Mahesh Hirdaramani

Hirdaramani Group

The legacy of the Hirdaramani Group began in the early 1900s when at the exuberant age of 16, Parmanand Hirdaramani set up the first Hirdaramani retail clothing store in the Colombo Fort. He founded not only his eponymous Hirdaramani but also a dynasty of entrepreneurs, unafraid to innovate and adapt.

Mahesh Hirdaramani joined the company in 1977, a third generation neophyte. His heart and sights had been set further west – in the Big Apple – where he hoped to continue his education. But five days after his arrival in New York City, he was summoned back by his father. A new factory was to be opened and he was needed. He never went back.

He was placed in charge of Hirdaramani Garments Katunayake and revelled in starting a factory from the ground up. The challenges of marketing, which were very different in those early days as it was far more hands-on, he revelled in that too… and he enjoyed the sense of ‘control of your destiny.’

But hard times were on the way that would test the mettle of everyone and make an indelible mark on the young man. In 1983, the civil conflict boiled over and the country erupted in flames. Two factories and retail outlets were destroyed. The business model was reviewed and a decision to focus on exports was made.

Production – which had previously been carried out by three factories – had to be fulfilled by one and everyone had to work double shifts.

Hirdaramani saw a real life example of the mantra ‘stronger together.’ Instead of dwelling on the negatives, he has said: “It was very interesting and a change for us because we were all in the factory together, and we learnt to produce as much as we could with limited resources.”

When the factories went up in smoke so did all the paper records. Employees were asked to bring in old payslips to be paid. Hirdaramani recounts his amazement when they said they wanted to work for free to rebuild the business: “They felt obliged to work for us rather than us being obliged to pay for their work – it’s very rare.”

So indeed, their culture of ‘stronger together’ was not just a refrain.

He admits that Mark Twain’s humorous “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” has inspired his approach of doing the hardest things first.

Mahesh Hirdaramani: nothing seems impossible so he gets it done.