LMD’s seventh edition of Sri Lanka’s leading corporate personalities in 2016

Despite the challenges it has faced in the past, our island-nation has much to be proud about. This, is even more so, when one considers how the leading business houses have performed in the pre and post-war eras – in the face of adversity, let it be said.

Amid war and other impediments, on the one hand, and development and progress, on the other, Sri Lanka’s corporates have clamoured for the powers that be to enable and unlock its business potential – which, as they rightly say, would eventually benefit the majority of Sri Lankans.

EASE OF DOING BUSINESS One of the key enablers of success for leading business houses is the environment within which they’re required to operate. Sri Lanka occupies the No. 107 spot in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings for 2016, which represents an advance of six notches from last year.

In this regard, while the country has witnessed certain improvements (e.g. launching a business, managing construction permits and obtaining electricity), it lags behind in registering property, acquiring credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency.

These areas call for greater attention on the part of the state and the private sector alike, especially if Sri Lanka is to improve its international standing and competitiveness, in today’s globalised world.

STATE OF GOVERNANCE In terms of governance of the nation, much hope was instilled in the minds of the people, following the change of government last year, with the promise of ‘yahapalanaya’ (good governance) being touted by the reformists.

However, with each passing day, the challenges of running a coalition with politicians who are armed with varying (and vested) interests have intensified, and there are now questions as to whether good governance – in its truest sense – will see the light of day.

It also remains to be seen if the key economic concerns of the land will be addressed by the Government’s forthcoming fiscal policy brief for 2017. This is set against a rather grim backdrop set by its predecessor (Budget 2016), which had many corporates seemingly running for cover!

THE BIZ HALL OF FAME Fortunately, Sri Lanka is home to a group of businesspeople who have, time and again, done their country and respective organisations proud. This edition of LMD pays tribute to some of these leading lights, as it has done since 2010.

Our annual list of Businesspeople Of The Year (BOTY) is based on nominations from the magazine’s contributors, as well as a group representing the in-house team. This year’s hall of fame showcases 22 of the best in the local business arena for 2016, to coincide with LMD’s 22nd anniversary.

LMD’s collective think tank works on the basis of financial performance (with the LMD 100 being a key point of reference), corporate respect (LMD’s Most Respected rankings come into play here), branding successes (our Brands Annual says it all) and other dimensions, such as the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.

And last, but by no means least, there’s the million-dollar question of corporate ethics and good governance, so perceptions as to who among the top guns in our business world is clean certainly make a difference.

BOTY CANDIDATE PROFILE As has been the case on previous occasions, this year’s roll call of the island’s leading business personalities also features those from diverse backgrounds.

Accordingly, the famed list for 2016 contains prominent businesspeople who represent the domains of diversified conglomerates; banking, finance and insurance; apparel; manufacturing; tourism; retail business; agribusiness; the legal fraternity and telecommunications.

This year’s BOTY candidates also lay claim to a long and illustrious history in the corporate sector, with some high-fliers having stood by their organisations since their inception. Notably, as many as 14 of this year’s nominees make a repeat appearance, having been featured in last year’s BOTY roll call of honour as well.

Their longevity in the Sri Lankan business arena ought to offer hope to aspiring corporate leaders, who will be called upon to make good on the opportunities opening up for the country – and thus, business – in the next decade or so.


cov04Abbas Akbarally

Armed with a track record of over half a century in Sri Lanka’s famed tea industry, Abbas Akbarally is the Chairman of what is cited as ‘the world’s largest tea company.’ He was born in Colombo, during the pre-Independence era, and educated at St. Peter’s College. Akbarally’s career began in 1951, when he worked in the tea department of Hebtulabhoy & Company, a family business founded by his grandfather. In 1969, Akbarally and his brothers branched out, to focus on tea manufacturing, by founding Akbar Brothers. Initially operating as a tea exporter, Akbar Brothers procured the golden brew from local sources and exported it globally, under various brands. Based in Sri Lanka, the business has also diversified into cement, and wind and hydro power.



cov05Jonathan Alles

As the Managing Director and CEO of Hatton National Bank (HNB), Jonathan Alles is paving the way for a new paradigm in banking – his pursuit of cutting-edge technology is aimed at ensuring that HNB stays relevant and changes with the times. Under his command, the bank was ranked No. 8 in the LMD 100 for financial year 2014/15, when it reported a top line of Rs. 65 billion. HNB also occupied the No. 9 spot in the 2016 Brands Annual’s Most Valuable Brands, and was placed 23rd in this year’s edition of Most Respected entities in Sri Lanka. The schoolboy-cricketer-turned-banker holds an MBA in finance from the University of Stirling (Scotland), is an Associate member of the Institute of Bankers of Sri Lanka and has worked extensively in the Middle East.



