Fairwood : A trendsetter in infra space

June 13, 2016

“Integrity, Quality and Innovation, but always underscored by sustainability – something we are passionate about,” says Mr. Ranbir Saran Das, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, Fairwood Group while talking to S.A.Faridi and Maria R about his multi-domain positioning, areas of specializations, business values and plans. He spoke in length about a game changing technology called POD Taxi system- the first of its kind project in India which is being executed by the Fairwood and also asserted about its sustainable prospects not only in India but also globally.

Started as an aviation consultant, Fairwood Group has now ventured into diverse business sectors of Energy, Mobility and Urbanization. How over the years, the Group has evolved itself to attain a foremost status in infrastructure development? Could you please shed lights on your journey so far highlighting important milestone achievements?

Well, Fairwood started as an Aviation consultant in India, but the firm started before that, in London (in 1990), as a project consulting firm covering diverse fields. We were involved in developing several projects in Africa – food processing, lube oils, water supply, etc., and Fairwood was involved in sourcing technology and inputs for these. So, from the beginning Fairwood was a multi-domain and end-to-end Service Provider, specialized in the project execution process rather than specializing in a particular domain. When we began in India, the ‘Open Skies’ policy had been announced by the Government which opened up many opportunities in the field of aviation. Of course, it also helped that we had aviation industry experience in our team, led by the Chairman of Fairwood, who had held positions of Chairman, Airports Authority, and CMD, Air India. From the beginning, we had positioned ourselves as multi-domain, unlike many fine consulting firms that faded away when their expertise was not the “flavor-of-the-month” – steel, cement, paper, etc. We decided to be fleet-footed and adapt as the market changed rapidly. As the Indian economy grew, many opportunities opened up – real estate, energy, leisure, infrastructure, and we tried to be ready always to adapt to new opportunities and new technologies. The 3 main areas we chose – Energy, Mobility, & Urbanization – are fundamental in nation building domains, & will remain so for the foreseeable future.

What are various business values the Group cherishes and how are these being translated into practice to deliver assured results to the clients?

Integrity, and quality & innovation, but always underscored by sustainability – something we are passionate about.

Please tell us about some of your landmark infrastructure projects in India and how they are proving to be the benchmarks for similar projects in hand?

There have been many – in India & overseas. And many that were not implemented by clients due to many reasons (lack of funding, complex decision-making, etc.). In India, to name a few:

  • India Expo Mart, NCR, – India’s largest exhibition & trade-mart project, now operating very successfully.
  • GIFT city in Gujarat – under construction, and at the time of its design, the largest new city project in the world
  • Delhi Development Plan – Vision 2021 – received with great enthusiasm by all stakeholders, & now gathering dust. We had given recommendations for the Commonwealth Games, which were not accepted.
  • Yamuna Revitalization Plan, a pro-bono effort of 3 years (as a concerned corporate citizen), that would have brought back a vibrant & alive river back to Delhi, instead to the dead sewage drain that it now is. My biggest disappointment is that we faced enormous opposition from so many vested interests, despite having buy-ins from the Delhi, Haryana, & Central governments.
  • Many PRT projects in Indian & overseas cities (35 discussions are on-going from Amritsar, to Trivandrum, from Singapore to Istanbul, & many more). Collectively, this will create sustainable & rapid mobility for over 30 million people per day, if all of them are implemented – a big IF!
  • Many Solar EPC projects, through acquisition of a major European technology company. We have recently set up a solar instrumentation factory in India for the manufacture of balance of systems. Projects are underway in Europe, Japan, Middle East, Central Asia and of course India.
  • Currently under implementation is a Natural Gas chain project to bring 12 mmtpa of US LNG to Asian markets – India, Korea, Japan and Singapore. Some of the largest global corporates have partnered us in this.
  • Currently under development is a coal mining technology company that will provide clean underground mining technology, & MDO services in India, & Asia Pacific.
  • Development of 3 new cities in Vietnam, Georgia, and Germany – we are stakeholders in 2 of these.

I think the list mentioned is adequate to give you a flavor of our diverse activities. Clearly, there are many partnerships involved with us in these projects.

Currently, you are working on two prestigious and first of its kind projects in India i.e. GIFT in Gujarat and POD Taxi system in Amritsar and Gurgaon. Please tell us about the uniqueness of these projects and the role Fairwood is playing in its development.

