From parochial partnerships to public ownership

23 Apr

Reference: Aitken Spence Coffee Table Book, Published 2012

The beginnings of Aitken Spence merge into the history of British Colonial Ceylon. Many dates are given, but for the purpose of a starting point, we have set the date at 1830, which takes us back to a business entity called Wilson & Archer, the parent company of Clark Spence, established in Galle that year. It was on September 1, 1868 that Clark & Spence entered into a formal partnership as merchants and commission agents in Galle. As this Company progressed in it’s trading, it expanded its base. Some history pages tell us that in 1871 it made an agreement with another Company whose partners were E. C. Britton and Edward Aitken. Over the next two years, the ownership of
the Company changed gradually, and soon it came to be known as Aitken Spence & Company. The recorded date of this entity’s official beginning is New Year’s Day, 1873.

The Company’s primary business at this stage was the export of gems, plumbago, hides, sapanwood, ebony, coffee, arrack, coconuts, coconut oil, coir yarn, coir rope, bristle fibre, citronella oil and the import of rice from Burma and
coal for ship bunkers. Business consisted very largely of the chartering of ships to carry these commodities.

P.W.G. Spence is said to have been a man of immense energy and great business acumen. He was constantly seeking new opportunities for the Company. In the early months of 1871, he went on an extensive tour of the UK, seeking
business contacts that would help push this fledgling Company ahead. On April 5, 1876, he recorded his firm’s appointment as sole agent of the prestigious Lloyd’s of London.

But agencies were not all the Company was looking for; P. W. G. Spence and Edward Aitken believed that good partnerships were what made a sound base for their business.

Looking at the Company’s early history and its partners, there are many names attached to it, such as W. B. Patterson, G. W. Suhren, A. S. Berwick and A. P. Waldock, amongst others. It is clear that from its inception the Company was constantly seeking new partnerships and reinventing its business culture, making bold decisions that made it stand out from the crowd. It is this spirit that has carried on through time in every partnership Aitken Spence entered into.

Aitken Spence became a private Company in 1952 and at that time the ownership model was for the directors of the Company to hold shares. The understanding at that time was, a shareholder leaving the Company had to sell
his shares to the remaining directors. This understanding was backed by provisions made in the Articles of Association.

With a Socialist government ruling Sri Lanka in 1972, the Company in a further diversification of its ownership, began a new practice. Shares when they become available were offered on par to executives, leading to the gradual
broad basing of Aitken Spence. The Company’s share capital increased over the years through regular bonus issues.

What was important to note during this period was that board directors did not buy a single share. They were all sold on par to executives, which established a bond between the upper levels of the Company and the executive staff, creating a sense of ownership all around.

In 1983, another significant change in ownership took place with Aitken Spence becoming a quoted company on the Colombo Stock Exchange.



The Partnering Spirit

22 Apr

Reference:  Aitken Spence Coffee Table Book, Published 2012

This is a story about strength of belief, trusted partnership, and a passion to excel.
It all began in the 19th Century, when two Scottish gentlemen shook hands on an agreement that sealed a partnership, forming the beginnings of Aitken Spence. Over the years,the Company has steadily evolved into a vast conglomerate with a reach into almost every sector of the Sri Lankan economy.

What began on the docks of port town, Galle on the southern tip of the British colony Ceylon, was the first small step of a long successful journey. The significance of these two Scottish men from different clans working out a business arrangement together, far away from home, has had a lasting impact on the ethos of Aitken Spence. To this day the company believes in the spirit of making long term partnerships and honouring them.

The handshake made in trust all those years ago has become the hallmark of how Aitken Spence does business to this day; mutual trust and commitment is carried through every partnership the Company enters into.

The strength of the Group’s partnerships lies foremost in the best practices itemploys in every sector of its operations. For Aitken Spence, sustainability and good governance are core values in driving business. Layer on layer, the Company’s management structure is designed and tailor-made to fit the diverse sectors it operates within.

