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Journey from Bentley to Nairobi. Interview with alumni Chetan Hayer

Today we have with us, Mr. Chetan Singh Hayer, Managing Director of Hayer One Group. Chetan is a Civil Engineer from India and has a Master’s of Science from Bentley University. Chetan is the Managing Director of Hayer One Group. He has a decade of real estate experience and has executed award-winning real estate projects. He was awarded by AsiaOne Magazine as Global Indian of the year 2020. Congratulations Chetan and a very warm welcome to you!

Full Interview Transcript

What do you miss most about Bentley? 

Bentley was great. Beautiful campus and facilities. The engagements with small groups at various corners of the different buildings for assignments, presentations, projects. That big ground in front of the library where all Asians would get together to play cricket. I wished I said library but I wasn't a big reader. There was a sense of niceness at Bentley. Instructors, support staff, all pretty nice. I miss the cafeteria. I thought the food was fantastic there.  

How do you feel Bentley has supported you in your success? 

While it was nice, it also puts a sense of competitiveness in you. You want to perform better than others. You want to be ahead of the curve. 

I remember one example. I used to freeze during the class participation in William Schiano's course. He would ask me a question in the class, and I kid you not, I will totally freeze. But I remember when career services had an opportunity posted online for a position at KPMG, I wanted it very badly, so I decided to face my worst fear by choosing to go back to Willian Schiano for a mock interview preparation. I thought if I can crack with him, my chances of doing well with KPMG is higher. I was horrible at the beginning, but he challenged me and supported me, and I was prepared for the interview. Later I found out that I was in the first position from the group that got selected through various rounds, but KPMG created a position only for me at their Boston office while all other positions were for New York. So had a job offer one year before graduating, so at the age of 23 or 24, I thought that was quite special at the time. 

Another example, smaller but significant was - career services-organized a panel discussion where a VP from staples was present. I networked with her, and that gave rise to an intern position at Staples. This was not a listed opportunity. 

I am also a product of the generous department assistantship program of Bentley. Thanks to Donna Fletcher and Jaimin Shah, I got this opportunity to be selected for the Finance DA. It just came in at the right time when I badly needed it. It was quite an essential requirement at the time for me. I don't think I would have completed my master's if it was not for that.

So there are innumerable explicit and hidden opportunities Bentley offers, and choosing them in the right way can profoundly impact the direction of your career growth. 

Tell me about your career progression after graduating from Bentley? 

So after Bentley, At KPMG Boston, it was a new world. It was a world of detailing, discipline, extensive client interaction, report writing, very long hours. While there is so much I had to learn on the job, Bentley had prepared me for a decent start. I remember my first assignment was immediately on the second week off to Albany for three weeks. I had no clue of an assignment in the middle of an assignment, but I think I was prepared in some way, thanks to Bentley. 

At KPMG, I did quite well while in Boston. I was promoted earlier than the norm, my billables were fantastic, client interactions were impressive. I was already influencing in bringing new business for the firm in my first and second year. All in all, did quite well there.

Tell us about your journey from Bentley to Nairobi? 

It actually started due to something quite sad. Unfortunately, my father had passed on in 2005. Now, As an Indian family member, at that stage, I got the responsibility of taking care of my mom and my brother, who hadn't done his master's education yet. You see, at the time when I left India for Bentley, I gave my dad a word that I will make my brother Stand on his feet. So amongst other reasons, this being the principal reason to relocate back to Mumbai towards the end of 2006. 

My dad was a developer of his right, and truth be told, I always had a profound desire to become a very successful developer. Maybe because I always saw him in that light growing up, and this desire perhaps was shaping. We lived next to his construction site, so there was exposure at our backyard, literally. No wonder he made me take up civil engineering during my bachelor days. 

So when I went back to the suburbs of Mumbai, I started my first project, moving onto the planning phases of the second and third. But at the region where I was operating, I always felt that the canvas I was playing on was too small, and I will need a giant canvas for my ambitions. Destiny had it, I got married to my beautiful and very supportive wife in 2009, and we traveled to Nairobi for our honeymoon. At first, I was planning to go elsewhere, but my kid sister, who relocated to Nairobi with her husband, gifted me this holiday trip. So I reached Nairobi. The beautiful holiday time at Masai Mara and the pristine beaches of Mombasa, safari in Nairobi, is spectacular. 

After all this, the hunger for growth in me started to run my curious brain. I started to drive around the city. I noticed that there is a shortage of high-quality real estate at a reasonable price. So I figured if we can build high-quality real estate, sell them at competitive prices, then I can have a market. 

It was quite a challenging decision at the time, but I did not blink for a second and decided to take all my life savings and move to Nairobi. In hindsight, it was a considerable risk, but I was not thinking of that. Thanks to my family & friends, I picked my first small project. 

