Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Subhash Runwal: Building dreams and a $1 billion fortune

From coming to Mumbai with just Rs 100 to becoming a real estate magnate, Subhash Runwal scripted his success story with his 'nothing is impossible' mantra

Published: Apr 13, 2015 06:12:55 AM IST
Updated: Apr 6, 2015 03:18:50 PM IST
Subhash Runwal: Building dreams and a $1 billion fortune
Image: Vikas Khot

Subhash Runwal, India’s newest billionaire, who makes his debut this year with a $1 billion fortune, built a property empire in Mumbai, the city of his dreams, from nothing. He chairs the Runwal Group, which he founded in 1978 as a builder of middle-class apartments in the city’s central suburban stretch.

Runwal, who hails from the Jain community, grew up in Dhulia, a small town in Maharashtra, where his grandfather was a jeweller. But by the time Runwal became a teenager, the family had fallen on hard times. The young lad, one of five siblings, left his hardscrabble existence in Dhulia and went to study commerce in Pune. Discovering his affinity with numbers, he decided to do his chartered accountancy and moved to Mumbai in 1964 with all of Rs 100 in his pocket at the age of 21.

His first job, after securing his CA degree in 1967, at what was then Ernst & Ernst, got him an American posting in St Louis, Missouri. But within six months, he decided to pack up and return home. “I didn’t like the lifestyle,” says Runwal, seated in his suburban office in Mumbai. Behind his desk is a painting, the handiwork of his daughter, which he proudly displays.
His first abode as a young lad was a modest studio in Mumbai’s Kurla area, not far from where Runwal now has his 1.2 million sq ft RCity Mall. He rented the “one room-kitchen” after landing a job as an accountant at a chemicals firm. A can-do attitude helped him acquire a reputation as the go-to guy for dealing with hidebound bureaucracy. Since he spoke Marathi fluently, he was able to strike a rapport with local bureaucrats and politicians. “All impossible tasks were given to me,” recalls Runwal.

One of them was lobbying the government to ban the import of a chemical, which the company was manufacturing. It took 52 trips to Delhi over one year for Runwal to secure the crucial ban. This policy change enabled the company to start reaping profits. Runwal too moved up a bit in life, shifting into a two-bedroom apartment in Ghatkopar, followed by a larger home in Deonar.

After Runwal had built up his network in government circles, he decided to risk everything, choosing real estate as his field of play. He recalls that his father-in-law who was a lawyer in Jalgaon got worried, but Runwal was confident. He had chanced upon an opportunity hidden in a draconian law called the Urban Land (Ceiling & Regulation) Act of 1976, which he had studied in detail. Under this law, the government imposed limits on land ownership and had the power to acquire vacant urban land. (The law has since been repealed in most parts.)

Runwal acquired his first plot of 22 acres in Thane, an area that was eventually to become his stronghold. He made a killing on his first property deal and never looked back. His specialty was to buy litigious plots, which had fallen into the ambit of the land ceiling law, and then work his way into getting the titles cleared.

His first project was a modest 10,000 sq ft apartment block in Thane called Kirtikar Apartments. He went on to acquire land from the Cama family of the Bombay Samachar Group, including a six-acre plot in Pune, which now houses Runwal Estate.

Putting his name on his projects, Runwal got known for providing low-cost apartments aimed at the middle class. One notable project called Runwal Nagar in the suburb of Thane is a cluster of 16 buildings, constructed in 1981. Within 18 months of the initial sale, the price had more than doubled. “Our customers were people who had never owned their own homes before. They would come to my office with boxes of pedas and touch my feet,” he says.

Even as Runwal was building his real estate empire, he harboured a dream of becoming an industrialist. He got into manufacturing by acquiring units in steel and pharma, but those businesses unravelled. He eventually sold out and renewed his focus on real estate.

While his Runwal Group still builds middle-class housing, it has now moved up several notches; it has projects in tony South Mumbai where it is building luxury residences for the uber rich.

The entry of his two B-school-trained sons in the privately held family business, starting from 1995, saw Runwal getting into the malls business. The 250,000 sq ft R Mall in Mulund was the group’s first. It opened in 2002 amid much fanfare with Amitabh Bachchan as chief guest. He says the boys pushed him to market their projects more aggressively and create a new corporate identity for Runwal. Older son Sandeep is an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. The younger, Subodh, is an MBA from Northeastern University.

Along the way, Runwal managed to get the backing of the Singapore government’s GIC, which invested in the RCity Mall in Ghatkopar. (It currently has a 50 percent stake.) A joint venture with Singapore’s CapitaLand in 2006, in a residential project, however, was short-lived with the foreign partner opting to pull out.

Runwal says completing projects on time is critical in his business. “My projects never get stuck for approvals. Nothing is impossible,” he claims. Lately, Runwal has been picking up big plots in suburban Mumbai, such as a 35-acre plot in Kanjurmarg from Crompton Greaves and a 65-acre piece from Gammon India in Dombivli. These will help to create a long pipeline of new projects, says Runwal’s sales and marketing director Vvikas Aroraa.

