Kushal Pal Singh is the Chairman of DLF Ltd, formerly DLF Universal Limited, India's largest real estate developer. DLF has now become the world’s largest real estate company in terms of revenues, earnings, market capitalization and developable area. It has completed projects covering 35 million square feet, mainly along the Delhi – Gurgaon belt, and has over 100 million square feet under development in residential, commercial and retail projects all over the world.
Kushal Pal Singh was born on August 15, 1931, at Bulandshahar in Uttar Pradesh. A graduate in science, Singh pursued Aeronautical Engineering in UK, being subsequently selected to the Indian Army by British Officers Services Selected Board, UK. But he became upset at the rigors of the Indian Military Academy, and plotted to escape to London.
The 18 year old could have escaped, had his plan not leaked out and reached the ears of the colonel in-charge. Singh was summoned. The colonel in-charge, rather than reprimand him, said he was willing to let Singh leave. "But remember that once you go, you will be forever known as the coward who ran away," added the colonel. "If you don't mind carrying that label lifelong, you may go!" The colonel's words worked as an eye-opener for Singh. The young cadet not only stayed back, hut also passed out with the sword of honour. He was commissioned into the renowned cavalry regiment of The Deccan Horse of the Indian Army and served there for nine years.
Singh was married to the daughter of Chaudhary Raghvendra Singh, a civil servant with a keen nose for business. That was a time when the country was expecting independence from Britain, and also anticipating partition to create Pakistan, a Muslim nation. Raghvendra Singh had a feeling that partition would lead to mass migration, which would, in turn, create a need for mass housing. His prescience made him launch Delhi Land & Finance (DLF) in 1946, a year ahead of Indian independence.
Raghvendra Singh planned to buy land, but lacked capital. So, he turned to some old family connections, and convinced farmers to sell their land to him on credit. He promised to pay the principal plus interest once the land would be carved into plots and sold. His formula worked well and he eventually developed 21 commercial and residential colonies all over Delhi. Hauz Khas, Greater Kailash and South Extension are a few among the various colonies developed by DLF.
However, in 1957, land development in Delhi was nationalized, and this phenomenon left DLF in a lurch. Now Raghvendra Singh decided to enter the field of car battery and electrical motors. He wished to assign the job to his son-in-law, Kushal Pal Singh. Singh agreed and so resigned from the Deccan Horse cavalry regiment to join his father-in-law's land business in 1961. Singh found a mentor in George Hoddy, founder of Universal Electric in Michigan, a joint-venture partner. A hardworking man, Singh followed Hoddy's directions carefully and soon mastered manufacturing.
When the market was stable, Raghvendra Singh and Kushal Pal Singh once again committed themselves to real estate. The tactful son-in-law began to assemble landholdings, starting with 40 acres that his father-in-law still held. Their relatives had an average landholding of 4 to 5 acres. To win their trust, Singh attended weddings, mediated family disputes, and also helped them out during illnesses. He saw the untapped potential of a barren village that lay on the outskirts of Delhi, and wanted to buy it.
In the year 1981, Singh finally got his big break. That year on May 12, Singh was sitting under a fierce sun in the wilderness beyond Delhi, which today is known as Gurgaon. He had just two trees for shade and a deep well to quench his thirst. Suddenly, a jeep happened to stop near the cot on which Singh had been sitting. The engine of the vehicle had got overheated and the driver was looking for some water to cool it. Singh threw a glance at the jeep and, to his utter surprise and joy, saw Rajiv Gandhi sitting inside. Rajiv Gandhi had just entered politics and had big dreams to steer India on the Path of a great socio-economic development.
Singh grabbed the lifetime opportunity to talk with the young and dynamic politician. They sat chatting under the tree, and a couple of hours later, Rajiv Gandhi seemed convinced about the liberalization of land laws. This incident proved to be a turning point not only for DLF but also for urban development in the country. As DLF gained its foothold, Singh's faith in his Projects deepened. DLF developed the area and called it “Gurgaon”. The barren village was transformed into housing apartments, offices and shops. Initially, there were few takers for Gurgaon. Then Singh's fate took yet another favorable turn, giving him a chance to meet Jack Welch, the charismatic CEO of GE.
Rajiv Gandhi, the then-Prime Minister had invited Jack Welch to India. Later, in an interview, Welch quoted, “K.P. (as Kushal Pal Singh is often addressed) was the igniter of the flame for GE coming to India. He was the perfect ambassador because he opened our eyes to a great country and we fell in love with it." While in India, Welch was struck by the country’s trained manpower and started thinking in terms of outsourcing back office work to India. He decided to set up GE's first office at Gurgaon. No sooner had GE entered Gurgaon than many other major companies followed. Almost overnight, Gurgaon became a hub of commercial activity and DLF became a strong real estate brand, perhaps the strongest in the country.
Since then, DLF has come a long way - from townships to shopping malls to hotels to commercial premises to economic zones and various infrastructure projects. Today, Kushal Pal Singh owns 99.5% o of parent DLF Universal with his family. He is worth $10 billion, as per Forbes. DLF's $2 billion IPO (Initial Public Offering) in July 2007 created history being the biggest IPO in India. The company was confined to Delhi and Gurgaon (Haryana) for most of its existence. However, with the acquisition of NTC (National Textile Mills) land in Mumbai, DLF has gone national. It has made multi-billion dollar investments in Bangalore, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The company intends to develop properties in 60 major cities in India.
Besides being the Chairman of the Board, DLF Limited, Singh is the Honorary Consul General, Principality of Monaco; the President of the apex industry chamber of the country, Associated Chamber of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM); the President of the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Director of Central Board, Reserve Bank of India. He is also the recipient of the ‘Delhi Ratna’ Award for his valuable contribution to Delhi.
Singh avoids the spotlight, and prefers to spend time golfing with his wife. They have two children - son Rajiv, 46 and daughter Pia, 35. They also are in the business, running the retailing side, making their parents proud. Kushal Pal Singh and DLF have undoubtedly given a new form to the real estate business of India.