In the beginning, I thought I would do one project and leave. But there is something quite special about Nairobi - The greens; it's a lifestyle, the human capital presents massive opportunities. So once you come here, you do not wish to leave. Of course, being an African country, it comes with a lot of inherent challenges of its own, and I had to appreciate those and adapt quite quickly. You see, one of the biggest challenges was that I was not a typical businessman; I was and still am passionate about development but not a businessman, so one of the very initial challenges had the potentials of pretty much destroying my dreams, but these were life learning lessons that will be with me forever, but I had no choice because I had put all life savings in. So I adapted and moved on. 

As I continued, the word "I" started to become "we" and "me" into "our". Our team started to grow immensely. Without having a godfather or a guide, I think my attitude of making the "world learnings" as my Godfather started to make every adversity along the way, as an opportunity. We grew from one project to now fifth and going to sixth. The brilliant thing was we continued to grow the size of our projects from small to medium to large, doubling every time we picked a new one. Now our team has a strong structure and processes in place with senior management level individuals with profound industry experience. We also have a board of advisors with very experienced individuals who guide the organization's general direction and assist in necessary compliance and corporate governance. So today, we can be considered as one of the most prominent brands of developers with a good size customer following. Some of our projects continue to get recognized in Nairobi and around the world. We got property awards held in London a couple of years ago. We got recognized by a NY firm. 

We think Nairobi can play a significant role in the growth of the African continent, and our organization hopes to impact that significantly. 

You recently received an award for being the Global Indian of the Year by Asia One. Congratulations on that one! Tell me what this means to you and your career? 

Awards can be an excellent way to pause and look back and an excellent way to motivate yourself and keep moving forward. It was pretty humbling when AsiaOne reached out to us for an opportunity for this particular nomination of Global Indian of the Year. We made the necessary applications, and it went thru a particular process, and they extended this recognition. It was a good moment for our team. 

I think such an award is a great way to recognize us Indians who have left our country and living our lives away and working hard, and it's a nice token to feel good. Your family & friends extend their love to you. The people you work with demonstrate their respect towards this recognition. For me, it predominantly means is that we keep moving forward. 

Whom do you thank for your current position?

Bentley has been quite significant in my life. I always remember and cherish my time there. It was a turning point. You see, For an Indian with no international background, coming to Bentley is very special as it acts as a gateway to the United States, and the university handles it very brilliantly. In April 2019, I visited the campus with my family & at the time, my 8-year-old son (now he is 10) asks me, "papa is this where I will be coming for my University," and I looked at my wife, and she smiled. That was nice. 

At KPMG, the people I reported to Al, Tim, and Bob played a huge role. They greatly influence my current working methodologies. It's sometimes a bit scary how the northeast culture is propagated in our world here in Nairobi.  

The people I work with, our team in our company, Hayer One. 

My late father taught me the value of entrepreneurship, risk-taking, a long-term view on growth, relationships. My mom has made several sacrifices for me. More than one can count, and she continues to pray for all of us. My sister and my brother both dearly love and have such cherishing moments. My two boys, 10 and 5, whose birthday celebrations and school functions I had missed due to work commitments, but now I have started to change that, and they both love it, and I adore spending time with them. Most importantly, my beautiful wife is one solid woman who has stood by my side through everything. She helps me see the more transparent water from the murkier one if you know what I mean. We continue to pray and trust in God. 

What advice would you give to current students getting ready to graduate?

Wow, that's quite a responsible question. Maybe I can advise after 10-15 years when I turn 50 or 55 as I will be a lot more experienced. But I can perhaps share the learnings from my experience. 

Opportunity - We have several opportunities that come along our way and others we create ourselves. Making the most of an opportunity has always been my approach. I think I was pretty much destined to probably become a Partner at KPMG-Boston and retire there from my story. Post my father's demise, if it was not for the love for my mom and the responsibility I held towards my brother, I probably would have never gone through a series of challenging times and landed to become a successful real estate developer in Nairobi. So, life can take turns, and we need to continue making the most of the opportunity presented to us or what we create.

Passion - I am genuinely passionate about what real estate we build. We want to ensure that every product we lay our hands on is of high value. Passion is always at work when designing & executing our products. This passion trickles down to the team and hence the entire organization. So we truly believe that new opportunities in business can be created if passion is at work. 

Relationship & Trust - I have come to more situations where I had no idea how we will work the next week, open our office doors the following day, fulfill our commitments, etc, but we are here and thriving. One of the most important reasons is the relationships and the Trust that we have formed over a decade. It's the relationships and trusts that have continued to assist us in our journey of creating high-value real estate property and assisting our customers in creating wealth. It's surreal and at the same time, very heartfelt. So please continue to form good relationships and trust them. Sometimes your Trust will be broken, my Trust has been broken by people you never imagined, but overall the benefits from the trusting ones far outweigh the small, petty losses.