Simon Arthur Wickramasinghe would have been a successful lawyer, had he continued to practice. Although this was not what he had in the back of his mind?
If he was the ordinary, the Ceylon Biscuits Limited (CBL) would not have flagged its way to become the Sri Lanka’s largest confectionary manufacturer, producing and marketing 11 categories of branded food products catering to the diverse palates.
In 1939, Simon W. dropped out from the law college and bought over William biscuit factory from the owner. The lawyer capitalized in it and renamed the factory which came to be known as Williams Confectionary Limited. After relocating the location from Kolonnawa to Dehiwalaand then to Akuressa during the war.
The biscuits were handmade and baked in a long-fired oven. The dough was mixed by hand,rolled out and cut into shape and placed on trays. These were then baked and cooled. They were packed into gallon tins with a round lid for sale. It was sold locally.
Simon and his wife Enid had four children, sons.
Paul was their firstborn. He was in the first batch of graduates from the University of Peradeniya. He went on to setup Ceylon Essences. Ranjith, their second son excelled in the field of Engineering. Mineka, the third, also known as Micky was the first to follow in his father’s footsteps. Ramya was the youngest. His interests lay in food Science and Technology.
Simon W. was keen to expand the production of this non-traditional snack called a biscuit. A snack introduced by the British. He wanted to find new ways to make better biscuits, a greater variability and make all this easily available. He did this by introducing high-tech manufacturing machinery to the country.
During this period Mr. S W R D Bandaranayake was the Prime Minister of the country. Due to the mishandling of the economy imports were becoming challenging. Imports of biscuits were banned. It was up to Williams and Maliban which was opened in 1954, to meet the demand and satisfy the market.
Realize this in 1957, the biscuit production line was mechanized with the introduction of Baker Parkins lines from the UK. The then Governor General of Ceylon Sir Oliver Goonethilake declared open the new building which housed the factory.
As the company grew the ‘Williams’ brand packed biscuits in branded tins called ‘Orchid Assorted’ and ‘Cheese Cuts’ with advertising taglines that said ‘Pick the Best’. Simon W. even had many British nationals working for him at his factory.
The products made were Cream Crackers, Marie, Arrowroot, Tea Ginger Nuts, Nice, Custard Cream, Bourbon and Assorted.
In 1960 Simon W. installed an automatic wafer ovenwith 12 plates for better production. It also came with cream spread attached to a cooling conveyor. After cooling, it went to a cutting machine. The packing was done manually into 4 oz. packs and bulk pack into tins.
To Simon W. and his family this was a momentous and a historical venture. It was the birth of “Munchee”. The wafer manufactured were branded as Munchee. The name Munchee was given by Mr. Edger Corray.
Simon W. and his sons Mineka and Ramya realized that new machinery with high capacity was the need of the day. To expand, the Ministry of Industries approval had to be obtained. But, the ministry was not keen as private sector industry was not encouraged. Finally the Ministry wanted Williams Confectionary Limited to show exports to grant approval
With much difficulty an export order was obtained from Saudi Arabia. With this in hand approval for expansion was gained by Simon W. At that time William Confectionary Limited did not have land for expansion. This was the next obstacle faced by Simon and his sons. Finally land was bought at Pannipitiya.
Ceylon Biscuits Limited was incorporated in 1968 as a new company under the leadership of Simon Wickramasinghe’s son Mineka Wickramasinghe.
Simon Arthur (Artie) Wickramasinghe renamed Chairman of Ceylon Biscuits Limited until August 1984 when he passed away leaving behind a legacy of fair play, both by the worker and the consumer.
Today CBL offers diversity of captivating tastes to International consumers, stormed export market gaining acceptance in 52 countries and counting.
Winning Export Awards since the year 2003, having won recognition by awarding bodies including National Chamber of Exports and Presidential Exports Awards.
When it came to Simon W. a self-made Entrepreneur, the sky was not the limit.
Entrepreneurs aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.
If you run a business or an organization, you understand how difficult it is to make sure that all of your bases are covered. Often, company owners must make tough decisions based on the resources they have available to them. This is often the case when comes to building, optimizing, warehousing, delivery, inventory management, packing, distributing etc.
Why try to do it all yourself when you can get a professional business to come in and help you with exactly what you need?
Whether due to budget constraints or a false sense of security, many companies think they can afford or don’t need support. However, this is not the case. Every business will run in to issues at some point in time, and it is important to have experts there to help you ease in the process. Most businesses are great at doing their job, whatever product or service that may be, but many are not equipped to handle all the needs required in the rapidly advancing world. Instead of recruiting and hiring full-time experts to work in-house, many companies now have the option to turn to procurement solutions for convenience and efficiency.