cov06Deshamanya Mahesh Amalean

The Co-Founder and Chairman of apparel giant MAS Holdings has the distinction of being featured among LMD’s Businesspeople Of The Year on five previous occasions. Mahesh Amalean was among five global business leaders recognised with a UN accolade, at the WEP’s inaugural Leadership Awards, receiving the award for Cultural Change for Empowerment. He graduated from the University of Madras with a B.Tech degree in chemical engineering, and was part of the Executive Education Program – Strategic Leadership of Columbia University, New York. Amalean was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University of Sri Lanka. Reflecting a penchant for innovation, he was appointed Chairman of the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC).



cov07Harsha Amarasekera

A President’s Counsel and leading lawyer, Harsha Amarasekera boasts a wide practice in the Original Courts as well as in the Appellate Court. He specialises in commercial, business, securities, banking and intellectual property law. Amarasekera was appointed to the Board of Directors of CIC Holdings in 2005, and as its Chairman in 2014. In addition, he serves as an independent director in several leading companies listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange, and was appointed Chairman of CIC Holdings’ subsidiary Chemanex in 2015. He also serves as a director of several unlisted entities, including many within the CIC group. Amarasekera is on record, saying that CIC will focus on exploring new partnerships and export opportunities, and embracing technology.



cov08Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy

The Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka is a prominent economist and former Director Economic Affairs of the Common­wealth Secretariat. Indrajit Coomaraswamy’s career highlights also include over a decade with the Central Bank – in the Economic Research, Statistics and Bank Supervision Divisions – and a stint with the Ministry of Finance and Planning, following which he continued to engage in and provide insights on the economic and political discourse of the nation. Educated at Royal College, Harrow School, University of Cambridge, and University of Sussex, Coomaraswamy is also a reputed sportsman of yesteryear, having played rugby football for CR & FC and Sri Lanka, and cricket for Cambridge and the Tamil Union Cricket & Athletic Club.



cov09Hiran Cooray

He is the Chairman of Jetwing Hotels, which is among the leading hotel chains in Sri Lanka. And his efforts to promote the island’s burgeoning tourism industry have not gone unnoticed, resulting in the hotelier being featured among LMD’s Businesspeople Of The Year in 2010, 2014 and 2015. A product of St. Joseph’s College, Hiran Cooray counts a lengthy track record in the hospitality trade – and this has stood him in good stead, when he was appointed Chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) for 2010-2012 and President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL). A graduate of Business Administration from the University of North Carolina, he also holds directorships in several hotel companies, while specialising in hotel marketing.



cov10Jegan Durairatnam

Jegan Durairatnam joined Commercial Bank of Ceylon (ComBank) in 1982, and has been part of its corporate management team for seven years, currently serving as Managing Director and CEO. His experience covers international trade, offshore banking, credit, operations and IT. The holder of a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Peradeniya, Durairatnam has served ComBank in several senior management positions. In the 2016 special edition of LMD’s Most Respected, Commercial Bank – arguably the most awarded bank in this country – was ranked No. 2, with a tally of 79 gold, 70 silver and 49 bronze medals. The bank was also placed fifth on the Most Valuable Brands list, and recorded an annual income of nearly Rs. 75 billion, in financial year 2014/15.



cov11Merrill J. Fernando

The recipient of LMD’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, the Founder and Chairman of MJF Group – who trained at London’s then ‘Mecca of tea’ Mincing Lane – is widely hailed as the doyen of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Indeed, the visionary behind the international brand Dilmah was instrumental in relaunching Ceylon Tea, globally. This is amply evidenced by Dilmah being ranked 33rd in the Most Valuable Brands (Brands Annual 2016) compilation. In recognition of the fact that Dilmah’s success is not his alone, Merrill J. Fernando has often said that it is with immense satisfaction that he shares his riches with the less fortunate. To this end, the MJF Charitable Foundation was established, to render humanitarian assistance to underprivileged people.



cov12Aelian Gunawardene

As the Founder and Managing Director of JAT Holdings, Aelian Gunawardene has – over a period spanning more than two decades – seen to it that his group remains active in the local business scene, in the context of corporate reputation, financial strength and brand recognition. JAT has also expanded its regional market reach to Bangladesh, the Maldives and India. Gunawardene possesses over two decades’ experience in the marketing and management spheres, and holds a Diploma in Marketing Management from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) UK. He has said that his focus continues to be on pioneering new innovations and steering JAT towards uncharted terrain, while growing market share and building brand equity in the furniture and finishings space.



