Bhanu Choudhrie: A Diverse Portfolio Manager With a Diverse Perspective
The career of Bhanu Choudhrie is emblematic of the 21st century’s global economy. He was born in Delhi, India, attended college in the United States, and founded an international business based in London.
Bhanu Choudhrie moves pieces on a very large chessboard as he oversees a multinational portfolio, one that spans several continents and myriad industry sectors. As founder of the C&C Alpha Group, he has built a high-profile international company by combining his quest for knowledge with an appreciation for assembling a strong team, sticking to a methodical decision-making process, and nurturing a network of business relationships.
“Investing in strong management teams, as well as investing for a longer period than most other venture capital firms, allows us to support and grow our investments to a greater level,” is how he summed up his strategy in an interview with IdeaMensch. “I surround myself with a great team. They are invaluable when it comes to moving ideas into action.”
His record of innovation and success was recognized in 2008, when he was named the Asian Entrepreneur of the Year as part of the Asian Voice Political and Public Life Awards.
Since 2001, Choudhrie’s professional career has been affixed to the C&C Alpha Group. Headquartered in London and with a strong presence in India — plus additional offices in the United States, and the United Arab Emirates — it is an international private equity firm managing venture-capital investments over a wide range of economic sectors.
Overseeing a team of consultants, project managers, project developers, and financial analysts, Choudhrie builds value for shareholders by supervising the firm’s investment strategies. He’s especially focused on new and emerging markets and actively seeks business opportunities in his native India.
The portfolio of C&C Alpha Group is diverse. It includes significant investments in the aviation, banking, healthcare, hospitality, real estate, and utilities sectors. From U.K.-based healthcare centres and fine restaurants, to airline and Bollywood production companies in India, Choudhrie oversees investments in a multitude of sectors and marketplaces.
Settling in London soon after finishing his university studies in the United States, Choudhrie helped found C&C Alpha Group in 2002. The company is built on a family tradition of entrepreneurship and financial management, with his father having worked in real estate before founding Magnum International Trading Company in India, which got its start importing televisions to India. One of his great-grandfathers was Chairman of India’s Punjab National Bank.
“For me, setting up a business that encompassed all those elements and established some new areas of interest and expertise was a natural progression for the next generation of our family,” Choudhrie explained in the IdeaMensch interview.
Today, C&C Alpha Group is still a family business, with brother Dhairya Choudhrie serving as the company’s executive director. His father Sudhir Choudhrie is a consultant, a role that comes at the conclusion of his own stellar career. In 2014, the senior Choudhrie was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Asian Business Awards by Theresa May, then the home secretary. He’s also an honorary Radcliffe Fellow of Green Templeton College, Oxford.
Bhanu Choudhrie has led C&C Alpha Group since its founding by both developing new businesses and expanding existing ones. The company specializes in analyzing global economic trends and finding companies in market niches on the verge of expansion. Over nearly two decades, Choudhrie has built an expansive knowledge and network of international and U.K. decision-makers and stakeholders.
“I love all the different businesses we are in. Real estate is exciting. Hospitality, opening hotels as you can imagine, is amazing. Meeting lots of different people at different events,” explained Choudhrie in an interview with This Is MONEY.co.uk. “Healthcare is tightly controlled and regulated in the U.K. and I get to interact with so many people in the industry.”
The underlying philosophy of the C&C Alpha Group is to partner with the companies they invest in. This can be a startup that needs not only capitalization, but also guidance in developing their market presence and managing their growth. More established companies that are seeking cash infusions for market expansion are also partnered with and Choudhrie lends his knowledge base to their efforts. The C&C Alpha Group brings not only an infusion of capital, but added value with expertise, international contacts, and management support.
Over nearly two decades that knowledge, under Choudhrie’s guidance, has come to span a number of economic sectors.
