Facility Management Pioneer Ritu Grover on Business, Baby and Meeting the Queen

It was Ritu Grover’s first wedding anniversary, and Queen Elizabeth II was scheduled to arrive for her third visit to India. On one hand, Ritu was hurrying up to finish an interiors project at the British Council in Delhi – in a first for any interiors firm in India, she had ordered modular furniture that only needed assembly at the venue. On the other hand, she was preparing for a quick getaway with her young husband to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh.

After driving over 10 hours, just as the couple reached the scenic hill station on a cool evening in October 1997, Ritu got a call from her team in Delhi: “A-points are not fitting into other A’s. B’s aren’t fitting into B’s. It’s a mess,” she was told. They had laid all the individual pieces of the modular furniture on the floor, and were confused what to do next. “Do you need me to be there personally?” she asked. “Yes,” her assistant replied. Ritu and her husband of one year looked at one another, and then, without much discussion, turned around and drove back 10 hours through the night to Delhi.

Two days later, the British Council in perfect shape, Ritu had tea with the Queen.

For the Jalandhar-born ambitious businesswoman and the industry pioneer who founded India’s largest facility management company, complete commitment to her work is a habit. With her dad in the Indian Army and her mother an award-winning horticulturist, Ritu was used to shifting from small town to small town in childhood – from Missamari in Assam to Pulgaon in Maharashtra – while learning to make new friends and keep up with her studies. As a child, Ritu was encouraged to try out every possible sport – trekking, polo, swimming, shooting, tennis, squash – and she developed an adventurous streak. She completed class 12 from Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, and then convinced her parents to allow her to move to Delhi to study interior design.

The day she graduated, Ritu set up her own firm, Cherry Hill, offering residential and commercial interiors. It was 1988, and there weren’t too many women in the field but that never came in the way of her signing contract after contract. Besides institutions in Delhi, she also worked on a monastery in Sikkim and a hotel in Dehradun, among many other outstation projects. Ten years into her design foray, however, she was forced to change tack.

By then, she was married and had a baby daughter. But her work needed her to be constantly on the road. One day, while she was away working on a project for Dabur in Ghaziabad, her baby got burnt when her caregiver at home spilled hot tea on her. “That’s when I knew I needed a profession with better work-life balance,” says Ritu. She stopped taking on more projects, and introspected. “I realized I was late for everything – for paying my bills, for little chores that needed to be done. I didn’t have time to juggle so much.”

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Deloitte is now one of TGH’s 400 clients

That led to her eureka moment: “What if there are other people who need help, like I do? What if there was someone who could take care of the little things for us?” The idea germinated into a new career plan, and Ritu’s new facility management company The Global Helpdesk (TGH) was born.

The spirited young mother sent off her assistants to collect visiting cards from scores of offices in commercial complexes around the city. “What is a concierge service?” she was asked by bemused admin staff. “Why do we need another company to deposit our bills or stand in bank queues?” For weeks, she didn’t get a single client, but she kept emailing every corporate contact she came across.

Then came her first call. “This is Commodore Chopra from Tata Consultancy Services,” said the voice on the phone. The software exporter had a small office in Noida and needed help to shift base to another location. “Let’s start with a two-month contract,” he said, and soon, Ritu found herself running around in her first assignment. The contract was extended, and extended. “They are still my clients today,” smiles the down-to-earth Ritu at her office in Nehru Place.

The second call was from McKinsey. “We’re a team of just 70 people,” the person on the phone apologized, adding hesitantly, “I don’t know if you take on small firms.” Ritu looked at the two men in her own team and grinned. “Sure we do.” After that, there was no looking back.

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Ritu Grover with her daughter, who is now in college

Today, close to two decades later, TGH caters to over 400 clients, including Deloitte, Microsoft, HSBC, KPMG, Airtel, PWC, Ericsson and a long list of other multinationals. Ritu has a full-time staff of 400 and another 1200 off-roll. Her company offers a portfolio of over 200 services, from passport application and detective services to school admissions and hardware repair, and is considered India’s leader in facility management.

Ritu has won several awards as an entrepreneur as well. In the past few years, TGH has developed an e-concierge and mailroom management system that allows clients to select the services required from a customised online portal, and all orders are automated. “I realized technology is the way forward, and we invested a lot in developing the right team and software to streamline things,” says the 48-year-old business baroness.

Digitizing processes allows Ritu – who has been a single mother for over a decade and whose daughter is now in college – the luxury to spend a few mornings playing golf or a day driving in car rallies, or an afternoon chatting with journalists about her life without being disturbed too much. Yet, she’s got her finger on the pulse, an eye out on the monitor “for escalations”. To be on top of your business game, you need to be ready for anything. Who knows when the Queen may drop in.

First published in eShe September 2017 issue