cov13Ajit Gunewardene

The President of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts and Deputy Chairman of John Keells Holdings (JKH), he’s been a member of the conglome­rate’s board for over 23 years, while serving as a director of several JKH companies and the Chair of Union Assurance. On the Board of SLINTEC, Ajit Gunewardene is also a member of the Tourism Advisory Committee (appointed by the Minister of Tourism Development) and the Steering Committee for the establishment of a National Science Centre in Sri Lanka (appointed by the Minister of Science, Technology and Research). In the past, Gunewardene served as the chairman of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and Nations Trust Bank. He holds a degree in Economics from the University of North Carolina, and is a product of Royal College.



cov14D. P. Kumarage

A mainstay of the island’s financial services industry over many decades, D. P. Kumarage has been the CEO and General Manager of People’s Leasing & Finance (PLC) since 1997. And he has been instrumental in taking PLC to the dizzy heights of leasing sector leader. Armed with over 31 years’ experience in banking and finance, he is also the Managing Director of People’s Leasing Fleet Management, People’s Leasing Property Development, People’s Insurance and People’s Leasing Finance. The holder of a Postgraduate Diploma in Modern Banking and a Passed Finalist of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) UK, Kumarage is the Vice President of the Asian Leasing and Finance Association, and Chairman of the Leasing Association of Sri Lanka.



cov15Ashroff Omar

The CEO of Sri Lanka’s leading apparel exporter Brandix Lanka is a respected industrialist and prominent figure in the industry. Not surprisingly, he has been featured regularly among LMD’s Businesspeople Of The Year – in 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Ashroff Omar is a Director of Phoenix Ventures, the holding company of Brandix Lanka, and serves as a director of many of the group’s subsidiary companies. Omar was instrumental in the establishment of the Joint Apparel Association Forum (JAAF) – considered the apex body of the apparel industry, which is primarily involved in driving strategy – which he chaired at its inception. Moreover, he is a former chairman of the Sri Lanka Apparel Exporters Association, and a frequent industry spokesperson.



cov16Mohan Pandithage

A stalwart of the corporate sector, the Chairman and CEO of Hayleys has featured in LMD’s list of Businesspeople Of The Year on three occasions, in the past – in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Hayleys assumed pole position in the 2014/15 LMD 100, with a turnover of nearly 93 billion rupees. The highly diversified conglomerate was also ranked No. 5 among the Most Respected entities in Sri Lanka this year. Mohan Pandithage joined the Hayleys group in 1969, and was appointed to its board in 1998. He is a Fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK), committee member of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, council member of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon and member of the Advisory Council of the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents.



cov17Ranjith Pandithage

Ranjith Pandithage’s glittering career at Diesel & Motor Engineering (DIMO) – exclusive agents for Mercedes-Benz, in Sri Lanka – took off in 1973, and he was appointed to its Board of Directors in 1977. He holds a Diploma in Engineering from Germany, and is a member of the Institute of Engineers – Germany (VDI), Director of Dial Textiles and Chairman of the Audit Committee of Dial Textiles. Currently serving as its Chairman and Managing Director, Pandithage has been the driving force behind DIMO, which was ranked 17th in the 2016 Most Respected pecking order, with a tally of seven each of gold, silver and bronze medals. DIMO recorded a turnover in excess of Rs. 27 billion in the 2014/15 financial year, and has been an LMD 100 company over the years.



cov18Ashok Pathirage

Armed with a visionary outlook, Ashok Pathirage provides strategic leadership to a conglomerate that is steadily gaining ground in Sri Lanka. He was appointed Chairman of Softlogic in 2003, while six other entities under his chairmanship are listed on the CSE. He is the Chairman and Managing Director of private health care provider Asiri Group of Hospitals. Moreover, Pathirage is also the Chairman of Softlogic Capital, Softlogic Finance, Asian Alliance Insurance, Asian Alliance General Insurance, as well as other group entities that operate in the leisure and hotel, retail (including leading chain ODEL), motor and ICT sectors. Pathirage also serves as the Deputy Chairman of National Development Bank (NDB) and is the Chairman of NDB Capital Holdings.



