Brexit Is a Luxury Property Opportunity, Indian Billionaire’s Son Says

Serum Institute Of India Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla Interview

Adar Poonawalla.

Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg
  • Poonawalla says weak pound, distressed sellers, mean bargains
  • He sees U.K. economy taking two-year hit before rebounding

Two years ago, Adar Poonawalla failed in a bid to turn London’s historic Grosvenor House Hotel into his family’s second home. Now he’s on the lookout for a consolation prize, courtesy of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Poonawalla, whose father Cyrus founded Asia’s largest vaccine maker and is India’s seventh-richest man, wants to take advantage of two products of Brexit: the pound’s plunge to near 30-year lows and concern that London’s luxury-property market will crash.

"That should present some opportunities," 35-year-old Poonawalla said by telephone from his home in the Indian town of Pune, where he now runs Serum Institute of India Ltd., the family business. "I’m always looking for a good deal because sometimes you get a distressed sale, someone wants a quick easy deal, and we’ve got the liquidity to do that. It’s definitely a place I would want a second home."

Five-Star Amenities

In 2014, Poonawalla hoped Grosvenor House on Park Lane would be that home. The plan was to convert "a couple of thousand square feet" into a private residence offering all the amenities of the adjoining five-star hotel, which the family would run. The 550 million pound ($744 million) bid was rejected, but that didn’t curb Poonawalla’s appetite for iconic properties.

Last year he agreed to pay $120 million for a former maharajah’s residence in Mumbai that most recently housed the U.S. consulate. The Poonawallas said at the time that they planned to use the building, known as Lincoln House, as a weekend home.

Poonawalla, whose family fortune is estimated at $8.6 billion, said he expects the uncertainty surrounding Brexit will mean he won’t make any deals for another year or two.

Poonawalla, who studied at London’s University of Westminster, backs Britain’s choice to leave the EU. Like some Brexit voters, he sees the increase in immigrants from other EU countries as a "problem." He also said the U.K.’s decision to stay out of Europe’s shared currency has proven a good one.

"Brexit was the best thing for the country," he said. “Some business or trade might get hit for the first two years, but eventually after three years I think the U.K. will come out far stronger than in Europe."

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