Deshamanya Dr. Nihal Jinasena
In his own words, Deshamanya Dr. Nihal Jinasena has described his life as “chequered.” It is an unusual and candid descriptor, and reveals his assessment of what had passed in his lifetime on his personal journey.
From the outside, looking at the quality of his life would appear far from mutable. After all, he was born the oldest child in an established industrial family, educated in the United Kingdom, and had plenty of time and opportunity to indulge his passion for the not inexpensive sport of motor racing.
Following graduation, Jinasena worked for a while in the UK and returned to Sri Lanka in 1965 to revive the family engineering company C. Jinasena & Co. Until that year, the company – which had been founded by his grandfather C. Jinasena in 1905 – had been run by his father.
In 1965, his father T. S. Jinasena turned the company over to his sons and Jinasena became its managing director – a position he held until the group’s division in 2009.
C. Jinasena & Co had started out as a workshop repairing bicycles and sewing machines, and evolved into one of the few local engineering businesses servicing the rubber, coconut and graphite industries competing with the British who dominated the manufacturing industry in Ceylon at the time.
Jinasena led the company as his forefathers had intended: on the lines of profit and service to humanity. He is quoted as having said that “our single principle is [that] every employee must feel that he is a part owner of the company, his ideas of how it should be run are taken into account, and he shares in the rewards and profits the company earns.”
In 1952, the company diversified into the production of water pumps and for many years, the Jinasena family name was synonymous with centric water pumps, the first locally manufactured water pump in the country.
The brothers expanded on this diversification, and ventured into electrical motor manufacturing, agricultural machinery, hotels, clothing, seafood exports, computer software and solid rubber tyres, growing it into one of the largest local conglomerates.
In his autobiography, which he entitled My Chequered Life, this gentleman who was undoubtedly born with silver spoon in his mouth, speaks with a poignancy of the value of honesty and integrity, of hard work to achieve as opposed to passively receiving without effort or struggle.
Nihal Jinasena: unabashedly admitted his successes and failures.