Opportunity wise, Lanka the best in the world, says top businessman | Sunday Observer

Opportunity wise, Lanka the best in the world, says top businessman

1 March, 2020

Sri Lanka could make great strides with the right direction and leadership where political stability and national security is in place to boost the confidence level of society and the international community. I believe that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa can take this country forward, Chairman, IWS Holdings, Arthur Senanayake said.

“This country is the best and the most beautiful in the world. Best, not as a place, but by the opportunities it offers our people,” he said.

Senanayake, who came to Colombo and started his working career on his own, today heads one of most prestigious groups of companies in the country.

Elaborating on starting life as a businessman, Senanayake said being an engineer by profession, he worked in Europe and then Singapore where he overlooked the Far East region for a German company dealing in machine tools and packaging machinery. On his return to Sri Lanka, he first sold technological products to companies here. This was his road to success.

Initially the difficulty of opening a bank account made him see the need for a change in the banking sector. This resulted in him becoming a founding member of Sampath Bank, the first bank to be kept open until 3 p.m. It also introduced several other convenient features that other banks soon followed. Many of the facilities afforded by banks today were pioneered by Sampath Bank.

This was only a start for Senanayake when the first mobile communication, Motorola Pagers was introduced. The introduction of ‘Celltell’ is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking changes to be introduced to this country. With the introduction of mobile phones it took the country and business to a whole new level. This was at a time when one had to wait for over a year to get a phone connection.

“When I recruit people I ask them why they want to change their present position and if they are confident that they can deliver what is needed by the company. Many succeed as we mentor them. But to those who are not confident we tell them not to lose their present positions. It is our duty to look after and guide the younger generation. We must show them the path on which they should tread.

“Recently I met some protesters outside the Shangri-La Hotel, and learned that they were looking for permanent jobs. They were young, fit and educated. I told them that I came to Colombo on a bus and now I own helicopters. I started life with nothing and today I have achieved so much through hard work and this country offers so much opportunity. Today, with the internet they could sell and buy online. There is no need for costly advertising like those days. All they need is the will to do it,” he said.

Describing the beginning of his career as a businessman, Senanayake said, “I started the supply of packaging and food processing equipment which is still my engine of growth. Lion Brewery in Nuwara Eliya, had over four hundred employees.

It is now runs with around 25 people and produces 60,000 bottles per hour with processed water. Previously, production was less than two percent of this figure.”

He said that the new Coca-Cola plant which earlier operated with around four-hundred people now needs only three people to run it. The plant is fully automated from manufacturing the bottle to packaging the finished product. This applies to the Distilleries Corporation’s new plant as well.

Commenting on his logistic and transportation operation, Senanayake said his company APL provides shipment to all major shipping lines. The operation is so efficient that the hub for trans-shipment which was in Salalah was moved to Colombo. “We handle around two to three-hundred containers a night for which we earn a fee. This brings in a large amount of foreign exchange into the country. However, there is an issue with the Inland Revenue where they classify this duty free ‘fee’ as a commission and plan to tax us. This doubt must be cleared.

“Today, India has very modern ports and the loading and unloading charges are much less. Several tax concessions are also offered to induce us to set up shop there. The Maldivian government has also offered me an island to start a transshipment hub in that country. The Government must clear these issues to keep the companies working here in a more competitive and efficient manner,” he said.

Speaking of the most direct way to take this country forward, Senanayake said, today the world is going digital. Of all the countries I have been to, Finland is the most developed in the use of digital technology. They have done this by training their teachers to train students in digital technology. This way one can teach many. This promotes the learning of English. All major technological information in the world is in English. The mastery of the language will open the world to the people of this country. “Through the introduction of the Sinhala-only education policy, our people have lost a lot of opportunities. This language skill must be brought back for us to progress,” he said.

Commenting on a meeting with the Finnish Ambassador recently, he said, “ I learnt that the Finnish Government had given a grant to Sri Lanka for digital teacher training four years ago and it has still not been used.” He said the whole country should be on one digital platform. These networks are cheaper to maintain and run compared to the present system. Though some of the government ministries and departments are digitised they should come under one network, he said.

“The right action must be decided on by the leadership of the country. For instance, the former President, Mitripala Sirisena banned the use or possession of chain saws to stop the illegal felling of trees. What should have been done was to allow the import of wood and furniture duty free. With the vision of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in modernising procedures and making the whole government establishment more efficient, “I believe that we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. To support him in his endeavour all of us are behind him all the way. All we want in return is a country where we can work and progress.

And we will do whatever it takes till the target is achieved.”

Senanayake was instrumental in steering may companies forward and is the Chairman of Sampath Centre Ltd, Director of Lanka Bangla Finance Ltd., Bangladesh, Lanka Bangla Securities Ltd., Bangladesh, and also the former Chairman of Sampath Leasing and Factoring Ltd., SC Securities (Pvt) Ltd and Sampath Bank Ltd.

IWS Holdings consisting of American President Lines (APL), Art Television Broadcasting Company., Comexco International, Dynacom Electronics, Dynacom Engineering, Dynanet, Dynatel Communications, Eurocars, Germania Colombo, Interpack, IWS Aviation, IWS Automobiles, IWS Engineering Services, IWS Investment, IWS Leisure, IWS Logistics, Swedish Cars and Universal Auto Assembly contribute to the national economy in terms of employment generation and value creation to propel growth.