By Charumini de Silva of CEYLON TODAY
‘Transcending Failure: A story of successes – the unique Management Conference organized by the MBA Alumni Association of University of Colombo was held at The Kingsbury, Colombo in grand style.
The event turned out to be a major success with the speakers who represented completely different fields to one another, enlightening the captivated audience with interesting stories of the mistakes made and failures in their lives, on the road to success. Being eminent personalities, they were humble and candid in sharing their experiences of failure in life and how they overcame the obstacles that they encountered up the ladder to their present position in their respective fields.
At this unique conference, a veteran in Sri Lanka’s humanitarian mission and Sri Lankan Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Major General Shavendra Silva, Vallibel One PLC Chairman and Managing Director, Dhammika Perera, Triad (Pvt.) Ltd., Joint Managing Director and Brand Strategist Dilith Jayaweera and Gypsies Leader and Lead Vocalist Sunil Perera shared their stories of triumph and were brave to share their failures in public for the first time.
Lessons from the past
A veteran in Sri Lanka’s humanitarian mission and Sri Lankan Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, Major General Shavendra Silva
I was feeling remarkable when an invitation reached me to speak at a much awaited gathering comprising crème de la crème in the business management and industry in my own country, and proud that I am being selected to this address of the touching experiences of my life where I saw an enlightenment after strenuous physical war fighting with a world famous notorious group of terrorists.
Two days ago while I was waiting at the John F Kennedy Airport in United States thinking of the things that are happening back in my country. Human rights accusations were leveled against Sri Lanka, targeting several key personalities including me for giving the best of our lives for the betterment of the majority of citizens. The humanitarian operation had been this time labeled as a crime by reckless ideologists and I myself came to a conclusion that I have to do nothing in the face of them except enjoying some thrilling movies directed by lone individuals who lived out of the country. Suddenly I remembered the line Saranga of Ceylon Today telling me to talk to you on and my aircraft took off by that time, then only I decided to do a little change in my topic to you and to start with an experience that will touch especially you in the business world.
We are Sri Lankans and we certainly have our own cultural pattern of behavior which cannot be matched by any other nation.
It is the best possible thing that can be shown, the best lesson to be learned in order to better productivity in your spectrum. It should not be a matter to hire and fire a man in your trade unless you touch your heart with open debate inside you since you are well aware of your own capabilities. There are plenty of lessons to be learned to do a job properly. Unless you learn the good lesson from your past you will not perform the thing that is expected. Mind you Gentlemen, the key to success is surely and without question gives out brilliant lessons from the past and it will be up on every individual to consider categorically on this very basic factor if you are aiming to steer your wheel of life without mistakes. So your efforts in ‘Transcending failure, a story of success’ would surely be a strong and cohesive effort in the field to achieve better living standard that is expected in time to come.
I am grateful for the organizers of this fine event as I foresee eminent identity soon as a matter of this type of movements that are driving the country forward. I completely agree with Thusitha de Silva, as many in our country feel shy to talk on mistakes and failures that carry grave damaged on many other aspects other way around. I do see many in the country misread vital areas of importance willfully or not, but when things go wrong all get together to lament on it. But of course, efforts in this nature would be the platform for solid rock foundation for eternal constancy and I have my faith in you as I sense future and life among us today.
I wish to go on the scope which I was permitted on as I am being recognized as an individual who demonstrated on the field man management lesson that was attracted by many in and out whilst it is other way around for few also in and out for my amusement. What matter, what I say on this podium will be lessons for many to revise many things and perhaps they may burn in hot pots among irritated calibers eyeing disaster on our precious motherland.
All in the mean time I will not narrate as to how we fought from time to time but will take up certain instances from the recently concluded war against terrorism. In the meantime I’m indeed cautious of educating you on the post-war consequences of Sri Lanka with the hope of accumulating maximum of your attention to the speedy development as there are no such hindrances anyway, due to the obvious fact that there is no more violence in the country aftermath of the final Humanitarian operation two years back. I consider it is much essential to memories some of the vital areas in the battle before turning into the subject matter together with the introduction of how humanly fought in Sri Lanka.
Though many do not know, fighting a war, gentlemen, is a kind of art that is being done risking lives. In our country, we were at a war against terrorism and it was the most ruthless one as you can remember how it activated its fighting elements to the extent which it leveled against humanity identified as the most sinister in the world. For your information, thousands of worthy lives of civilians were perished including the lives of various political leaders from two major communities who saw solutions to the problem.
