Karan Virwani© HELLO! India

#TheH!List: Karan Virwani Redefining Business

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Nayare Ali

The charming scion of the Embassy Group and CEO of WeWork India, he’s passionate and driven to transforming the arena of co-working spaces in India. HELLO!! gets an insight into his exciting life…

It’s an early morning shoot at the stunning Embassy Farmhouse on the outskirts of Bengaluru, a sizeable home built in the midst of also an expansive, manicured green lawn. The home has a minimalist vibe, with large, airy spaces and plenty of sunlight filtering indoors. An informal outdoor dining area serves as the breakfast arena for the team, as Karan Virwani models for the camera with the ease of a professional.

“My team has trained me well!” laughs the CEO of WeWork India, nearly glowing in the joy and satisfaction of having celebrated his company’s fifth anniversary in July. There can be no better time than this for a tête-à-tête with the affable young man on his life, work, challenges and more.

HELLO!: Did you ever feel the pressure of having to step into your father Jitu Virwani’s shoes?

Karan Virwani: I believe any child following their parents’ footsteps will feel the weight of living up to something great. I look up to my parents for all their accomplishments. So yes, of course, there was pressure, but I was determined to do something innovative from the beginning. It’s a blessing to have an incredibly supportive, inspiring and successful father who has always encouraged me to foster new ideas and been a friend and guide throughout my life. My father says it the best: “It’s what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School.”

H: You collaborated with your family’s Embassy Group to bring WeWork to India in 2017. How’d you describe the journey so far?

KV: It’s a coincidence that we’re having this conversation as part of HELLO!’s anniversary, as we, too, mark the 5th anniversary of WeWork India this July. When WeWork entered India through a joint venture with the Embassy Group, the flexible workspace industry was nascent. The core idea was to revolutionise the Indian workspace ecosystem. I’ve always been a firm believer of WeWork’s mantra: “One joins as an individual ‘me’ but ultimately becomes a part of the greater ‘we.’” We’ve created a workspace that empowers people physically and mentally, by creating an inclusive arena for anyone across the board.

H: The company has grown to over 5 million sqft of space across 40 locations in India. How does the blueprint for the coming years look?

KV: We’ve been committed to supporting the growth of the flexible workspace industry while also meeting long-term sales and revenue targets. We aim to expand to 13 new locations across 1.5 million sqft in the six cities where we currently operate, with Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune seeing the most expansion. We also have a new leasing of 2 million sqft planned till March 2023, of which 1.5 million sqft will be leased by December 2022. We’ll continue to focus on long-term sustainable growth and expansion and build on flexible working solutions for all our members’ evolving needs.

H: Who was your biggest influence in your adolescent days?

KV: I was always the quiet, friendly kid with a very close-knit circle. I spent a lot of time with them, mostly outdoors, either riding or getting in trouble, and had an incredible life growing up. Like most children, my parents were a strong inspiration for me. I was also inspired by my economics teacher, Mrs Joshi; she was fantastic. She elevated my curiosity, knowledge and love for business and economics. Music, too, has been a big influence in my life. I grew up following artists like Eminem, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jay-Z and Dr. Dre.

H: What role do you play in the extended family business?

KV: I’ve been entirely focused on building and growing WeWork India for the past six years. I feel very privileged to have the freedom to do that for myself and my family. We have a formalised family board that overlooks the entire business strategy for all group companies. My father, brothers and I use this forum to evaluate new opportunities and strategise for our existing businesses.

H: How close are you to your brothers Aditya and Neel?

KV: I share a solid bond with my brothers; we’re a strong unit. I occasionally seek advice from Aditya. Neel is still studying and isn’t involved in the business yet.

H: You did your Bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Kent. How did those years away from family have an impact on you?

KV: I loved it! Those were some of the best years of my life. Even as a kid, I loved having freedom and independence, so my time at university was an unbelievable experience and life lesson. During those years, I formed some of the most incredible friendships and got to experience different cultures, communities, and food. It shaped the person I am today.

H: You’ve grown up in the lap of luxury. What do terms like ‘fame’, ‘money’ and ‘wealth’ signify to you?

KV: I acknowledge the privilege in my life. That being said, our parents deeply inculcated in me and my brothers the values of being humble, keeping our feet on the ground and head in the stars. Neither fame nor money has never preceded these principles.

H: How good are you at stress management? What’s your advice to youngsters to avoid succumbing to pressure?

KV: Even though life is not always positive, overcoming depression is possible! Surround yourself with people who elevate you and encourage you to always do better. Don’t be in a hurry for results, as good things take time. Be patient and keep going with a determined and resilient mindset; it’s just a matter of time before you reach the pinnacle of success!

H: Have you ever encountered failure or disappointment? What do you think is the best way to deal with a bad day?

KV: (Laughs) We’ve faced many unprecedented situations in the past five years, since WeWork’s inception. So I’ve stopped worrying about things out of my control. I instead focus on having few rules and believe that everything happens for the best. I also don’t perceive any setback as a failure or a mistake. It’s part and parcel of life. These learnings have only made me stronger and propelled me to march ahead towards my goals.

H: How do you enjoy your time off?

KV: I’m a complete outdoor person and enjoy unwinding by going for a hike, horse riding, or just spending time with my friends, playing a sport. Besides this, my wife Mithila and I enjoy watching movies and TV shows together. I also love to bring out my inner chef and cook for my wife or friends as much as possible.

H: How challenging is it to find time to go on a personal holiday?

KV: I’ve made it a point to go on holidays as frequently as possible in the past two years. I think my team hates it when I take a holiday because when I return, I have twice the energy, new ideas and fresh thoughts on how to operate efficiently! It’s essential for all working individuals to take some time off and unwind as a form of self-care.

H: You’ve been part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia List, GQ’s Most Influential Young Indians and Grazia’s 2020 Cool List. How do you perceive such achievements?

KV: It’s always an incredible feeling to win these awards and be recognised for the ambition and sheer zeal that drive me towards achieving my goals. I’m deeply grateful for these acknowledgements.

Photography: Lucky Malhotra; Styling: Anushree Sardesai

This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in Hello! India’s August 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!