Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The greatest Sri Lankan celebrates his 80th birthday “Happy Birthday”
After the ceremonies in the office, I was invited to the Board Room for tea and cake
I have been fortunate in learning from one of our greatest but little known Sri Lankans. In the interest of respecting his privacy I will not reveal his name, but those who know me will easily guess who I am referring to.
This gentlemen who will reach a well deserved 80 on May 6th 2010, is still one who works like a driven man with a specific goal in his mind and a discipline that is the envy of anyone who knows him. He does enjoy life’s luxuries that he certainly has earned, however he has not let that overawe his purpose in life and enjoys simple pleasures in life too, just like the “kiri ala” that he asks me to supply him with, which his staff are lazy to serve saying he will just eat a spoonful only. A man who began life in very humble circumstances, and who managed to learn a trade and then use his knowledge to build a brand and a business empire that I admire as I know the hard work that has gone into it, which many envy and in Sri Lankan lore try and downplay noting reasons why he has succeeded rather than really giving him the credit for the effort that has gone into everything he has done.
Cutting his birthday cake with his family, executives and office/factory staff
In my experience being with him for some years and learning from him in the UK, I have noticed that he does not let obstacles prevent him from going ahead. When faced with the proverbial brick wall, I like to say he will break it and not sidestep it or avoid it. In his business as he built it from the ground up, he knows every aspect of the work, so it is difficult for those who serve him to make excuses as to why they cannot do some task, as he uses his experience to show them the way when faced with a ‘cant do’ opinion from a subordinate.
He lead life alone, bringing up his two sons single handedly. He is a perfectionist in everything he does, and able to handle a multitude of disparate tasks that he has been forced to handle at the same time. One aspect I learned from him, is to make a ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the day and resolutely go through it and clear as many points from it. I am only still able to clear a quarter of the items he can, but it is something I learned that needs to be done if one is to achieve some satisfaction at the end of the day that you actually performed a worthy function. One can then relax with a sumptuous meal or a nice cigar knowing full well you really earned it.
He is the only person in Sri Lanka worthy of titles that seem to be dime a dozen these days, but for some unfathomable reason not been awarded him. In a way when I know those who have actually been awarded these, I rather like the idea that he is not in such undistinguished company, needing no titles to buttress his greatness, but humbly carries on his work with little fanfare but much purpose.
I unashamedly say to people that his product that is sold in 100 countries worldwide and which I helped also to publicize in some of these countries, is better known than the name Sri Lanka itself. The quality of the product is one that I was proud to sell as on a par or better than anything available in the market today.
I know many of the distributors all over the world who sell his product, and I know how many distributors who would like to have exclusive rights to sell his product and therefore know the esteem to which this gentleman his held by his representatives all over the world and the attention to detail he places to all his distributor family who can still identify with him personally as he still replies to his emails himself, something that no other company chairman does in this country, nor for that matter anywhere, to the extent that he does.
He has set up a foundation, that is run by a separate group of people who painstakingly investigate the merits of certain charitable contributions, not to just provide short term relief but to provide long term real benefits to the recipients, like livelihood enhancement, that goes with teaching and raising the skill levels already attained by those who are the beneficiaries of his assistance. The size of this foundation is greater than any other charity currently set up by any living Sri Lankan, and the real benefit from this to the economy of this country passes unnoticed but is very real and rewarding.
What can I say when the man is better known outside of Sri Lanka than within as well as his products, as I noted earlier. He has not received any recognition from his motherland, for his contribution to the economy of this country in processing a valuable raw material into a super value added products that due to the countries he has to service results in over 8000 different product types that have to be produced in just one factory location, which is arguably the only factory on the face of the earth that produces so many different products destined to so many different countries.
“I wish you good health and peace of mind that no matter what, there are people who silently admire you and wish to emulate your success in a small way, learning from you by way of example, so that we can teach our youth what is possible. We need real role models for our future that we can emulate and know that given hard work anything is possible. There is one thing you were born with which no amount of training can gain, and that is an incredible photographic memory for names, places, and events, that has enabled you to maximize that ability to the best advantage of your products, people, processes and profits. I thank you Sir for the time you spent with me, something I will treasure always and put to good use.”