One of C&C Alpha Group’s earliest portfolios was in aviation. In partnership with Singapore Technology’s subsidiary Prescient Systems & Technologies, the Alpha Aviation Group (AAG) was created in 2006. It provides a wide variety of training solutions on both the Airbus and Boeing platforms for the commercial aviation sector. The annual revenue for this subdivision of C&C Alpha Group is nearly $20 million and it has played a major role in placing more than 350 pilots into the cockpits of such airlines as Air Arabia, Cebu Pacific, Jet Airways, Philippine Airlines, and VietJet Air.
This venture came on the heels of one of Choudhrie’s first bold venture capital moves, an investment in Air Deccan in 2003. At the time it was a low-budget Indian carrier with exactly one plane in its fleet.
“The airline was a risk. Four of us invested and we said at the beginning, ‘if it doesn’t work out at least we can say we had an airline,’” explained Choudhrie to This Is MONEY.co.uk. “It ended up opening the airline industry in India [with] a massive boom in aviation. One, two, even three-day journies on trains for people to get from one village to another became an airline journey away.”
Five years later, when Air Deccan was sold to Kingfisher, it was running 200 flights a day and transporting 7 million customers annually.
Closer to his London home, Choudhrie oversaw investment in the healthcare sector in the United Kingdom. Focused on specialized services, C&C Alpha Group is embracing an economic sector that, due to demographic trends, will see growth in the coming decades. The company’s subsidiary Alpha Health Care Limited manages a number of eldercare facilities.
“[There’s] increasing interest in the health and wellbeing sector and the changing approach towards maximizing not only your own health and well-being but that of others around you. It’s exciting from a business perspective,” Choudhrie told IdeaMensch. “But I am also interested to see how the next generation is changing the way we think about improving our own lives [and] our communities.”
Based on this foundation, C&C Alpha Group has expanded into the international market. It has financed the construction of specialty medical institutions in India, with this expansion into Asia being part of Choudhrie’s long-term investment strategy.
“When you talk to entrepreneurs and investors, everyone is now looking towards the East for growth and profits. There has been huge growth in China, India, and the Far East. Local demand has never relied on outside investments in these countries and there is still huge room for growth,” was his explanation to This Is MONEY.co.uk. “India, for example, will be a country of the future with huge opportunity for long-term investments and projects. The focus of our group is in India, with real estate, hotels, and healthcare ventures.”
Another sector in which C&C Alpha Group has developed a presence in both the United Kingdom and India is the hospitality sector. One of its earliest ventures was the Moti Mahal Indian Restaurant in Covent Garden, which won the Restaurant of the Year award at the Asian Voice Political and Public Life Awards in 2010.
Eventually, C&C Alpha Group oversaw a major expansion into India, including the establishment of the Shanti Hospitality Group Limited. It now includes destination resorts in India such as the Ananda, Nira Hotels & Resorts, Starwood Hotels, and a number of Hyatt Hotels and Nidra Hotels. The subsidiary oversees 24 international hotels, including the Nira Alpina near St. Moritz, Switzerland.
The utility sector is another area where Choudhrie is focused on the long-term in Asia. Alpha Utilities, based in Sharjah, UAE, is a subsidiary of the C&C Alpha Group that is currently concentrating on water desalination in order to meet the growing water demands of the Hamriyah Free Trade Zone. The utility sector is one that Choudhrie realizes will play an important role in the future.
“There is no doubt that global warming is the biggest threat to human health but it also has the potential to become the single biggest driver of economic transformation. Decarbonisation of economies can affect the world in a big way. It will not just affect the way we produce power but also transform the way we grow food and live our lives,” Choudhrie has written on his personal blog. “It is often said that the sins of developed economies, whose factories belched out fossil fuels throughout the 20th century, are being visited on emerging markets at the very point that they are experiencing stellar economic growth for the first time. They are being required to decarbonise, just as demand from a nascent, voracious middle-class is taking off.”
Choudhrie’s ties to the United States led him to launch a major real estate venture there and also becoming a director of two banks. This is no doubt tied to his academic years in the United States, most recently at the Harvard Business School.
In 2010, Megalith Capital Management was founded as a C&C Alpha Group subsidiary. It invests in the development and management of residential properties in the New York City market. It is closely aligned with the U.K. subsidiary Megalith Realty, which operates in London and its surrounding area. The C&C Alpha Group also has other holdings in commercial, residential, retail, and hospitality real estate concerns around the world.
