A quintessential Delhi man, Ankur Bhatia insists he was a regular student in childhood – “neither talkative, nor naughty” – just like any other boy, just like his son, nothing exceptional about him. Yet, a brief rub on the surface reveals that at age fifteen, he held a computer-training workshop for Air France staff. “It was just the basics of using computers, which were a novelty at the time. How to boot a computer, do aviation stuff on it, write programs, nothing special. They paid me INR 800 for my time,” he shrugs nonchalantly.
But it was Bhatia’s very affinity for computers – the talent that he dismisses as ‘regular fascination’ – that led him to pilot Reservation Data Maintenance (RDM), an software development and service support company for managing back-end airline operations and inventory control, when he was still in college. RDM was the first Indian BPO, and now, eighteen years later, it has more than eight hundred employees and an enviable list of airline clients in its portfolio. Bhatia then went to buy the Amadeus brand, the market leader in travel technology in the Indian sub-continent.
Anything but a ‘regular’ business magnate, Bhatia’s interests were not restricted to aviation technology. As the executive director of the Bird Group of companies, he quickly expanded into luxury retail sector. Today, the conglomerate has a turnover in excess of INR 500 crore and indirect partner revenues of over INR 4,500 crore, spread across retail, aviation, automobiles and hospitality. “Time is critical,” he says. “I have learnt to take quick business decisions. As an entrepreneur I want to do something different, take risks, create something new. But unless you understand the rules of business, you cannot be a successful entrepreneur.”
An alumnus of Modern School, New Delhi, and later King’s College, University of London where he pursued a degree in computer science, thirty-seven-year old Bhatia is the elder of two sons, both of whom are involved in the family concern. Besides a dealership for BMW vehicles, their company was also the first to bring Segway PT to India. The zero carbon emission and gas-free battery-operated transport is a big success worldwide, and the Bhatia family use it every day to get about on their sprawling farmhouse in the outskirts of Delhi. Married with two children, Bhatia also initiated his architect wife into the hospitality section of the business, which includes the purchase of London’s Royal Park Hotel, a tie-up with Thailand’s acclaimed Dusit Thani Group soon to launch four properties in India, and the opening of India’s first artificial indoor ice-skating rink, iSKATE, in Gurgaon this month (turn over to read ‘On Thick Ice’).
For Bhatia, though, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Insiders in his company share that he has major business expansion plans up his designer sleeves. “You need to look for more,” he says, as we chat over coffee at the New Delhi Oberoi’s exclusive business club. Does success equal happiness for him? “Success definitely gives you a sense of satisfaction,” he responds. “But happiness comes from the little things in life, things that are not tangible, things you cannot measure.”
Notoriously media-shy about his personal life, Bhatia, who has a son and a daughter in primary school, does divulge that he takes little getaways with his family every now and then, with larger holidays planned for the school vacations. He is crazy about films – he has a collection of over 10,000 on a centralised server at home – and collects vintage cars. “We take them out once in a while, especially this [Chevrolet] Impala convertible that I am very fond of,” he adds. Fitness is terribly important for him; a personal trainer and a home gym are indispensible parts of his weekly routine.
For a man who deals in luxury – Bird Group is the franchise partner of Porsche Design and also deal in yachts – luxury itself is an experience, a discreetness and sense of privacy. “The sense of importance, of respect as you shop or dine, is precisely what I want to share with my Indian customers,” he says with conviction. His very first luxury buy was a pair of Porsche Design Carrera aviators when he was just thirteen years old; now he’s graduated to Dolce & Gabbana and Prada – besides “street stuff from Bangkok. I’m a quick shopper with no agenda,” he smiles.
With a slew of industry awards, this self-made tycoon has a thing or two to share with aspirants: “Be spontaneous, take quick decisions while also evaluating their value,” he says. His Blackberry buzzes every few seconds, a reminder that there are clients and partners waiting outside to meet him.
Anything else? He pauses. “Shraddha and saburi. Faith and patience.”