East West Group of Companies
The enormous glass window of his 24th floor penthouse in Colombo affords this most dynamic of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs a nostalgic view: at one point or another, he has owned the high value real estate that typifies the commercial capital’s evolving skyline.
Nahil Wijesuriya takes pride in his reputation for not suffering fools gladly, and openly admits that he is forthright and blunt: “I don’t have time or patience to be nice. My children are far more civilised. They tell me sometimes, if you have anything nasty to say please email it to us, and we will soften it and send it on.”
Despite the image this may conjure, he is and remains a popular and much loved icon of the nation’s business firmament. A man with myriad ideas prompting his genius for getting things done, he has said: “I am a hands-on guy. I like to get my hands dirty. Each time I have delegated something to someone, I have lost money.”
Having roamed the seas and the world as a marine engineer, he is wary of the caprices of delegation: “I have learnt not to delegate. On a ship, you are not able to phone someone and say can you fix this problem for me. You have to do it yourself and that has stayed with me even after my foray into the business world.”
Wijesuriya’s first millions were made from the shipping agency that he (as chief engineer on ships) and his partner Captain Lester Weinman formed. “In three years, we became the largest agency. When working on the ship, we used to sit and complain about the inadequate agents we had to keep dealing with everywhere, and decided to make that our own business.”
He credits “being young, foolish and driven, we took on all the challenges that the others refused” for the willingness with which they transported some of the toughest cargo hauling heavy equipment and is gleeful of the handsome rewards they reaped.
The tycoon admits to a litigious predilection and admits: “I just like to take on the big guys. There’s no point in bullying the small boys on the road.” But he is also a man who has finalised deals with just a handshake with friends and colleagues; for in business, avarice has never been a motivator.
Disarmingly unpretentious, the exploits and successes of this aggressive and gifted visionary could fill volumes.
Nahil Wijesuriya: he made his money on unique ideas.