Why Wall Street Veteran Anilesh Ahuja Now Develops Community-Oriented, Eco-Friendly Real Estate in I
Updated: Oct 12
Originally Posted: Why Wall Street Veteran Anilesh Ahuja Now Develops Community-Oriented, Eco-Friendly Real Estate in India
In a way, Anilesh Ahuja was always destined to build a city.
As a child raised in urban Mumbai, he moved to a New England hamlet at age 14, leaving his literal and figurative sense of community.
After struggling to find a place that could feel like home, he's decided to build one.
The community of tomorrow
Ahuja describes Solitaire Valley, the 200-plus-acre planned community he's building in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, as "aspirational." It refers to both the scale of the project as well as its forward-thinking construction.
The development is 56 percent green space and will incorporate a variety of eco-friendly features, such as solar panels that contribute to the community's electrical grid and water-harvesting systems that will help the development remain carbon-neutral.
"These are very modern concepts for where we are. And they are very, very important for the future," he said. "We're giving the kids space to be kids, where they can play instead of just running around the cars."
The innovations go beyond smart layout and environmentally conscious decision-making, however. Solitaire Valley is planned according to the latest research on healthy communities. That includes a diversity of housing structures, varied transportation options, walkable living, and affordable homes.
"This is a small town. And people who live in small towns think of single-family houses as home. It's like there's this cultural phenomenon of single-family versus multifamily. People feel more comfortable owning their own land. So, we created a lot of single-family houses of different sizes," Ahuja said. "Interestingly enough, we've also noticed that people prefer low-rise multi-family homes over high rises. The taller a building goes, goes to the less of the ownership feel and they're not as comfortable yet. This is not a tier one city where everyone's living in concrete jungles. This is still that connection to your home and your land."
The range of single-family homes runs wide, with the least-expensive options boasting a sticker price that's eight times less than the highest-end model. The diversity of homes makes the community attractive to many kinds of residents, which is necessary to create a true community feel, Ahuja said. He pointed to research showing that diverse communities benefit both individual and collective quality of life, especially when those communities exist within livable neighborhoods.
"The idea is to allow the community members to have easy access to shops, grocery stores, restaurants," Ahuja said. "We also have two movie theaters, but they are planned as multi-use facilities. They can be used for movies, lecturers, corporate retreats. Just watching a movie now in a theater has become extremely unpopular, but birthdays and parties are still very popular, so our community members can use those spaces for social needs as well."
Learning from the past
When Ahuja joined Solitaire Valley, he brought with him the lessons he learned during his extraordinarily successful career on Wall Street.
As a former investment banker and hedge fund founder, Anilesh Ahuja knew the benefits of vertical integration. By combining all the facets of a business under one roof, companies eliminate middlemen and save on the margin costs. When he came to Solitaire Valley, he wasted no time applying that principle to the development.
"My goal was to capture the whole life cycle of a person's experience and time in the home," he said. "When you first start off, you either rent or take a mortgage. When you take one of our homes in the rental program, you can live there until you're ready to buy. Then we would give you a mortgage that would let you be able to buy the same house."
Vertical integration also delivers a more robust form of control, allowing Solitaire to ensure it uses the highest-quality materials at every level of business.
"All the engineers, sales, finance, accounting, marketing-everything-is under the same umbrella," Ahuja said. "The only thing we ask from the outside vendors is construction, and the actual construction labor comes from a third party. Everything else is in-house. We even make our own cement. We make sure that most of our building materials are made in-house for quality control purposes. Anything that's an input for a home's foundation is checked and rechecked and rechecked. Our quality control is extreme."
From Wall Street to Main Street
If moving from India to New Hampshire was a big jump, going from a career that included founding the hedge fund and headed global head of mortgages at Deutsche Bank, might have been even bigger.
But for Ahuja, the chance to make a difference for future generations was too good to pass up. He remembered what it was like to feel like an outsider at an all-boy's prep school in New Hampshire. Even though his family had done well economically, the lack of community at school made his life difficult.
"I'm very, very happy to be in the position of creating and delivering what families need," he said. "We're not trying to squeeze every last dollar from our development. Instead, we're trying to make sure that the community gets what it needs to be a thriving neighborhood."
Importantly, that means making the community work for everyone, from blue-collar workers to CEOs. Diversity can foster innovation, creativity, and social cohesion, all of which lead to better overall life outcomes for residents and their children.
That's the kind of work that is worth dedicating a life toward, Ahuja said.
"If I build a community where you open the gate and everyone is identical, that is not reality. We want to get away from that," Ahuja said. "I mean, people come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and they come from different fields of expertise. They have different likes and dislikes. That is a community. That is what's real."
"I kind of think about this community as a way to go back to the way I grew up," he added. "I grew up with very varied backgrounds. There were different sizes of apartments and people of different socioeconomic backgrounds. And I believe that's what a community should be. I go back to those basics when I try to figure out what the community experience should be for our residents."