Hari Krishnan has taken over as CEO of PropertyGuru Group, and promises to bring Asia’s leading property portal to the next level.

Over the course of his 16-year career, PropertyGuru Group CEO Hari Krishnan has worked in more than six different industries, but that’s not because he’s indecisive. Rather, it’s because he has a constant desire to learn, and it’s served him well thus far.

By Cheryl Marie Tay 

PropertyGuru Group CEO Hari Krishnan has had an interesting career. At the beginning of 2016, he joined the company as President and Chief Business Officer, focusing on commercial operations.

But he had not always been in the property industry. In fact, this was his first time stepping into the real estate market.

Still, within nine months of his employment at PropeprtyGuru, he had taken over as CEO from Steve Melhuish, co-founder of the property portal. Melhuish had served as CEO since its inception, and had now entrusted the operations of his creation to Krishnan.

A meandering journey

Krishnan’s first job was as a product manager and custom support engineer at Cisco Systems during the era of the dot-com bubble; it signified the beginning of a career in technology.

“I’ve spent my entire career in technology. I enjoy being in tech. I’ve had the privilege of working for a number of great companies that were in strong positions, like Cisco, but I’ve also worked for a number of start-ups, such as a company called Travelguru — where I was Vice President of Product and Marketing — at the start of e-commerce in India.”

In 2009, he joined LinkedIn as their first employee in Asia, working as country manager for India for about three years before moving to Singapore in 2012 to take on the role of VP and Managing Director for Asia Pacific and Japan. That was his last job before he took the leap into the property industry.

Mutually beneficial

But wherever he goes, it seems both he and whichever company that hired him come away the better for it.

One example is his previous appointment at Travelguru, an online travel start-up. He says: “Being at the birth of an e-commerce industry in a large market like India in 2005 was quite an experience. Driving online product and marketing strategies at that point was definitely a big achievement.”

When it comes to his LinkedIn days, he says: “I joined LinkedIn when it was smaller than PropertyGuru, when there were only 350 employees. It was a California start-up, with offices only in the US and the UK.

“Then we opened up in India. By the time I left (LinkedIn), we had about 1,300 employees in the region, and we had actually grown revenue by a hundred times in my six years there.

Cross-cultural experiences

He also recalls the cultural aspect of his time at LinkedIn fondly.

“I didn’t have many colleagues in Asia when I started, so I think to build that entire business and culture was a great experience. Today, when people talk about it as a great place to work, I feel very proud to have been a part of that.”

In fact, he has become quite adept at what he calls “working across cultures”.

“When I was at LinkedIn, I had operations in Australia, Japan and China, in addition to India and Southeast Asia. Working across cultures has been a great learning experience. At first, it was challenging, but now I’m very confident, because I have managed to work across these cultures.

“When you come from one culture and have to manage another, (you realise) the biggest challenges are people-oriented.”

His experiences with cultures apart from his own started before his career began, however. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering at the University of Bombay (now the University of Mumbai) in 1999, he moved from India to the United States for his master’s degree in Telecommunications at the University of Colorado.

He then moved to Silicon Valley in 2000 to start his career at Cisco Systems. Following this, he lived briefly in Singapore while pursuing an MDA in General Management and Finance at INSEAD. It was here that he met PropertyGuru’s co-founder Jani Rautiainen.

He says jokingly: “I had a bachelor’s degree in engineering in India, a master’s degree in telecommunications in the US, and like a good Indian, I got one more degree.”

 

Group shot

Krishnan with PropertyGuru’s founders Jani Rautiainen (left) and Steve Melhuish (middle).

 

The future of property

Now that he is CEO of Asia’s leading online property group, one wonders what this means for the future of the property market in Asia. Reassuringly, Krishnan is confident.

“We’ve said that our mission is to help people make confident property decisions through relevant content, actionable insights and world-class service, and we have to deliver on that. My primary focus is to make sure we actually pursue that mission.”

He also knows that in order to achieve the aforementioned, the right people are of utmost importance. For this reason, his secondary focus is to “make sure we create the absolute best environment to attract the best talent, because in the digital industry, if you have the best people, you will have the best company: you will provide the best technology, the best sales, the best marketing…everything.

“So my primary job is to create an environment where the best people thrive, and attract more top talent into our company.”

This is especially crucial, thanks to the lack of essential information available online.

“Property is a space where people need a lot of information to make a good decision. As someone who has bought property using information from PropertyGuru, I found it to be extremely useful. But I think within the next five years — in conjunction with our mission, actually — getting the right information to the right person at the right time is important, though it’s very hard to do.”

He adds: “There will be a ‘decade of digital’ for Southeast Asian property. If you look at Southeast Asian property buyers, renters and investors, they are all online today. They are all using their devices (to find information).

“But the property sector is not as digital as it should be. I expect, over the next 10 years, there will be a rapid digitisation (of the market), and it’s what I’m calling the ‘decade of digital’. I believe that starting this year, we’ll see it.

“This year, we’ve already done drone videos and drone photography in Malaysia. Whether it’s travel, financial services or media, consumers expect transparency, so why should they expect any different from property? And the way to achieve this is digitally. If you look at markets in the region that are still developing, whether it’s India or China, their property markets are already digitising rapidly.”

A team effort

Krishnan acknowledges that many people have positively influenced him over the years.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with two great CEOs: John Chambers at Cisco and Jeff Wiener at LinkedIn.

“John taught me how you could inspire a large organisation and get them to do amazing things. Jeff taught me how you could pursue a mission and realise your goals by being very determined and systematic in how you pursue those goals.”

Live and let learn

Throughout his career, the multiple changes he has made to different industries stems from a constant desire to learn new things and in the process, become more versatile.

“I like to keep learning. I had a good career at LinkedIn; I did well and I really enjoyed working there. But what made me look for a change was that I wanted to continue to learn. I don’t think I’m unique in that perspective; I believe there are others who also want to keep learning.

“But I don’t settle; I did very well there and could have easily stayed in that job or in that company. But I was looking for my next challenge, because I’m always looking to learn.”

He believes that the skills he has picked up are even more important than the experiences he has had along the way.

“I’ve worked in technology, online music, online travel, online recruitment, social media, and now, online property. I’ve been able to make these transitions because I am able to understand what skills are required in different industries.

“I have a digital industry background, and I’ve spent the last decade or so helping offline businesses — everything from music and entertainment to travel and recruitment and now, property — go online.”

He also confesses to most of the challenges he faces being “self-inflicted”. His professional experience in a variety of industries has consistently presented one main challenge: to understand each industry better.

It all comes back to his love for being in the digital world, and his determination to do his very best, whichever industry he enters. “Ultimately, I’m a digital native; I understand the digital industry very well and I’m very confident in my knowledge about that.

“But I’m new to property as an industry, and I think every time you go into a new industry, the challenge is to understand the jobs, the players, the norms and so on. Consumers will expect transparency and access to data from PropertyGuru, and we are definitely going to bring it.”

The PropertyGuru News & Views This article was first published in the print version PropertyGuru News & Views. Download PDFs of full print issues or read more stories now!
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