The strongest weapon LTTE had been using against us during whole three decades. It was obvious that nobody saw anything what was happening in battle areas unless for some couple of occasions where dedicated print media agencies reported situations haphazardly. There were no transparency in the past battles and mass had no idea of majority of operations against terrorists. Conventional warfare had no room for media and it kept hand distance but what gained was total black picture on the international forum. During the final battles three years ago, media played a huge task by closely operating to achieve the full potential of transparency where it had become partly a headache today as LTTE counter activities pop-up in clandestine mode especially in international arena.
The entire nation of us became one to fight against any sinister modus operand of LTTE and we at large openly invited all nations to join hands against terrorism. We could do this because we knew the bitterness of decade’s long misery and the decade’s long grave mistakes of us that allowed room for LTTE to devastate everything of Sri Lankan life.
But recently I found, that So far many in the country tried to see the mistakes we did in past and try to elaborate them in the open market but none saw real thing underneath. I strongly get away from political agendas at this juncture because I am still serving military officer in the Army though I hold the ambassadorial status in United States but I am not in a position to hide the fact that we fought not only an arm struggle but also something greater to it.
The most prominent lesson we learned during the past history was the lack of transparency in the efforts taken by us to eradicate the sinister motives of LTTE that ultimately resulted horribly in such a way spreading its roots all over the world. Many veterans in lots of fields saw and studied capabilities of LTTE not the incapability. To tell you frankly, gentlemen, LTTE was an organization which had strength to lie and deceive the world than what could they do on the field against us.
When somebody asks about lessons from the Past one might think that we did study things from LTTE and acted accordingly. But I personally do not fully agree with it because we had nothing to learn from LTTE except for lying to own people which we did not do. We are a nation that has a worrier blood in flesh and we could rise against empires in our history.
People can be good at implementing novelty on sessions of failure but until such time they absolutely address the reasons for the failure nothing would happen to accelerate the prosperity. So that as officials in the trade and commerce in the country you are liable for reasoning for failure and it is also your great responsibility to identify them properly. Simultaneously, do not ever think that you have anticipated failures completely once you evaluate any such occurrence and take decisions for halfway duties. That is also a place where you still can go wrong as you are not fully identifying past mistakes, so that the corrections will have many other faults in addition to the incomplete job completion.
Learning from past mistakes is not easy thing to do because identifying where we went wrong is a grave serious thing. Many think that it is over after detecting a failure and applying a plaster over it. But failures carry series of setbacks and they are in a chain one after another where as everything should be properly identified. Patchworks won’t bring long lasting solutions. So it’s you who must put your highest competence to apply a practical solution that would be in use for better functioning of that particular society.
Referred to as ‘the most wanted man in advertising’ Triad Joint Managing Director and Brand Strategist, Dilith Jayaweera
‘There’s no permanent success, there’s no permanent failure’ ¬- Lord Buddha.
As far as the popular belief of success is concerned, in the corporate world the bottom line is, gaining a maximized profit; and failure is not being able to keep up with the growth.
Before we talk about our success story, we must speak of the failures that we faced. Of the total ventures that we tried in our journey, one-third of them were utter failures. In fact there were six failures namely; Cafe Freedom, Article 14, Acid Valley, Colombo Post, Capital Law Chambers and Corporate Consultants and Oodles.
We believed that ‘failure directs to successes’. We started Triad in a 10x10 shop space in Deans Road, Colombo and then we moved to a garage in Glen Arber Street. It was the team that worked out and made that garage into an office. Triad was a ‘local’ advertising agency and we didn’t cater to any multi-national brands although there was fierce competition in the industry.
The cheapest capital in the world is innovation and during this hard time we knew that the only way out was ‘competitive advantage’. So, we tried to position ourselves under the theme of ‘differentiate or die’.
We came up forward as people with a Sri Lankan theme. In 2005 for the Presidential election we did a campaign called ‘rata perata’. Although we didn’t do political campaigns, we took up that particular challenge to showcase the power of triad’s insights and to be a better brand strategist.
With the dawn of peace, as a CSR project we again did a campaign for the forces called ‘Api Wenuwen Api’. We did not charge a cent for this campaign, although it may have cost us over Rs 1 billion, it was an appreciation from Triad ‘Api’ to the brave soldiers that sacrificed their lives to bring peace to this country.
We started small and were a failure in several projects, but we were recognized at the Chillies award ceremony for three consecutive years, defeating all the multi-national advertising agencies in the industry. Therefore, failure is a state of your mind, but success is in your body.