Apart from its business counterparts, Aitken Spence considers its employees the Company’s greatest partners. With a workforce that operates from tea estates to factory floors of garment industries and a large executive cadre; Aitken Spence adheres to internally accepted corporate accountability standards. This includes for human rights; equal opportunity irrespective of gender, race or religion; freedom of association; and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.

The Group rigidly complies with ILO conventions on the employment of persons, which eliminates all forms of forced or compulsory labour, and strictly ensures that no employees below the minimum legal age are offered employment. These policies are not merely looked at as the letter of the law; they are an embodiment of the Aitken Spence culture.

The heart of the Group’s existence is in the partnerships it makes, be it in travel, cargo, power, hospitality, plantations or with governments. Over three centuries, Aitken Spence has grown into an entity that manages a vast landscape of diverse business, making partnerships and joint ventures, which are winning formulas for companies across the globe.


Aitken Spence facilitates MS Europa call on three ports in Sri Lanka

9 Apr

The luxury cruise ship MS Europa, owned by German operator Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten, called at the Ports of Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo recently with a total of 355 passengers and 280 crew on board. Aitken Spence Maritime is the local agent for Hapag-Lloyd, considered one of the largest container shipping lines in the world.

MS Europa, has been awarded the rating of 5-stars-plus for the fourteenth time in a row by the Berlitz Cruise Guide, is said to be designed as an “all outside concept”. Adorned with a 204 passenger suites, the cruise is considered as one of the most spacious cruise ships on the market and is intended for the luxury cruise segment of the German speaking market. Every year the MS Europa sets sail on its journey around the world to visit ports that are unreachable by other ships due to its size.
“Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten has decided to have more frequent callers to Trincomalee, Galle and Colombo and have included the Port of Hambantota in their schedule for 2015/16. We intend in selecting Sri Lanka Ports for our start and end voyages, where the passengers will embark and disembark in Sri Lanka” said Lalith Witanachchi, General Manager of Hapag-Lloyd Lanka.
Hapag-Lloyd’s local agents Aitken Spence Maritime pioneers in the industry and are the first in Sri Lanka to undertake port efficiency enhancement management overseas with its entry into the African continent and then the South Pacific Islands. The Company handles all areas of maritime services – from ship agents and cargo handlers, to liner agency, cruise vessel, port management and development, chartering services and maritime education. With the Group’s involvement in the leisure industry, the company is able to offer comprehensive synergised services to cruise operators.

On MS Europa’s voyage to Sri Lanka, the cruise ship called at the Port of Trincomalee and Galle prior to her calling at the Port of Colombo on the 7th of April 2014. To commemorate her inaugural call a ceremony was held onboard at the Trincomalee port where the staff Captain Alexander Sokacic of MS Europa was handed a plaque by the officials of Hapag-Lloyd Lanka – Mr. Lalith Witanachchi and Mr. Chathura Nissanka. From Sri Lanka Ports Authority Mr. K. Nanathilake – Residence Manager Trincomalee Port also attended the ceremony to mark this commemorative occasion. [Ends]


(L-R) Ms Syblle Hardegen -MS Europa, Chathura Nissanka – Hapag Lloyd Lanka, Lalith Witanachchi – Hapag Lloyd Lanka, Capt. Alexander Sokacic – Staff Capt. MS Europa), K. Nanathilake – Residence Manager Sri Lanka Ports Authority Trincomalee


Instilling empowerment to the community of Andigama

24 Mar

Twentieth project in the history of Global Perspectives, thirty selected grade 12 students (ages 17 or 18) of the programme this year ventured to Sri Lanka, to build a vocational classroom at the Light House School in Andigama village.

Global Perspectives a program offered by Richmond Secondary School in Canada aims to give its high school students an opportunity to engage in a year-long study focusing on global issues. Students involved in the programme participate in a humanitarian field trip for a two-week period concentrating on community development projects of a chosen country.

