Tara Singh Vachani, executive chairperson at Antara Senior Care and vice-chairperson, Max India

Narrative is changing about senior care industry: Tara Singh Vachani

Executive chairperson of Antara Senior Care says ‘service delivery’ has to be the cornerstone of senior care industry

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

She is not the hardcore business thinker you would meet in the corporate world and is known to be a caring person and has finally made a business out of “care and compassion” in the form of senior care. “I inherently value compassion, empathy, and fundamentally trust human beings. However, the narrative in the work environment has been that you have to be tough and don’t give so much of a rope. But today I fully embrace these values and live my authentic self and organizations with a deep sense of purpose must embrace these values.”

Meet Tara Singh Vachani, executive chairperson at Antara Senior Care and vice chairperson at Max India, who is building the largest integrated Senior Care ecosystem in India with products covering everything from Senior Living Residences to Assisted Living or Care Homes, Care at home and AGEasy verticals.

Namrata Kohli in an exclusive conversation with Tara Singh Vachani, executive chairperson at Antara Senior Care

How and why did you start with senior care?

I want to be able to say that it was like a thunderbolt from the sky, but it wasn’t. I moved back to India and was wondering what to do next. At that time, the group was doing multiple new things and entering new businesses. My father was handling a very executive hands-on role and told me why don’t you come and be a fly on the wall. At that time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted and even while growing up, we never had conversations about this is what I would like to do or parents dictating we would like you to do this. They just wanted to nurture us in the here and now. So when I joined the organisation as a fly on the wall intern, I realised that I hated being one because I wanted to be involved and engaged in something responsible. I travelled abroad to do audit of a company we were thinking of acquiring and that company started to talk about senior living and senior care. That just resonated with me. I am not a business thinker and am a political science and English literature major. I had a chat with my father that there is something fascinating about the idea. He, being an entrepreneur, was always willing to try new things. He seemed to have the courage to take the risk and literally nudged me to develop this from just being an idea to some sort of a construct. For two years I studied the concept in India and the world. And then we just went ahead with it.

Today there are Care Homes and Care at Home in the senior care industry. What are the current verticals within the ambit of senior housing at Antara?

We started with one vertical which is called Antara Residences, what people call senior living because these are communities where seniors live. But now the industry and our company is defined by Senior Care because we do many more things than just Residences and have essentially four different verticals. We also have Antara care homes, or assisted living for seniors who need full time care and assistance with daily activities such as food, medicine management, physiotherapy over short term, mid-term and long term. Our third vertical is Care At Homes where we provide everything from ICU care to physiotherapy etc. Last and not the least, is AGEasy by Antara where we are targeting chronic conditions. One of our subjects is knee pain and you will be surprised to know how many people even in their 50s suffer from knee pain and we solve the problem with a whole bracket of products such as braces, walking aids, physiotherapy, nutrition aids etc.

Today we are the most organised player in India and have managed to at least change the nomenclature and language from senior living to senior care industry. Worldwide, this industry actually is called senior care and it encompasses various different products and services. We, at Antara, have always wanted to be an integrated platform, with multiple products and services at different locations, avatars and offerings.

Out of the four verticals that you enumerated, where is the maximum demand currently in India?

The demand is there for everything related to seniors. Out of the many ideas pitched to me in senior care industry, I have not come across a single idea for which there is no demand. The question is just of the timing of it and price point around it.

I break up demand into what “I want” and what “I need”. Antara Residences has now become “I want”. When we had launched Antara Residences, the level of conviction needed was much more for people to accept it. People would say that they are fine in their homes, that they have cleaner, cook coming and because of social stigma attached to senior living, they were simply reluctant. Care home model is “I need” and is directly linked to the moment of truth when there comes a health episode or a medical crisis and when that occurs, the necessity kicks in. In a country like ours, there is demand for everything. And in this senior care space which is a fragile vulnerable ecosystem that has such little products and services to offer, there is demand through and through.

We have so many stories of uncles and aunts who needed products and services to age better. I remember that my mum used to struggle getting wheelchairs etc for my grandparents who used to live in Dehradun, and would come and stay with us for a few weeks in Delhi. It would be a project to find the right walker or a wheelchair or a commode chair. We had the luxury and the privilege to travel abroad so we used to buy from a very fancy shop in London and then we had to lug it back to India. Today Antara makes all those things- walkers, walking sticks, wheelchairs, our own beds. That’s how much things have transitioned and changed because there is that demand in every category and vertical.

You have come a long way in redefining the senior living from a compulsion to a choice over the years. But where is senior care in India versus the global market?