cov19Aban Pestonjee

The sole female representative in this year’s Businesspeople Of The Year, the Founder and Chairperson of Abans continues to set far-reaching benchmarks. In 2013, Aban Pestonjee was conferred LMD’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and she has featured in the magazine’s Businesspeople Of The Year roll call many times. Meanwhile, Pestonjee has garnered international recognition, by winning the Leading Women Entrepreneur of the World award, back in 2006. The veteran industrialist has grown the Abans group into a veritable business empire – which is on the verge of entering the high stakes real estate landscape, with its mixed development project Colombo City Centre – and she was one of the first entrepreneurs to offer South Korean technology to local consumers.



cov20Asoka Pieris

Having joined Singer (Sri Lanka) as an accountant, back in 1990, Asoka Pieris has risen through the ranks, to assume the role of CEO. He has gained a wide spectrum of experience and business acumen over the years, in varied functional roles, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Pieris joined the Board of Singer (Sri Lanka) in 2004. He has functioned as Vice-President – Finance and CFO of Singer Asia, and Director of Singer Finance (Lanka), Reality Lanka, Singer Corporation, and BT India and Brand Trading (India), as well as Alternate Director of Singer Industries (Ceylon) and Regnis (Lanka), and Controller of Retail Holdings. Pieris is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka and Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) UK.



cov21Samantha Ranatunga

Earlier this year, Samantha Ranatunga was reappointed Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce – the nation’s most influential business grouping, with a heritage dating back over 170 years – for a second consecutive term. He is also the President of the Sri Lanka-Africa-Middle East Business Council and Vice President of the Sri Lanka-Maldivian Business Council. Ranatunga also serves as the Managing Director and CEO of CIC Holdings, which was ranked No. 31 in the 2014/15 LMD 100 and placed 35th in the 2016 Most Respected listing. He was instrumental in establishing CIC Agribusinesses, which developed the seed shelf concept for the benefit of rural farmers. He holds a degree from the University of Delhi and an MBA from the UK’s University of Coventry.



cov22Susantha Ratnayake

The Chairman of John Keells Holdings (JKH) has the enviable distinction of being the only corporate leader to make the Businesspeople Of The Year list every year, since its inception in 2010. Under his stewardship, the highly diversified conglomerate has continued to march forward, with game-changing projects such as Cinnamon Life. JKH was placed No. 2 in the LMD 100 for financial year 2014/15, and helmed the recently released Most Respected rankings for yet another year. Named LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year in 2013, Ratnayake has proven his business acumen over 39 years of service to Sri Lanka’s premier conglomerate. A former chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board and Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, he is also the sitting Chairman of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon.



cov23Rajkumar Renganathan

A chartered accountant by profession, Rajkumar Renganathan’s tenure at the Ceylinco group began in 1983. A firm believer in the importance of life insurance, he marshalled a team of professionals who shared this common objective – and under his leadership, Ceylinco Life won the Asia Insurance Review Award for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the Asian region. Renganathan is an Executive Board Member of LIMRA India/Sri Lanka. Upon achieving untold success in the life insurance arena, Ceylinco Life has diversified into the health care sector, with the intention of providing affordable facilities to the people of Sri Lanka. With the affiliation of the Washington Cancer Institute, the firm has established a Cancer Detection Centre and Diabetes Centre.



cov24Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya

Hans Wijayasuriya joined the top shelf telco in 1994, as a member of the founding management team, and has functioned in the capacity of the Chief Executive of Dialog Axiata since 1997. In January, the Axiata Group appointed him as the Regional CEO for the South Asian region. Wijayasuriya also serves on the Board of the Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology (SLINTEC). He holds a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Cambridge, a PhD in Digital Mobile Communications from the University of Bristol and an MBA from the University of Warwick. Additionally, he’s a Fellow of the Institute of Engineering Technology of the UK (IET), and a chartered professional engineer. He received LMD’s Sri Lankan Of The Year award, back in 2008.



cov25Ajith Wijeyesekera

He serves as the Managing Director of Union Apparels, as well as heading The Blue Water, the recently opened Water Garden Sigiriya and other boutique hotels. For some 25 years, Ajith Wijeyesekera’s Union Apparels has strived to provide a synergy between renowned fashion retailers across the globe and their customers, enabling the apparel producer to record an annual income of US$ 40 million. Union Apparels operates four factories that are intent on meeting world-class standards. Meanwhile, launched nearly 20 years ago, The Blue Water is a privately run hotel located along the western coast of Wadduwa, which was designed by the iconic Deshamanya Geoffrey Bawa – whose protégé Channa Daswatte, incidentally, designed the upscale boutique hotel in Sigiriya.


WORDS Zulfath Saheed | CARICATURES Tharini Kananke