We’ve met the entrepreneurial expat, the designer expat, the consultant expat and the yoga-teaching expat. Nothing surprised us till we met Axel, the Frenchman who deals in one of the murkiest businesses in the city - Real Estate. The ace of base negotiator is on every other expat and desi's speed dial for homes and offices from ‘Delhi’s notorious landlords’. Sounds a bit like Robinhood? Well this friendly neighbourhood realtor knows a thing or two about cracking the whip, sealing the deal… and partying. Meet Axel Legrand.
Why did you first come to India? And what were your notions about the country?
I first came here on an exchange programme back when I was studying Business at a school in Leone. It was interesting to come to new country… I thought that everything is possible here; there are fewer legal and systematic barriers. And given that most people in cities can speak in English, setting things up here seems and is a lot easier. It inspires you to do something.
What brought you back to Delhi? And how did you get involved in the real estate business?
I was a buyer for Carrefour, and I was working in Poland before I got here. I always wanted to have my own business, be my own director. One is responsible for everything in one’s own business. There is challenge in being your own boss… I had friends in India and knew about the investment opportunities. Besides, it’s easier to set up a company here, compared to other parts of the world.
You must have seen some beautiful homes while on the job…
I have… some. I feel people don’t put effort into their homes… It blocks motivation. When one comes home after a long day, it should feel like they have come somewhere that's their’s to keep. I think what homes here lack is a spirit. You know, that feeling when you walk into a house and there’s character and personality - it’s not just marble and concrete. I like the idea of a nice fireplace, wooden floor, big windows and a large terrace with a pool or a Jacuzzi. Haven’t seen anything like that yet!
Off work, where does the Frenchman have fun, dine and unwind?
I go to Hard Rock for beef; there are some other cool bars like Urban Pind in N Block Market. Given that I live in Haus Khaz Village, I frequent places like OTB and Amour. Flipside was good… and now they’re back as Barsoom. I actually like places with a point of view; places that are true to what they promise.
I actually like to party… once I was at a party hosted by the director of a big media company. It was quiet extraordinary! We all ended up drunk and jumping into the pool. We lost our clothes and keys, so we had to walk back to the apartment in our swimsuits around 5 am and break open the door… yeah, it was pretty crazy. But now I try to not drink too much, especially around clients, as it seems unprofessional.
Does Delhi know how to party?
I don’t think so, or maybe it’s very different here. For me, a party is about enjoying myself, not worrying about clothing. Just having a drink or two and a good laugh. But in India, people want to show off their outfits and watch and everything too much. My idea is that a party is where you don’t have to worry about what you show, you just drink and laugh.
Also in India, I think one needs a professional life to be able to enjoy themselves. In Milan or New York, you can just spend your days exploring the city. I think if I wasn’t working, I’d get pretty bored in Delhi.
After having started your own business in India, what’s the one piece of advice you’d readily hand out?
You should always speak with and get to know the locals in whichever city you’re working. There are of course different approaches, but I feel Indians know how to get things done. Partner with them and open up! My partner is an Indian and he handles half the clients, and he is good. There are, of course, challenges, but you should not focus only on the negatives or be closed-minded. Criticising all the time will not help. India can be a dream and a nightmare. Forget you are a foreigner, live like a local and enjoy yourself!