That’s where managed service providers like JetExcome in. With a mission to be the most favored fulfillment service provider in Sri Lanka, by delivering world-class service to its clients, and to be a market leader by providing integrated supply chain solutions with a focus on achieving customer success, JetEx has come forward as the professional business solution.
The company started their operations on 1st September 2016, with a group of like-minded professionals who looked to provide services that other companies in the industry simply wouldn’t.
One of the most appealing aspects of JetEx is their cost-effectiveness. They will outline and define the specific set of services they will handle before you agree to anything. This allows businesses to plan and budget around their expenses as opposed to paying-as-you-go, leaving you open to volatile unpredictability.
A warm and friendly nature reflected in tireless smiling faces, and willingness to help those unaware with phases of local life. From the beautiful beaches of the South-Western coast to the toe tapping and exuberant Kandyan dances, along with the majestic and ancient architecturally and archeologically distinguished cities. Bright, sunny warm days are in abundance and are common even during the height of the monsoon. The humble desire to share this experience of heartfelt warmth and the true hospitality of the people living in the small miracle in the Indian Ocean called Sri Lanka, a homely villa was built named Blue Oceanic, which is now the Jetwing Blue, with just six rooms in the early 1970s facing the sandy beaches in the Negombo City.
A simple dream of sharing the uniqueness of this beautiful island, one of the largest, most respected, and recognized tourism organizations were born. Herbert Cooray – a visionary, a pioneer of tourism in Sri Lanka and the founding father of Jetwing, the largest family of hotels and villas across Sri Lanka, opened its doors to the world welcoming them to a family of hotels like no other.
Inspired by Herbert Cooray, his son Hiran joined Jetwing as soon as he completed his education graduating from the University of North Carolina, USA, prior to which he studied at St. Joseph’s in Colombo. Following family tradition seems to be established. Just like Hiran his sister Shiromal took up their father’s legacy. At 29 years of age, Herbert Cooray left his job to join the family business N. J. Cooray Builders – a building construction company which was founded by Herbert’s father, Jeremias.
The founding principles his father inculcated in Hiran and the family have today become the very pillars that Jetwing group operates on: “…Passion, Honesty, Integrity and Tenacity – these were the values my father instilled in us throughout our lives and they continue to be the Jetwing family philosophy. It is the secret of our success. I have the incredible honor and the responsibility now to do justice to his legacy.
The essence of simplicity and modest allure, Hiran is a son who continues to do his father proud.
BiZnomics had the pleasure of speaking to the veteran hotelier HIRAN COORAY of his journey and experience gained throughout.
Q: What was the foundation for Jetwing?
A: It all started with my dad in 1973. He started off with the Blue Oceanic Hotel in Negombo with just six rooms and later moved on to further rooms. It was just a simple beginning eventually created the Jetwing family. It was a time that no one really thought of tourism, and for some reasons it progressed quite well for the next 10 years. Then he moved onto building Royal Oceanic. Blue Oceanic now goes as Jetwing Blue and the Royal Oceanic is Jetwing Beach. During those 10 years my dad probably would have owned about five hotels. Although towards the ‘80s the troubles broke out, it didn’t really stop him from expanding. In fact, that was the time he started Jet Travels, which eventually became Jetwing Travels at the end of the 1980s.
Q: How did young Hiran get involved in the whole thing?
A: Being a Josephian, my only interest was in cricket at that time. I was the Vice-Captain of the school team and represented the Sri Lanka Schools as well. However, I realized there would be no future in cricket so that I concentrated on my studies. I went to North Carolina, Greensboro University and came back in 1987. It was also my father’s decision that made me come back. 1987- 1989 probably would have been the worst two years of history, having riots breaking out all over the country on top of the ongoing civil war but my father wanted me to come back and that’s just what I did. A degree doesn’t really tell you anything when it comes to practical knowledge. Within a year he made me the Managing Director, my father’s words were “if Castro could control a country at the age of 25, why is it difficult for you to run a company at the same age?”
Q: What are the set of goals for Jetwing?
A: What we want is to be the ‘Best service provider in the country’. In whichever way we expand we want to be the best at it. As my father used to say, provide a legendary service. In order to provide it, we have to look after our staff as much as we look after our guests. That is one of the main goals and we work on that continuously. We have been pioneering in to different new areas of tourism. We were the first to build hotels in Galle in 1995. Other than New Oriental (now Amangalla) there was nothing else. My father built there when everyone said it was going to be a failure. We started Lighthouse which is an iconic hotel in Galle. Then we went to Wellawaya when people questioned why? Again we educated people in Sri Lanka why one should visit Wellawaya. We then built in Potuvil. It is a Muslim village in the deep South East corner of Sri Lanka. People always have that question as to why? We built in Jaffna. We were the first company from the South to go to Jaffna. There were hotels there of course, but we were the first to go from this end. We have the pioneering spirit, creating opportunities and taking the lead.