We are committed to deliver the best in whatever we do. We are a responsible organization we don't want to take on brief just because there is a brief and there is money. I am telling you this, entire not because we want to see clean, we at triad (Api) ‘do not care’ what others thinks. There might be people who want to become like triad one day and there may be some people who might try to point at us that triad came to this level using the contacts and power. That sort of negative thinking is very unfortunate because these kinds of forums are there ‘to inspire people’ and ‘not to kill their expectations’. I can tell you without having a single contact; still you can emerge if you have the power of creativity and innovation in your outcomes.
Our entry to the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) was a ‘big mistake’. We thought the best way to involve and contribute to the economy was to enter the Colombo bourse. One of my friends also encouraged me and when we got the controlling stake of the Citrus, it was one of the biggest mistakes made in the capital market then.
However, amidst all the obstacles we managed to innovate within the concept and today we have made the Citrus a successful company in the CSE. After the success in Citrus we went on to Colombo Land and George Steuart companies. George Steuart was also a sweet mistake we did, but I got a new bunch of young talented pool from that company.
Triad in Chinese means ‘Mafia’ and I’m glad that the Sri Lankan media recognized it after 20 years. Well...my parents do not think about me being called as a part of the so called ‘mafia’, but of course my nephews and my nieces think it is a big deal (laughs). The kids love it they think being a god father is a big thing.
We invested in the CSE with a lot of interest and passion. We took large risks, like Citrus. We are not worried about the money we lost in certain projects, because we are confident of what we are delivering.
I think the country should also be in single minded in what we communicate to the rest of the world. I think there is a an area for improvement in terms of Sri Lanka being a single minded nation, in terms of positioning and then communicating to the rest of the world. We want to see entrepreneurs being recognized in our country because ‘Sri Lanka Can!’
Never worry about your share price
Vallibel One PLC Chairman and Managing Director aka, ‘the Donald Trump of Sri Lanka’, Dhammika Perera
My forte is managing the top management of companies like Chairman’s and the CEO’s and if I try to manage the bottom-line management of an even a big businessman like me will fall into trouble.
I think many of you all gathered here are involved in the capital market activities and if you all can raise hands and tell me; I can get a rough idea to manage my time to talk about the share market because I can then tell what you all must do in the capital market (audience laugh), as am good in mathematical models only.
When I first started trading at the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE), the Bartleet CEO told me that, “if you would like to invest in the stock market, I will manage your portfolio and also said to invest Rs 50 million in 1996.” So, then I asked him whether he’s sure that at the end of the day I will get the bank interest to that money I’m investing on? He replied, “Ayio Mr. Perera, don’t worry about that.” So, I agreed to invest Rs 1 million and you show me the results of the first two three months whether I get the bank interest and after that I will give you the balance Rs 49 million. But he said “for a person like me, at least Rs 50 million is necessary for me to handle your portfolio; so it okay with you if I handover your portfolio to a junior officer in my company?”. I agreed and the next day morning, Sujeewa —a stock market adviser from Bartleet called me. He asked me whether I will be investing one million, I said since your of a smaller rank, let’s start it small with around Rs 300,000 and Rs one million. What I am trying to elaborate on is where I learnt through this experience when it came to daily learning and investing. I hope you will be able to realize the gravity of it. So, I invested Rs 300,000 and asked him to manage my portfolio. During those times the interest rates were high as 18%, so for a Rs 100,000 around 1.5% was expected and for Rs 300,000 I asked him to give me a return of Rs 4,500, and I handed over to him my portfolio.
He used to buy the shares and update me via calls about the fluctuations of the stock market. At the end of the month I inquired him about the performance, he told me “Mr. Perera it might work, but only around Rs 1,000 is able to be gotten.” Then I said if it works it is fine, but remember Rs 3,500 is missing and make sure that next month along with that month’s Rs 4,500 and this Rs 3,500 I need to have Rs 7,000. Then after another month I inquired from him again about the situation, he told me that the times are not good that he has made around Rs 2,500. I told him ok, there is a gap of around Rs 5,000 this month and with the next month’s Rs 4,500 make it Rs 9,500. Then he tried to explain to me about the hardships faced and I gave him another month’s time.
After failing that attempt also at the end of the third month I asked him whether I too could be involved in this, he consented readily and after that I use to advise him on the shares to be bought and he would try to sell it at the end of the day. This trend continued for three years. He would always request me to invest more and I always told him to bring it to the expected amount. During those three years, there were around 240 companies and I would have 100 shares from those companies. The reason behind why I could or couldn’t sell these shares the way they are traded was because of the models behind them. I thoroughly experienced, much more than anyone else would have. Then my first transaction was made, when I was about to get into my car, I got a call saying there were some stocks available for a low price, in the NDB bank I took a decision within 15 minutes to buy the stocks worth Rs 450 million. From that, Rs 450 million after around eight months, we made approximately Rs one billion.
