Dr. Kulatunge Rajapaksa

DSI Samson

DSI Samson – ‘DSI’ as it is ubiquitously known in the island – was established in 1962 by Diyunuge Samson Rajapaksa. At the time, due to foreign exchange constraints, the government had decreed that the importation of finished goods and luxury items would be curtailed.

Samson’s footwear retail business in the Colombo Fort was hit as he was importing his wares from countries including Japan, the United Kingdom and India. He wrote to all his overseas suppliers and informed them that if they wished to keep in business in Sri Lanka, they would need to supply the materials for local manufacture.

Unsurprisingly this was not an attractive proposition to his overseas suppliers. Only Japan was willing to venture into an agreement – but based strictly on the understanding that all the machinery and raw materials would be imported from Japan.

This was not an age of emails and mobile phones. Every communication on technical guidance and manufacturing input was carried out through what we now call ‘snail mail.’ But DSI Samson was in business.

In 1962, Dr. Kulatunge Rajapaksa (he had yet to be conferred the honorary titles of Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Doctor of Letters by the University of Westminster in the UK, in recognition of his exceptional contribution to Sri Lanka’s business community) was put to work in his father’s business while he waited for his Advanced Level examination results.

His father used the young man’s talents to write his correspondence and help in management; and even after Rajapaksa left for Peradeniya to university, he was expected to make the trek to Galle to oversee operations at the factory.

Once he completed his degree in 1966, Rajapaksa joined the business. Father and son made their first visit to Japan to witness the manufacturing process, and update themselves on productivity and production. Industries in Sri Lanka were still on a learning curve and the visit proved invaluable.

With Rajapaksa’s acumen and head for business, the footwear manufacturing and retail operations took on a fresh lease of life, and the company was able to take advantage of the virtual absence of competition to sell its products with relative ease and little investment in advertising, to expand and grow.

Today, Samson’s retail shop has evolved into the leading manufacturer of footwear and bicycle tyres in the country, and an exporter to some of its previous partner markets.

Kulatunge Rajapaksa: grew a premier conglomerate from a family enterprise.