Almost all our hotels were in the high-end category, but now we are working on the budget brand. We were the first to introduce that as well in 2013 called Hotel J in Negombo. Now there are three budget hotels, Hotel J Ambalangoda, Negombo and Unawatuna.
It is quite similar to a low cost carrier. You will have to buy everything apart from the seat provided in the aircraft. Similarly our brand provided at hotel J is a clean room, clean bathroom, air conditioning, WiFi, and safety. If you are a single female traveler, you must feel safe in a room. That is the five brand promises we give at hotel J. Everything else including carrying your own bag is your responsibility. And you will have to purchase everything including the bottle of water in to the room.
Q: How do you maintain the standards of the company and its employees?
A: Continuous training. We have to be at it every day.
Q: Do you have a gender balance in your organization?
A: We are the only organization that has five female General Managers. We are very proud of that they do an amazing job. The fact that we have females in this position motivated others to improve themselves to achieve their goals. We started these 20 years ago and it is not a new concept for us. All our staff has the opportunity to grow in the company. A good example is the Manager at Jetwing Sea, who started as a security guard. We allow people to develop and it also should be in them to develop themselves by taking the opportunities.
Q: If a female employee is sexually harassed, how would it be handled?
A: We have very strict rules on those. We educate our staff on what can be said and what cannot be said, how important it is to behave in certain ways in the company. Even a simple touch is not allowed. It is a serious offence in the company and we take disciplinary action against such behavior.
Q: How does the political uncertainty affect foreign investments in our country?
A: Government policies are essential to attract foreign investors. Whenever a government changes policies change and can discourage that investors in tourism and other fields. We are sons of the soil so we have left with no choice. When foreign investors know that our policies change every time a government changes, they will not think of a long term or a safe investment environment in this country.
Q: How likely is it that a customer recommends your hotel to another?
A: We make sure the service we provide is of no comparison. The relationship we maintain with the local community, what we do to preserve the environment, all those factors are important to place your high up in the industry. People are very much aware of the environmental impact and community involvement. If you genuinely do that, look after the local community, employ and create opportunities for the local community and also look after the environment, and you showcase it, the customer who studies and buys a product will always choose the right one over others. That’s one of the very obvious difference between Jetwing and others.
We have a programme called JYDP ‘Jetwing Youth Development Programme’ which we started in the year 2006 and up to now we proudly say we have trained nearly one thousand youngsters in the hospitality industry and the English language.
Q: A little bit more on the political side. What do you think is the future status of this country?
A: My wish is that the private sector will not be dependent on politicians. The private sector has a very important role to play, irrespective of who is in leadership. The private sector must continue to play the role. The private sector should not get involved in lobbying and directing politicians. A politician should look at the country in the long term aspect, viability, sustainability of the country, and I will support anyone who thinks long term, not only till they serve the number of years. Sadly they think short term.
Q: What are your thoughts on taxation?
A: We live out of this land; hence we have to pay something for that. As long as it is bearable it is fine. I mean the Government provides certain facilities free like medical and education. That is a huge cost to the government. Somebody has to pay for it. We can’t really be borrowing to pay for those essential requirements.
I am very much against giving free higher education. Maybe the government should provide a loan facility at a very low interest rate to pay off in a certain number of years, as students have no value over what they get free. When you are given free education, they expect the government to find them a job as well. What can they actually do for themselves in that case? As a youth you should not be a burden to the country. Appreciate what you get and learn to stand on your own feet. The Government educates them free, give degrees free, and then as it is, a job should follow. How unreasonable can they be?
Value what you get free; at the same time be a responsible citizen, not a burden to the country. That’s something I very strongly believe. Appreciate what the country is doing for you. It is all our taxed money that the Government is utilizing on their education. They should at least appreciate that fact.
Q: What is the biggest people problem you are facing right now?
A: Leaving the country. After training them so hard when they leave, it hurts the company.
In a nutshell
Q: One word that describes you best?
Q: What are your three biggest accomplishments?
A: Number one: I am blessed with three great sons.Number two: Carrying on what my father started and adding value to the tourism industry in this country.
Number three: Being chosen as the Chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association the only Sri Lankan to be chosen from a small island to chair that organization for two years.
Q: What animal do you like most?
A: I am a bird watcher. It is fascinating to see their colors. I get much inspiration through that.
Q: What do you do outside work?
A: Watching cricket matches and I like walking.
Q: On a scale of 1-10 how lucky are you?
A: 10 definitely.
Q: What kind of books do you read?
A: I love reading management books, religious books, biographies and sports.
Q: If I am to take over your position, what advice would you give me?
A: Be humble, willing to learn and an honest leader.
Q: When it is all over, how do you want to be remembered?
A: A simple man who tried to make a difference (laughingly).