Written by Rehan at OmeBiz
Sri Lanka is home to many successful businesses, which is due to the inspiring minds behind them. Hence, it would be a good opportunity to celebrate one of the corporate leaders in Sri Lanka who perfectly fits the aforementioned description.
John Keells is one of the largest conglomerates in Sri Lanka, with a great financial performance and management profile. One of the reasons behind this is the former Deputy Chairman – Mr. Ajit Gunewardene.
Mr. Gunewardene has played a fundamental role in various companies under John Keells Holding such as being the Chairman of Nations Trust Bank, Trans Asia Hotels, Unions Assurance and others. He is also diversified in his personal investments with startups such as PickMe and oDOC.
1- From a Tusker to a Disrupter
As a young man, Ajit Gunewardene was fond of rugby, and in fact, he was quite good at it too. His position as a flanker in the third row of the Tuskers (Royal College Rugby Team), showed that he was destined for success where he scored in many games during 1975 & 1976.
Being a ruggerite runs in the family, his father Norman Gunewardene (1951) and his eldest son Revan Gunewardene (2006) had also been prominent figures within the sport for Royal College.
2- Majors and Minors
After schooling at Royal College, Ajit Gunewardene had turned his sights to the U.S for his higher education. He graduated from the University of North Carolina where he majored in economics and minored in political science in 1982.
3- Guess it runs in the Family!
Business runs in the Gunewardene bloodline. Turns out the Gunewardene family has had a great line of successful businessmen and women. His father Norman Gunewardene was the former Chairman of Aitken Spence; his younger sister Otara Gunewardene was the founder of ODEL; and, his brother Ruchi Gunewardene held management positions in Coca-Cola as well as found his very own company named Sting Consultants.
4- Best to Greatest Achievements
The most renowned area where Mr Gunewardene excelled in was working for John Keells in its leadership team. Under his Deputy Chairmanship at the company, there were alternate titles that fell into the many categories of John Keells. With over 30 years of management experience, you cannot deny his accomplishments far exceed much other management personnel within Sri Lanka. Alongside dealing with John Keells he also had positions at Boards of various companies, such as Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Colombo Stock Exchange, Union Assurance, Nations Trust Bank PLC and a few others.
5- An angel in disguise
He also had his fair share of investing in various startups. The most noteworthy would be that of Pick me and ODOC. Mr. Ajit Gunewardene has also recently floated his investment management company Bluestone Capital Ltd.
6- When Pickme got Picked Up…
#lka We've been in operation for almost three years now and we're at that odd juncture where we're neither young nor mature anymore. So we thought it would be a good thing to remind ourselves of what we are made of, before we take that next step forward… #OurStory #BuildingBusinesses #StartUpLife #PickMeLK#WorldOfPickMe
Posted by PickMe on Friday, February 16, 2018
Mr. Ajit Gunewardene was the initial investor for the now booming Rs.12.7 billion Digital Mobility Solutions Private Limited, running the taxi-hailing app – PickMe. It all started when his brother Ruchi had called and informed him that he would like to bring someone with an idea which could be a possible investment. Ruchi promised his brother that if he liked the idea, and agreed to it, he would also pitch in and invest. Fifteen minutes later, the now young entrepreneur Zulfer Jiffry sold the idea to Ajit and brother Ruchi. Now the company is the most funded start-up in Sri Lanka and is also extremely successful in terms of revenue.
7- Art Aficionado
Mr. Gunewardene agrees to the fact that he was not gifted as a child with the talent of art. But that didn’t make him lose his enthusiasm as he says, “I can’t draw a straight line. This is just something that grew on me”. He differentiates himself from the rest of the top dogs by investing his money in collecting homegrown art and does so with a passion. His obsession started when his parents took him to museums abroad and it just grew on him.
There is definitely more than meets the eye with Mr. Gunewardene and we cannot wait to see what is next in store for him and his investments.
If you are keen to learn more about how to become a successful disruptive corporate executive from the man himself, click HERE to join the event on the 20th of June 2018.