Creating more opportunities for the local community of Andigama a small village located in the district of Puttlam, students interacted directly with the villages, through sports, music, dancing and work. Further to building the vocational classroom, a new well was constructed to provide access to the basic need of fresh clean drinking water.Image

“The lasting bonds not only occur between the teachers and the students, but also with the locals that we meet. The students come expecting to help the locals, but find that it is the locals that help them; by opening their eyes to different perspectives that they never would have seen otherwise” Ms. Angelica Laron and Margarita De Guzman noted for the Students of Global Perspectives.

Aitken Spence Travels was responsible for providing personalized and comfortable transport and accommodation services for the talents of Richmond Secondary School. Aitken Spence Travels is the largest destination management company in Sri Lanka and the only one to be included in the Hall of Fame of the Presidential Awards for Travel & Tourism.

The students of Global Perspective completed their project in Sri Lanka on the 21st of March and will head back to Canada during the coming week.



Aitken Spence Printing crowned Sri Lanka’s Master Printer

4 Mar

Aitken Spence Printing was jointly crowned the “Sri Lanka Master Printer” at the recently concluded Collate 2014 printing award ceremony organized by the Sri Lanka Association of Printers.

“Collate” is the landmark event in the Printers calendar in Sri Lanka, held each alternate year. The mega event comprised of a conference, exhibition and awards ceremony. The award ceremony marked the grand finale of the event where all members of the Sri Lankan Printing Industry gathered for a glamorous celebration where the industry’s best were honoured.

With a heritage spanning over five decades, the company is known as an innovative printing and packaging solutions provider for prestigious international brands in FMCG, tea, confectionary, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and apparel industries locally and globally. It is known for its longstanding reliability as a printer of corporate reports, coffee-table books, magazines and other high-end publications.

Aitken Spence Printing bagged a staggering 4 Excellence, 3 Distinction and 3 Merit Awards at the event to become the “Sri Lanka Master Printer”. The Excellence awards were for labels & tags, diaries & planners, point of sales material and posters, while the Distinction awards were for posters, brochures, folders & leaflets and labels & tags. Merit awards were won for periodicals & magazines, pictorial calendars (single sheet) and books.

Winners were selected under 20 categories where 59 printing companies in Sri Lanka participated. The criteria for scoring was based on quality of print, design, concept, finishing and innovation in entries. The judging of the print entries was done by a panel of judges consisting of 7 experts in varied technical segments including several international experts in the printing industry. 

“Every day, Aitken Spence Printing is committed to go that extra mile and a half to deliver the best solution at the right time for all our business partners. To be recognized as “Sri Lanka Master Printer” is a fitting tribute to our dedicated team who spare no effort in continuously redefining excellence”, said Prasanna Karunathilake, Managing Director of Aitken Spence Printing.

Aitken Spence Printing is the region’s only LEED Gold certified and carbon neutral printing plant. The ultra-modern printing plant located just outside of Colombo, the 100,000 square foot facility is located on 3.5 acres of land. 


Aitken Spence Hotels Leads in Sustainability Reporting

1 Mar

Aitkin Spence Hotels were once again recognized for its commitment to sustainability at the recently concluded ACCA Sustainability Reporting Awards, where it emerged victorious in the Leisure & Services sector. The new format for the awards identified winners in six industry sectors. In the past Aitken Spence Hotels have emerged winners in the medium scale category.


ACCA has been a leading voice in promoting environmental, social and governance reporting for businesses as a fundamental part of mapping their impacts beyond traditional financial accounting practices. This year once again ACCA has recognized and rewarded companies that have taken an active role in providing viable solutions to the sustainability challenges faced by our planet. 


Aitken Spence Hotels over the years has been dedicated to preserve and sustain the natural resources and also manage the impact of tourism on local communities through the adoption of sustainable practices. The award highlights the importance Aitken Spence Hotels gives to sustainability, transparency and accountability while providing a clear indication of the company’s commitment to report its economic, social and environmental impacts.

