SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Breaking the mould

PROFILE

SARMISHTA RAMESH

INSPIRING: Malini Alles.

INSPIRING: Malini Alles.  

IT might be the hottest trend in investment circles these days. But real estate funds are still a predominantly male dominated market niche. At the top level, from the chairman to its board members, real estate funds are old-world all-boys gentry. But leave it to 36-year-old Silicon Valley venture capitalist and social activist Malini Alles to break the mould.

In March this year, Alles launched "Maia", a $100 million real estate fund that will invest in industrial, commercial and residential development and re-development projects in India in the next few years. With this Alles becomes the first woman to found and head such a high-profile real estate venture.

But hitting the high notes in the financial and political world is nothing new to Alles. Malini Alles is a close friend of the Clintons, a staunch Democratic Party fund-raiser and a savvy investor. And real estate funds, she believes, is the way to go now.

And now with the Indian Government opening up realty to foreign investors, India is expected to see a huge influx of foreign money in to the country. "This is a great period for international real estate investment. This year alone, close to $7 billion is coming into India for real estate development. So this period — at the beginning of the game — is the right time to invest," says Alles.

And Alles should know. This self-made entrepreneur is known to have a Midas touch when it comes to investments. She has invested in hi-tech stocks, commodities in Asia and South America and real estate properties all across the globe. By 34, Alles was a billionaire.

"I'm always conscious of changing political and economic trends in any region I go in to invest," Alles points out. She will be touring the country (between April 12 and 26), visiting local developers in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

Born to Sri Lankan parents in a middle class household in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and growing up in Australia, Alles moved to the U.S. when she was 19 — with just $200 to survive. As the story goes, she and her former husband rented an apartment just outside the Stanford University Campus while the two pursued their education.

But starting from scratch was not easy. "We lived there for four years. It was an apartment by the railway track and every time a train went by the whole apartment would shake. We were that poor," recalls Alles with a down to earth laugh. Though these were tough times for the couple, it was also the time Malini Alles laid the foundation for bigger things she would achieve.

As the spouse of a Stanford student, Alles could attend lectures at the university for free. "I was extremely interested in investment and the business angle." What she then decided to do is what sets her story apart from so many others like hers. Alles gate crashed into gatherings where investment bankers were around. She talked to them. Got their advice and with the money she had saved over the years, she slowly started investing in sectors like telecommunications, commodities and real estate. One speculation led to another and soon the young girl who had come to America with hardly any money in her pocket was now a billionaire.

Around 2000, when financially she was a force to reckon with, Alles started "Stree", a Palo Alto, California, based non-profit organisation to help battered women and young girls around the world. Clinton was the guest of honour at the launch.

Even as her charity projects continue to grow, Alles says her vision for the next 10 years will be to take her real estate venture to the next level. "I want to make sure that Maia is a success. It's a goal that will not only make our investors happy, but I see it as a process of building a competitive and cutting edge Indian economy," she adds with a steely glint in her eyes.

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