It was then identified what the share market is all about. I have taken these 100 shares and was struggling to sell it the way it is. We can’t be selling it as we wish. All these information I got to know by running that initial ‘pilot project’. I would always be engaging in a pilot project ‘secretively’. Then only we are able to get the gravity of it.
People often think it is overnight decisions that I am taking, but those decisions are made by observing and analyzing the trends of a company for a number of years. Many people are unaware of these things, giving a brokering company they wonder why they are not earning when others are. When I ask what the net per cent value is, they ask back what it is. Many are in the mentality if someone else is making money, they should also be making. People should know that money is not gotten without any commitment. If one is not acquainted with the subject matter of the field, he should never invest all his money. Many are happy when the market price goes up and sad when the prices go down, but it shouldn’t be the case it’s meant to fluctuate, only thing we have to be considerate of is to try and increase the profits of the company we are investing on. In this case I would be talking to the CEO, Chairman or the Managing director of the company one of them would be having that responsibility.
I am ‘never worried’ be it any position in the market. To come to this state one should invest at least 10%-15% of their portfolio and remain in the market. What many do is borrowing and heavily paying back, I cannot understand the mentality behind this. They use the money they have it at hand, what is in the bank, and at the end of the day they don’t know what the net per cent value, Earning per share or dividend per share. Thus, it is very important that you should be aware of what you are investing on and the theory behind it.
Creating absolute unity with one common goal
The number one entertainer in the country, Gypsies Leader and Lead Vocalist Sunil Perera
My father was a great pillar of strength behind in my life. Although, I used to hate him and saw him as an enemy during my school days, I got really close to him after I left school. My father was a day-dreamer. I think that’s why most of his dreams were shattered.
Like many other families of that time, our family was also a big one with 10 children, which resembled a cricket team. Those days my father used to dream big about me. When I was in Grade 6 and 7, I became the first in class at the term tests, itself he started to find out about Oxford and Cambridge Universities, hoping to send me there.
But I know I came first in class because of the then system of grouping students in our school, all the bright students were in class A, while those who are not so good in studies were in class B. For my luck (as I then thought) I was in class B, so I felt above all!
I learned to play the guitar when I was in Grade 7. At that time a Rev. Priest had told my father that I would gain no progress being in that class, among those who were not at all keen on studies. So, my father was going to change my class. Though I was pleading that I did not want to lose my friends, my parents never listened and I was shifted to class A. There, I was 25th in the class. My father thought that I had come down in my studies because of my guitar. So he threatened he would break my guitar and throw it away. He said that musicians were ‘beggars’. I could not afford to lose my guitar so I told him the truth that all the students in class B were not so good in their studies unlike in class A, so that it was impossible for me to be at the top like I used to be. But he seemed not to give up his idea of making me an educated man.
However, after sometime he realized that I would not continue with higher studies and that I was more into music. Although his dreams were shattered, he then told me to do my best in my chosen field and offered his fullest support to my career in music. He built a studio for me and got all my siblings involved. Actually he used to pay us for practicing music! In the evenings after a drink with his friends he used to come to the studio and enjoy our music. He always expected his friends to like and appreciate our performances.
From the start of my career there had been resistance from the media every so often, but never came down. I got used to it instead and I liked to be a controversial character among media. (Laughs)
There was a time when love songs were at the peak of popular demand, and I thought that if I had produced a love song I would also get the attention of girls. And I did produce a song with Gypsies, but I would say that was a point where I ‘went wrong’, as all the girls’ attraction was not me, but my good-looking brother! Thereafter, I came out with a style which perfectly suited our band.
Another thing my father used to tell me was, to see how many people are competing before taking part in a ‘race’. “If there were only three competitors and if you come last, you can still say that won the third place,” he used to say.
I was a lot into humour and with my talent for that; I know that was what suited me the most. It is very important to identify your talents and abilities and make use of those. To be successful in life, one should follow a ‘system’ and work methodically. There has to be a proper system that treats everybody in that system equally. Most things in our country do not have a system and therefore have become unsuccessful. Of course there are successful individuals here, but I believe that as a country, we still have not been able to create a picture of absolute unity with one common goal. Once the system starts functioning appropriately everything will fall into places and on that day we all can sing ‘This land belongs to me, this land belongs to you, and this land belongs to all of us; to live in harmony’.
I take things easy, and I think anyone should be easy-going and not make things too complicated. In my point of view, some problems should be solved not with hatred but with love. Hatred only makes things more complicated.