“We met with the council and they did not want us to give it to a single occupier, although we had the NHS interested in taking it over,” says Ankush.
“The council wanted us to multi-let the building – and we’ve got two out of six floors away to two different parties.
“We’re big fans of Wolverhampton and we want to invest more and more up there.”
The Gupta Group is relatively lean despite its big plans for the future. It utilises an experienced and diverse range of planning consultants, architects, contractors and specialists and has developed a network of 40-50 estate agents for acquisitions and uses its own funds to access bank finance to complete projects.
Brexit has yet to impact the company’s portfolio except that Ankush says he’s noticed valuations are becoming more conservative.
“We are monitoring our Loan to Value ratios to ensure we are ready for a no deal brexit or any other brexit scenario,” says Ankush.
And much like their father who also owned a plastics factory at one point, the brothers are not afraid to venture outside the property sector. They have recently invested a significant sum in a data-driven perfume business recently set up by their younger brother, are considering some other tech investments and also occasionally go back to their roots to redevelop single dwellings.
But unlike most other UK property developers, the Gupta family live together in a large house in London including the three brothers, their father and mother and Ankush’s wife. Keeping it in the family, it seems, remains a serious business.