Choudhrie is a member of the board of directors of Customers Bank (headquartered in Pennsylvania) and a former director of the Atlantic Coast Financial Corporation (headquartered in Florida).
Studying business in the United States was clearly a formative experience for Bhanu Choudhrie. Before founding C&C Alpha Group, he studied International Business and Marketing at the Boston University and did an internship at J. P. Morgan.
His subsequent business experience has made him appreciate how important continuing to learn and process new information is to making shrewd investment decisions. That is why, from 2013 to 2016, he participated in the Owner/President Management Program (OPM) at the Harvard Business School. The three-year program consists of concentrated three-week modules at Harvard and continuing study.
“As a business leader, I need to be constantly learning. To help my business thrive and expand, I have to be responsive to the ever-changing nuances of the global economy and be familiar with case histories and insights that relate to my organization. This process began with my formal university education, and it continues with what I learn through the trials of the workplace,” he related to the Harvard Business School after completing the program. “But that’s not enough. So I was keen to find an executive business program that would match my schedule and my business needs as my operations expanded internationally.”
It was a transformative experience. Choudhrie credits it with opening his mind to other viewpoints and ways of thinking and deepening his appreciation for gathering information.
“There was plenty that was unexpected. The case study discussions disrupted my staid way of thinking and altered my view of even the most basic business facts. Looking back on my first week in the program, I recall thinking, ‘Did the other students read the same cases I did?’ because their viewpoints were very different from mine,” Choudhrie related. “They saw the cases from the perspective of their own industries, their own governments, and their own professional circles. No matter how arcane the issue, there was no dearth of experience — and disagreement — to go around, especially when the full class of 125 got together.”
Stepping back from the day-to-day responsibilities of running a large and diversified company altered some of his assumptions and ways of doing business. Moving forward, the experience will no doubt play a significant role in the management decisions at the C&C Alpha Group.
“OPM had an immediate impact on the way I ran my business. Like so many others who enter higher education, particularly executive education programs, I anticipated building a theoretical toolkit based on business frameworks and strategies,” he concluded. “Little did I know that the moment my first, exhausting three-week stay on campus ended, I would rush back to my offices in India and the United Kingdom with a renewed sense of purpose, eager to apply the lessons I had acquired both inside and outside the classroom.”
Along with his business success, Choudhrie has also dedicated himself to a number of charitable works.
“It is Hindu philosophy that the more you give, the more you get,” explained Choudhrie in the This Is MONEY.co.uk interview. “When I was a child, we used to visit the blind, the handicapped, and schools where kids were without parents. It is about taking care of other individuals and to cherish what you have, you must take care of them.”
One prominent role he plays is a director of Path to Success, which was founded by his mother Anita in 2005. Working in both the United Kingdom and India, the charity focuses on aiding children struggling with issues of poverty, disabilities, abuse, and access to education.
This concern for issues of poverty and access has extended to grappling with issues facing developing economies. For example, the C&C Alpha Group has sponsored Oxford’s Templeton Green College’s Emerging Markets Symposium (EMS) since 2008. It is an effort to organize study and policy around issues of human welfare in emerging-market nations.
“We are delighted to support the EMS 2014 on a subject very close to our hearts, maternal and child health and nutrition in emerging markets,” Choudhrie stated after attending the 2014 symposium. “This completes five years of the EMS and long may it continue. It was a great pleasure to see many academics and other experts in attendance and I believe that some serious steps forward were made.”
In 2010, Choudhrie served as the chair of the Commonwealth Games England Business Advisory Board in the run-up to England’s participation in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
“It’s great to have Bhanu on board. He is a hugely successful businessman whose experience and contacts, both in this country and in India will be invaluable to the success of the team,” said Development Director for Commonwealth Games England Joanna Robinson at the time of his appointment.
The Commonwealth Games is an international competition, which brings together athletes from all over the world — so it was the perfect role for a business leader who has built a thriving global company by constantly seeking to expand into new markets across the world.