Varun Agarwal, MCR

Regional Portfolio Manager – Africa & Middle East

Standard Chartered Bank


What’s your educational background?

I grew up in Mumbai, which is the financial capital of India. And that’s where all my education has been. I have done my graduation and post-graduation in Business Management from Mumbai University India. I did my post-graduation while I was working with Standard Chartered Bank, hence I used to attend university over the weekend.  Apart from this, I have attained my Masters in Corporate Real Estate (MCR) and have now started with SLCR.

Tell us about your career path. Where were you prior to joining Standard Chartered Bank?

I joined the bank as a management trainee back in Mumbai. I was fresh out of university, and it was my first job. It was supposed to be a one-month stint, but I will be now completing 13 years in September. Work-wise, I can say I am literally born and brought up in Standard Chartered! It’s been fantastic. I have had an opportunity to be in different markets and do various roles.

After a couple of months as a trainee with wholesale banking, I moved into corporate real estate for a role which was newly being created. However, it did not materialize to what we wanted it to be, so I moved on to help setting up the new operational risk framework the Bank was adopting across South Asia for the function. Post which I did various roles, from operations and finance to procurement, vendor management and business alignment.

Over time while still based in London, I also took on the additional responsibility of Regional Portfolio Manager for Europe & Americas before moving to Johannesburg as the Regional Portfolio Manager for Africa overseeing the Bank’s portfolio across 16 Sub Saharan African markets and finally I moved to Dubai into my current role as the Regional Portfolio Manager for Africa & Middle East. It has been a fantastic ride with the bank.

What are some of the interesting things you’re working on?

At the moment, I am responsible for governing a very diversified and challenging portfolio, which comprises almost 580 commercial properties and more than 100 residential properties which are spread across 25 markets. So, it is a very exciting role in terms of the range of facilities we have as well as the different markets that get covered & each of these markets have so much to offer in terms of policies, challenges, opportunities, etc.

There is focus on identifying & driving strategies and initiatives that deliver economic benefit, improve productivity and enhance customer & employee experience.

The bank has been in many of these markets for more than 150 years. So, we have a lot of legacy portfolio. Many of the head offices are dated and tired. One of the interesting things I am really working on is delivering new head offices across several markets. Finding quality Grade A buildings in Africa is a challenge, so I have been working on built to suit fully rentalized including fit-out HO deals that deliver financially appealing solutions to decades-old real estate problems. It’s been really good what we are trying to do here. We are just opening up our head offices in Ghana, we’ve had a groundbreaking in Zambia, and we are working in Uganda. These buildings, when they are ready, would be the best buildings in their respective markets by far. And the legacy we leave for the thousands of our staff in Africa is just fantastic.

Isn’t it true that sustainability and corporate social responsibility are core values for the bank?

Absolutely. We are one of the few institutions on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. We have won a lot of awards across the globe for the initiatives we have undertaken. It’s not really about the LEED certification or other certification for the buildings, but more importantly how we are drastically reducing our carbon footprint and so on. So, lots of focus on that, plus the corporate social responsibility.

How long have you been a member of CoreNet Global? Tell us about your involvement and how you engage with the association.

I have been a member of CoreNet Global since 2014; when I moved to South Africa. It seemed like a great community of CRE professionals and a good opportunity to learn more and stay connected.

At that point of time, I think we were perhaps only handful of people who were members from the continent. Subsequently, then also started pursuing MCR.

After moving to Dubai, my involvement has increased. I am also the Treasurer for the Middle East Chapter. This year we held our first Innovation Forum which was a huge success for us. We are really looking to increase the brand presence in the Middle East and the membership we have here.

In addition, I got selected as the Young Leader from the Middle East Chapter and got nominated for the 2017 H. Gordon Wylie, MCR Young Leader Award. CoreNet Global is truly a platform that all CRE professionals should be a part of.

What aspects of your involvement with CoreNet Global are most valuable? Please comment on the value that Young Leaders get from membership in the association.

I think many aspects are valuable, but I truly cherish the learning and knowledge sharing that happens, especially through the interaction with the wider network. I have had the opportunity to attend events and seminars in New York, London, Dubai, Bengalaru, and Hong Kong. The value of the network that CoreNet Global brings is unparalleled. For Young Leaders, the industry best practices shared through various courses and publications are fantastic & attending a Summit truly gives a glimpse of the future of CRE. That’s what I really feel is valuable to us.

How do you see your future career? Will it be in corporate real estate?

I would love to. I want to continue to be part of corporate real estate. But looking around us, it is evolving. The needs of businesses are changing due to technological advancement as well as the uptake of co-working and flexible working. Our roles will evolve, and CRE will not be the same as we know today. Yes, I would look at corporate real estate but maybe in a different way – perhaps using my experience and knowledge to innovate and work on opportunities to enhance CRE in markets where it is less developed, especially in the markets I am working in.

To help our readers get to know you on a more personal level, tell us a little about yourself (e.g., family, hobbies, favorite places to visit, etc.).

I see myself as a very responsible person who holds his values very dearly. I belong to a family of multiple generations of entrepreneurs but have been an exception to it. I chose to work outside of being an entrepreneur and also living outside of India. Personally, this has been one of the best decisions I have taken in my life.

I got married last year, and we are both based in Dubai. Being an international air-traffic hub, Dubai helps us pursue our dream to travel. I just love traveling and have been to many countries across the world, including going to Artic as well as Antarctica. I am also a “foodaholic.” People eat to live, but I live to eat. I also became an ardent Liverpool football club fan thanks to the bank’s sponsorship of the club. Since the bank sponsored them, it’s been the club to follow. I am also passionate about Formula One and music.