Britain’s ‘most-networked’ man sets eyes on India

January 10th, 2011 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

By James Jose
New Delhi, Jan 10 (IANS) Pi Capital, the Britain-based private equity firm for top-notch industrialists and high net-worth individuals, is finally opening a unit in India where it has an indirect presence through its Fitness First gym chain, the largest globally.”I love to do business in this country,” Pi Capital’s chief executive David Giampaolo, once called the most-networked individual in Britain by The Times of London, told IANS in an interview during his latest exploratory visit here.

“I am attracted by the profit potential of India,” said Giampaolo, a high-school dropout who started his career with a gardening business, followed by a gym business in Florida, before associating himself with this investment club for the rich and the famous.

“We will definitely come to India soon. Realistically, it should happen by 2012.”

According to global advisories and consulting firms Capgemini and Merrill Lynch, India has around 127,000 high net-worth individuals whose cumulative wealth stands at $477 billion. A high net-worth individual has investment assets of $1 million or more.

Pi Capital’s strategic partners and members — who claim to sit on the boards of as many as 600 top companies and institutions — include the Bank of Scotland, Moet Hennesey,
Irish paper and packaging tycoon Dermot Smurfit and Pearson director Vemon Sankey.

Speaking about Fitness First, which started operations at the central business district of Connaught Place in the Indian capital, Giampaolo said in a span of three years, it has expanded to Bangalore, Gurgaon and Mumbai.

He is now on a lookout for more local partners among like-minded investors who also hold sizeable commercial properties. “We have realised that if you want to be successful in a country like India, you need to have local partners,” he said.

“You see, rents in India are far too high — much more even if you compare it with other economies that are booming,” he said, explaining the rationale why he prefers investors who also double up as realtors with properties of their own.

Thus far, all Fitness First properties in India are self-operated.

“We are all set for our first platinum health club. It opens next month at Select City Walk — isn’t that what you call that mall?” said the 52-year-old American, who spent 20 years of his life in Britain, referring to the upcoming gym at Saket in south Delhi.

“All our Fitness First platinum members will not only have access to all our clubs in India, but also overseas on a reciprocal basis,” Giampaolo, a fitness freak himself, added.

He said Fitness First has been attracting an impressive 600 new members in India, adding the market was huge, due to low penetration. In Britain, Germany, the US and Australia, 9-14 percent of the population uses gyms. In India it is below one percent of urban population.

Pi Capital said Fitness First is the largest health club operator in the world with over 1.4 million members and over 540 clubs worldwide … and growing. Among them, 70 are in Asia.

(James Jose can be reached at james.jose@ians.in and biz@ians.in)

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