The patriarch says his efforts now are directed to giving back to society. He donates $1.5 million every year to various causes. Runwal has built two hostels in Navi Mumbai and offers education scholarships to the less well off.

He cites his wife Chanda, a trained biochemist, as a major contributor to his success. By way of exercise, he walks every morning on the promenade opposite his sea-front home and counts Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan as his neighbour. “I’ve achieved more than I could have ever dreamt of.”

(This story appears in the 17 April, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Shrutika

    Recommended not to buy flats in Runwal Greens -- said to be an award winning project and the truth is that the entire gamut of buyers are suffering on various accounts i.e. delay in possession, timelines keep on changing. builder demanding over and above agreement value, chestnut is provided soft possession wihout OC.

    on Oct 7, 2015
  • Tushar Hande

    hahaha ask people of runwal greens how they are suffering...his sons are highly unapproachable and all they care about is money....use all means to just churn out money..visit runwal greens mulund and ask people who have put their hard earned money to know about their plight...

    on Sep 14, 2015
  • Orchard Residency Ghatkoper

    All his projects are in litigation and has harassed most home buyers.

    on Jun 7, 2015
  • Runwalpridevictim

    on May 24, 2015
  • Raghu Mody

    well. Done Congrats God bless

    on Apr 17, 2015
  • Sunil Jadhav

    Congratulations Subhash Runwal ji...its really inspiring me , there is 2 reasons 1) I am also from Dhule and 2nd is i am in same Real Estate Business thanks for creating an example for young entrepreneurs like me....Sunil Jadhav, Dhule

    on Apr 17, 2015
  • Anikesh P

    As the old saying goes, \"nothing in life is guaranteed.\" However, we are confident that you have the skills and experiences necessary to thrive in this new stage of your life.

    on Apr 16, 2015
  • Sumit

    Give me one project of Runwal in Mulund or in thane which has delivered on time, Runwal is known to deliver low quality construction. read:

    on Apr 16, 2015
  • Sonam B. Wangyal

    The intended inspiring story fails to inspire. The journalist is unable to provide us the satisfaction of knowing how R financed himself during his college days in Pune. The city isn\'t cheap and we must remember that his family\'s finances were on the downside. The Bombay chapter of R doing his CA with nothing more than a 100 bucks would have been the REAL inspiring bio but all we are left with is a big blank. Give us the real story, please.

    on Apr 15, 2015
  • Nishant

    Runwal doesn\'t complete anything on time. He duped people in Mulund in one of his project at LBS road Mulund.

    on Apr 15, 2015
  • Manish Towari

    a vivid example of persiverance & focused approach.great to see when hard work pays off....Subhash runwal story will a strength for many more first generation entrepreneurs from india to shine...!!!

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Jaywant Bhabal

    Behind every great fortune there is great gamble. Runwal Green, Anthurium and Infinity customers known very well about runwal builders

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Vidyadhar Shiragumpi

    Really inspired story to all young entrepreneurs. I love his hope on him. Everyone can do anything in lifetime but they have faith on there strength.

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Mukund Pathak

    congrats & All the best for becoming trillioner

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Shantilal Tatia,jalgaon

    Subhash Ji, Salute to your vision and efforts. It is not by Luck.It is because of your continuous positive steps and long vision. God bless you and give you still more growth to serve the society.

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Surendra

    What about mulund infinity project? People are waiting from last 10 years. Now Supreme has also provided green signals to all builders. People have spent their hard earn money and looking forward to see their dream home. Why the work is not started y yet? How can this india\'s billonaire help all those people spent money in this project?

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Mukesh Sharma

    achha lgta h jb koi indian yah krta h

    on Apr 14, 2015
  • Navein Naik

    Good name is better than riches. Runwal group known for their delayed projects.

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Yogitha Nayak

    Good names is better than riches. One of the victims of Runwal Green Project at Mulund if known before never tie downed my hard earned money in the project.

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Sweta Joshi

    Beating the system is business in India. The journalist should have asked some of his customers too about how he robbed them.

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Khushboo

    Inspiring story!

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Kevin Fernandes

    Made his funds by doing comprised jobs in his projects and knowing his way around legal framework definitely has helped him, i know as i have faced this in one of their projects that i purchased.

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Pankaj Asanani

    This is very motivational story i like it and thank u.....forbes

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Shailesh Pandya

    very inspiring. nothing is impossible

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Aabid Umer Bhat

    Quite inspiring story ......Especially for who is has infinite dreams in mind,but it is now time to apply them practically within few years and take risks like all top business magnates have done..Only the so called luck shed b with u after putting efforts

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Bikash

    very inspiring.

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Srija

    Get something new;India is fed up with these kind of Rs100 stories....they can no more be inspirational or is history.. the bio and the Rs 100 does not match with the story line,in any way.....too many loopholes....

    on Apr 13, 2015
  • Hemanth Musunuri

    As a budding entrepreneur in the infrastructure space, this was just the article I needed to kick start the week. Inspiring stuff.

    on Apr 13, 2015