America is a front runner in senior care industry. They have every type of product and service at every price point. But we are where America was probably 60 years ago. But we also have a population that is way larger. We have a long way to go and have a lot of supply to create. We have to create that supply with far more quality than it is being created today. I have been in this space for ten years now and would get less offended when people call senior living an ‘old age home’ and more offended when people call us real estate, only because real estate has had a reputation of people building assets, juicing out the financial returns and then leaving. Today real estate has also redefined itself and people have a lot of respect for good quality players like Max Estates. But the fact is that we have to understand that this is a service led thinking and offering. Being in senior living under the category of senior care, the frontrunner has to be the concept of service delivery and how am I genuinely contributing to the quality of life of the person I am serving. How am I enhancing their experience of life and aging and over the next 10-30 years. Quality has to be redefined with that lens. We lack supply of all products and services, quality assurance and quality thinking that needs to be there and finally we don’t have the level of government advocacy and policy to be able to grow the way we really want to. Today what is very positive is that the narrative is changing. You can have a conversation about senior care and senior living without people saying oh old age home, that I won’t send my parents, that I won’t go there as my children will take care of me. It’s taken 10 years just personally for me to see that change but I think that’s a big positive shift.

Buying and renting: Both these options are not available in the senior housing as yet. What are your thoughts on opening senior homes for rentals?

When we started Antara Residences, at that time we found there was no market for rentals. Land cost, infrastructure cost simply did not make it feasible for rental. In India, people are used to such low rents that it doesn’t actually commercially work out for an organisation like ours to do a rental model. The corporate buying that land, building that kind of infrastructure and cost of our capital being 17-18%- it doesn’t make sense for us to do a rental model. Also people want to own that asset. But what we have started seeing that a small shift is happening where there are people who want to rent and want to come for long term rent. But whether they are willing to eventually pay what we need to charge them I don’t think they are ready yet.

Out of the four verticals that you have the Residences, the Care homes, the Care at Home and AGEasy where are you going to work the maximum in the short to medium term?

I have to say it will be equally all three- the Antara Residences, Care homes and AGEasy. I have a very deep excitement for all three- Residences, because I know that space and understand what it takes to do that. I am sure there will be different challenges in every location but inherently I understand the consumer and that market very well. The Care home space really excites me because of the imperative need of this model and there are few options. In the Residences space, you can still opt to live in your own home and curate your own quality of life. However, there are no alternatives to Care Homes. What happens when someone has had a stroke or heart issue or dementia with nobody to take care of them. Their children move back, bag and baggage, and are miserable here. The Care Homes is a very emotionally led and yet, a practical asset lite model because we don’t go and build that asset from scratch.

AGEasy is a completely new age business. For me, that’s where the learning is happening the most. It’s a completely tech driven business – our acquisition of business, our sales happen through technology and yet we are still able to have a deep-rooted connection with our customer. So, Residences I know, and I can feel it and it feels more intuitive. Care homes there is a deep need and AGEasy is just huge amounts of learning while Care-at-home is a completion of service.

You use these words such as ‘deep rooted connection’, ‘intuitive’, ‘emotional’ and these are very women centric. Of course, there are no stereotypical roles in today’s world but then there are things that women are inherently better at doing than men. As a woman leader and operating in this space of care, what do you think you bring extra to the table?

There was always a trait of mine that earlier I used to feel a bit awkward about it in the workspace and it was never rewarded. I valued empathy and giving extra elbow room to people. When things would not go according to plan, I would put myself in to shoes of the other person. I am also the kind of person who just gives anyone the benefit of doubt. I think I inherently trust people. If there is something that just doesn’t happen the way it should have, I always trust the person who gives reasons that because of xyz it didn’t happen. However, the narrative in the work environment is that you have to be tough and you have to demand outcome and don’t give so much of a rope. Now when I look back, I feel its is one of the most ridiculous feeling. An organisation with a deep sense of purpose cannot exist if you don’t inherently have the value of compassion, empathy, of benefit of doubt and fundamentally trusting in human beings. Today I don’t want to be involved in anything that does not have a deep sense of purpose and somewhere I wear my approach as a badge of honour. But as a leader where I felt I was not enjoying what I am doing, or that I want to do things differently we changed our organisation structure. Today I am the executive chairperson and have a very seasoned MD & CEO and then we have CEOs of our independent business. I now play a very different role to what I played ten years ago. And in the role that I play, I fully embrace these values that I hold and I am very grateful that I have the privilege to do it because not very many women can be their authentic selves in the workplace.

I find a lot of beautiful artworks at your home. Is art your true calling? And what do you do in your spare time?

As a family, we have always enjoyed creating nice spaces. One has had the privilege of being in an ecosystem that is beautiful and well put together and one just got used to it. That is why in the world of business, one would hear statements such as ‘Tara you like things only a certain way but that ends up costing a lot and the customer is not willing to pay.’ For a few years, I had to second guess but now I just hold onto my belief saying that everybody wants beauty around them. We just have to figure out how to give it to them at the price that they can afford it.

As to spare time, I am a very planned person and not a spontaneous person. If someone said at 4pm, come let’s go and have coffee today, it’s never going to happen. My spare time is also scheduled and that gives me a good sense of comfort. I have two daughters of age 3 and 6 and I am learning so much from them that any skill or values that I still feel the need to build in my organisation, I learn to build through them. Spare time is with them. Besides, I value exercise, time for self- learning, introspection and reading.

Source: Business Standard https://mybs.in/2dUDPfw

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