Sid Yog, the founding partner of Xander Group, reflected on his career in discussion with ESR Hong Kong managing director Rui Hua Chang during a fireside chat at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit 2023 in Singapore.
“I think every opportunity or every experience combines to make you who you are,” he said. “Whether those experiences be delightful or some of those experiences be challenging, I wouldn’t change anything.”
Siddharth Yog, better known as Sid, has experienced plenty in his career, having worked in global real estate and infrastructure since 1993.
The following decade, he received his MBA with high distinction from Harvard Business School, where he was elected as a Baker Scholar and president of his class. In 2005, he cofounded Xander Group, an emerging markets–focused investment firm that manages assets in excess of $3 billion.
“One common theme [in my working life] has been a deep-rooted sense of wanting to change the status quo,” he said. “The way I’ve tried to do that was in being entrepreneurial, in whichever phase of life.”
From 1994 to 1998, Yog helped set up CB Richard Ellis’s (CBRE) India operations and led the consulting, valuation and research groups. From 1999 to 2002, he was based in Singapore and Hong Kong as founding director of CBRE’s Asia Pacific strategic consulting practice.
Addressing the ULI audience, Yog, also the founder of Virtuous Retail and cofounder of Ashoka University, said that the “real estate industry as a whole is a champion of this entrepreneurial urge that’s really driven me.”
“That, I think, is one thing that binds everybody in this room together, which is this spirit of creating new things, of delivering new solutions, in an industry that touches pretty much every human being on the planet.”
From 2014 to 2019, Yog served at his alma mater, Harvard, as a research and teaching faculty, instructing business school students on topics such as “Real Property”, “Property”, “Real Estate in Frontier Markets” and “Investing in Emerging Markets.”
Prior to that, Yog was just 38 years old when he donated more than $11 million to Harvard in 2011. That notable gift, one of the single-largest individual donations by an Indian national to the university, was to establish new professorships, fellowships and financial aid, and an intellectual entrepreneurship fund.
Asked for his advice to those interested in becoming an investor, such as in real estate, Yog shared what he has told his students and others seeking a career in private-equity investing.
“One of the things I’ve always told my students was that if you want to be a good investor, especially in real estate, get your hands dirty first. Start in the industry, it doesn’t matter what you do, and understand the industry first before you seek to become an investor.”
“I really believe this is not about Excel spreadsheets or fancy software,” said Yog, who has encountered many with aspirations to enter the investing sector. “You need to ‘touch and feel’ real estate, because this is a bricks-and-mortar industry at the end of the day.”
His second piece of advice? Avoid the “arrogance of the buy side” for fear of hubris and becoming humbled by this demanding industry.
“Too often, I see really smart people focusing too much on just the acquisition piece. If you’ve never raised money, or if you’ve never created value in your assets, or if you’ve never harvested an asset, you have only a tiny and, some say, easiest piece of that investing life cycle, which is the acquisition of an asset.”
Yog’s third and final piece of advice is to “go where the growth is,” by which he means to go to a market or go to a geography where one sees, for the medium term, the vectors of growth.
“This is an industry [where] you can’t easily change geographies or markets, because it is a relationship-based industry, which requires that understanding of local issues, of local practice,” he said.
“So if you’re going to make a career or if you’re going to start off in this industry, start off in a market where you can see yourself for the next decade.”
For the next decade and beyond, Yog is optimistic about India as an “investment destination” as it is a large nation with an evolving population that is adding to its per-capita income, with an emerging segment willing and able to spend more.
“That creates a situation where you have demand,” he said, “[And] that demand will create all kinds of opportunities, not just in real estate, but almost every industry that you can think of.”
While he is confident of India’s growth story moving forward, Yog highlights that there remain some challenges that he cautions investors about.
“I think there is great progress being made but … it is difficult to execute in India. I mean, it’s become easier, but it still requires [some] ways to go,” he said.
“So you have to be on the ground, you have to have trusted partners if you’re not on the ground yourself, and you don’t want to do this long-distance. But I’m very optimistic about investing in real estate in India, yes.”
With regard to philanthropy and giving back, something close to his heart, Yog expressed gratitude to the privileges he has received and had one main message: don’t wait.
“What I have always urged younger people is, you don’t have to wait until you are considered ‘successful’. You’re successful every single day, and there are ways you can give back to society, give back to the industry,” and to one’s country, community, and causes, he said.
“In fact, look at the ULI, it’s a great example of how people come together and give of their time, and of their talent, to move the industry they’re part of forward.
“I’ve always believed that to whom much is given, much is required. And I hope that all of us who find ourselves privileged with time, talent or treasure, are able to give back to those who don’t have the same opportunities and privileges.
“Writing a check is the easiest thing to do. Giving time is far more difficult.”