Well, our work in GIFT is over, with the completion of the design assignment. We are not involved in the implementation. In my view, GIFT remains the most technologically advanced, & sustainable, new city design in the world. We discarded all outdated norms of city planning & applied the latest technologies in GIFT. I can talk about the ‘uniqueness’ of GIFT for days, but suffice it to say that if it is implemented as it has been designed, it will set the global standard for sustainable & technologically advanced cities with the greatest quality of life for its residents.

As regards PRT, what you refer to as ‘POD taxi system’ I am very excited by the prospects, not only in Amritsar or Gurgaon but also globally. We enjoyed the world leadership in the segment and the sky is the limit, because it has relevance in every urban context in every continent. This is a game changing technology – inexpensive, profitable, sustainable, high capacity, quickly implementable in the most difficult situations and extremely comfortable. If you felt that the Delhi Metro changed the way people traveled in Delhi, just wait till you see how the PRT changes habits & mindsets. It is the transport system of the 21st century, & has already won the London Transport award in the first year of its operation.

Fairwood is promoting PRT projects as BOOT, PPP, or simply as a Vendor/Technology supplier.

Your group has pioneered a new trend in developing POD Car system in India; how important can be a rapid transit (PRT) system for the country like India where monorail and metro like projects are currently going strong?

I think I have answered part of this question already. But I would like to suggest that PRT is not in competition with the monorails, metros, or BRTs. We will be happy to provide ‘first mile, last mile’ connectivity to all of these, and make them much more viable, by bringing them ridership that currently avoids them because they do not provide the ‘full journey’. We hope that the developers of these systems do not see us as competitors, but as force multipliers to them. Even Singapore, arguably the best multi-modal transport city in the world, is planning to set up 2 PRT projects to integrate with other systems.

At present, the PRT is running only at the London Heathrow Terminal and now coming up in India since as it is a new concept in the country—how do you find the response so far from the government and its potential?

The response ranged from wild enthusiasm to extreme skepticism. In one state, one of our executives making the first marketing call was taken from an Executive Engineer, to a Joint Secretary in the Transport Department, to the Transport Secretary, to the Chief Secretary, to the Transport Minister – all in a matter of 2 hours! In other cities it is variously dismissed as an experimental, theme park ride, low capacity, etc. But in most cases, it is received enthusiastically, because it strikes an immediate chord, and provides the best solution to otherwise intractable traffic problems. About the potential? I don’t even want to hazard a guess.

Punjab and Haryana governments have so far given nod for introducing personal rapid transit (PRT) system in their states; what are the other states Fairwood is in discussion with and when do you think this transport system would be accepted widely throughout the country?

The list is extensive. North, West, South, Central, East, &North-East – all parts of the country. Of course, all will not happen, but a 30% hit rate would be great.

Finally, Fairwood in a tie-up with the UK-based Ultra is working on this project; the other two competing vendors in the PRT space — Swedish firm Vectus and US-based Skytran — have approached the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) in this connection. Would you please divulge the cutting edge technology of Ultra over its competitors which led it to win the contract?

Many companies have PRT ambitions. Besides the two you have mentioned, there are at least 10 others that are in various stages of PRT technology development. Each has a very different operating technology, adapted to different contexts, & applications. Vectus will commission a system this year in Korea, but I am not sure how far Skytran has reached in implementing their first system. I am sure all are good technologies, but some will be better suited than others to differing conditions, user habits, affordability, etc. All I can say is that we have a very good & proven system (99.7% reliability), that has received incredibly good user responses over the last 2 years. I wish the others all the luck – the market is vast & will accommodate all current & near future players, without stepping on each others’ toes.

It is learnt that Fairwood is setting up a manufacturing unit in India to manufacture POD car; what is the status of this project and by when the first car would be rolled out from there?

Yes, we are setting up a manufacturing unit for PODs in India, but I would like to keep the details under wraps for the time being – so that we can launch the car with the fanfare that the first mass produced POD in the world deserves. It will be a historic event as any significant transportation roll-out for the last 150 years! And it will happen in India – for the world!

What are Group’s future plans to ramp up its presence nationally and internationally? Is there any plan for joint ventures with overseas majors or to work on any other important assignments?

The last few years have been dramatic for Fairwood. We have a global project development pipeline exceeding $30 billion (increasing by the month), & the focus now will be to execute as many as we possibly can. The financial results will be seen over the next few years. The challenge now is to raise the needed resources.

We already have several offices overseas – Singapore, UK, Europe, US – and employ over a dozen nationalities. We have several exciting partnerships too.

I guess, we need to keep on doing more of the same, consolidate, and grow sensibly, & sustainably.

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