Gurmale Singh Grewal's third generation family-owned Singh Developments has become one of the largest Indian real estate empires in the United States.
Gurmale Singh Grewal, CEO, Singh Developments, is keeper of his grandfather’s legacy — one that has spawned more than 5,000 multi-family and senior apartments, 2,100 single family homes and over 400,000 square feet of commercial property space, spread over 600 acres in 75 projects in Michigan and North Carolina,
Grewal was summoned in 1961 to the United States at the age of 12, along with his brothers Tahil, Lushman and Jeat, by his grandfather, Sarwan S Grewal, who was among the earliest Indians to immigrate to the United States, arriving in Stockton, Calif., in 1922. Sarwan Grewal moved to Detroit in 1928 and debuted in real estate with an 8-story hotel. Four decades later after Grewal’s death in 1968, his four grandsons have built Singh Developments into one of the largest Indian real estate empires in the United States.
The third generation family-owned business is spread across Auburn Hills, Birmingham, Canton, Detroit, Novi, Northville, Rochester Hills, West Bloomfield, and Wixom in Michigan and Cary, North Carolina.
Grewal spoke to Little India at his office in West Bloomfield on how his personal and business philosophies mesh.
If you had to describe yourself in two sentences what would it be?
I think God put me on earth as a human being so that I could lead a life according to his wishes that would always take truthful actions. My actions are directed towards doing things that are morally right in both business and personal life.
What kept the legacy going for 40 years for Singh Developments?
I will keep honesty, integrity and positive attitude on the first platform. These values have played the biggest role in bringing Singh Developments where it is today. We take pride in our good reputation through the maintenance of good relations with the people we deal with. I have my brothers, children, niece and nephews involved in the business. Around 1,100 people work for us, including family and non-family members, at managerial and non-managerial levels. We uphold complete transparency. My brothers and I are runners; we run together almost three-four times a week and discuss everything with each other regarding family and business with total honesty and open relationships. It always helps to come up with better solutions. Besides, I cannot put aside the loyalty and dedication of my staff through the decades.
Does Singh Developments have only family members at the administrative or managerial levels?
No, not at all. We would not have been able to achieve this success without the involvement of non-family members. Most of my staff is non-family members and Americans at the administrative and managerial level. We do not take anyone without appropriate education and work experience, be it a family or non-family member. The process is the same for both. For that matter, even family members cannot get a job just because I am their father, uncle or a distant relative.
No one is given an appointment letter without proving their capabilities to perform. I make sure that they are highly educated, qualified and have some knowledge and work experience outside the Singh company before joining us.
How did you manage to survive after the fall of Lehman Brothers, when real estate was hurt the most?
There was an automotive splurge. Delphi, an affiliate of General Motors, had filed for bankruptcy in October 2005. Recession had already struck in Michigan three years prior to the whole country, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in 2008. The things that helped us survive the downturn are that, first of all we are an old company, well capitalized and financially very stable. Our company is diversified in various areas, like apartment living, senior living, construction and many more. We are not dependent on a single source, rather we are stretched on multiple horizons. Lastly, we have the ability to recognize the change and implement it. To put it into better words, “Change is the only constant thing.”
Where do you see the real estate world moving?
The structures of the apartments and styles will soon be changing. The future houses will be smaller in size, more energy efficient and environmentally sensitive.
Senior living is one of the highlights of Singh. What does it actually do?
Senior living is like a five star hotel. It’s like living on a cruise ship. There are total eight projects and three more coming up under Senior living spread to over 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of area and more than 200 residential units. We call it the Waltonwood. It is divided into three parts. The first is the congregate part where we provide them with one meal a day and breakfast, get their houses cleaned once a week, provide laundry facilities and movie hall facility.
Apart from this we have also kept a bus for the transportation of old people if they want to go outside the residential quarters to visit their doctors or for some work. The second is sister living with small apartments and rooms where more personal assistance and services are provided like three meals a day and helping them with bathing-dressing-doctor.
The third is the memory care where patients with Alzheimer are taken and looked after with great care. We are holding a special golfing event annually. It is our first such event named as the First Annual Singh Golf Outing — A Round to Remember. The proceeds from this outing will be going to the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Michigan Chapter.
Coming to your personal life, have you ever felt like a second class citizen in USA?
I came to USA in 1961 under special immigration laws that were passed at that time. Since then United States of America is my home. I am proud to be an American Indian. There is no place like USA in the whole world. Never have I felt like a second citizen or ever faced any kind of racism and discrimination. I love this country. I don’t know why, but people have always been very good and amazingly nice to me wherever I have stayed, gone or even travelled. I am really grateful to God for that.
There is nothing as good or bad, everything is God’s creation. Only we put labels on things and people as good or bad. I wear a turban, am bearded and have brown skin, this is my identity as an Indian. It’s a brand value and it’s up to you to utilize this brand as an Indian positively or negatively. It can work either way you want it to work.
You were born in India and did some part of your schooling there, but how was it with your children?
My sons wear a turban just like me, they speak Punjabi language fluently and as a father I made sure to introduce my kids to our culture. I took it up as my parental duty to make them very well versed with our religious scriptures, philosophies and family values. They have never been confused about their identity.
My wife is from Ludhiana, India, and like every mother she has played a great role in bringing our kids up. We are proud to be known as American Indians and my kids have never faced any problems or have never been addressed as ABCD (American Born Confused Desi).
What advice or learning do you pass on to your kids?
I have always told my kids to believe in themselves and their abilities. I have taught them to never be afraid of anything in life. Face all the situations with great courage and positive attitude. Do your best in everything you do and leave the results to Parmaatma — God. Last thing that I tell them is live life to the fullest and do whatever makes you happy. We are Sikh by religion and Sikh itself means a student or a constant learning. The process of learning is on-going and never ending.
Do you ever plan to shift your base to India when you retire?
No, never. I am very happy where I am and with the way I am. Having said that if God has it in his plans for me to go back to India, I will definitely go there with a smile on my face. As much as I love USA, I love India too. I go to India every year to meet my extended family members