“Our goal is to incorporate the values and principles of sustainable development into our business. Being repeatedly recognized by ACCA for best in class sustainability reporting is an affirmation that we are on the correct path. We believe that sustainability is the only way forward in the tourism industry, we need to be able to protect the natural attractions, resources and culture that differentiates Sri Lanka as a unique destination”, said Mr. Malin Hapugoda, Managing Director, Aitken Spence Hotels. 


Aitken Spence Hotels manages a portfolio of hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Oman. The company’s expertise in hotel design, building and management is complimented by its dedication and commitment to excellence. Located in some of the key tourist locations, each of the properties cater to a diverse clientele.


ImageMr.Tilak Gunawardana, Vice President, Finance accepting the award



Group image of Aitken Spence Hotels Team at the Award Ceremony


plantERM by Aitken Spence Technologies wins Gold

27 Feb

plantERM, a comprehensive solution developed for the plantations industry by Aitken Spence Technologies (Pvt) Ltd., won the Gold Award competing in the category of General Applications, at the recently concluded  (NBQSA) 2013.


NBQSA is an annual event organized by the British Computer Society (BCS), The Chartered Institute for IT Sri Lanka Section, and serves to showcase and benchmark Sri Lankan ICT products, under sixteen commercial categories, in this globally competitive era.

plantERM, which pitched against seven other solutions in its category at NBQSA, is an end-to-end solution covering, field, human resources, factory, supply-chain, marketing, financials, consolidation and KPI management of plantation operations. The solution supports multi-location, multi-tier, multi-crop and multi-currency operations and is flexible and modular to support operations of any scale and size.

General Manager (Operations) of Aitken Spence Technologies Mr. Jayantha Jayamanna, the chief architect of the solution said, “Looking back, I believe the time we spent in the field, working with our associates from plantations, including consultants, auditors and industry leaders is what made our solution rich while maintaining simplicity, and hence acceptable to the industry”.

plantERM, which was launched into the market in July 2012, already boasts of one total deployment at Elpitiya Plantations PLC covering head office together with 13 estate and 19 factory locations that include tea, rubber and oil palm crops.

“plantERM is based on mature Open Source technologies such as Java, Linux and PostgreSQL, which has helped us to maintain, user, application and data security, flexibility and a much lower TCO than competitor offerings” said Dr. Vickum Senanayake, General Manager (Sales & Marketing) of Aitken Spence Technologies.

“By offering the solution as a SaaS (Software as a Service) on-cloud as well as on premise, we are better equipped to address the industry’s requirement for a scalable and cost effective solution, while minimizing the investment risks of our clients”, he added.

plantERM was also nominated by British Computer Society (BCS) The Chartered Institute for IT Sri Lanka Section, to be part of the Sri Lankan delegation competing in the Industrial Applications category at the Asia Pacific Information Communication Technology Alliance (APICTA) 2013 Awards, in Hong Kong.

Speaking on the occasion, Director of Aitken Spence Group Ltd. and Aitken Spence Technologies (Pvt) Ltd., Mr. Dinesh Mendis said, “It gives us pride that our able and dedicated team has achieved significant recognition within such a short time frame. We are convinced that we will be able to establish plantERM in the regional and global plantations industry. We have already made a few key initiatives through collaborative engagements, and are confident, will bear fruit over the next six months to a year”.



Aitken Spence Shows Robust Growth in 3Q

7 Feb

Leading conglomerate Aitken Spence PLC recorded a strong performance in the third quarter, interim results to the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) released on Friday revealed.

The blue-chip’s financial results for the three months ended 31st December 2013 saw profit-before-tax surging by 47 per cent to Rs. 1.58 bn and profit-after-tax surged by 53 per cent to Rs.1.38bn, while profit attributable to shareholders rose by 54 per cent to Rs 1.1 bn.

The diversified group’s nine-month results revealed profit-before-tax rising by 10 per cent to Rs. 3.5 bn and profit-after-tax increasing by almost 10 per cent to Rs. 2.9 bn, while profit attributable to shareholders was up by 11.2 per cent to Rs. 2.3 bn, while earnings per share increased by 11.2 per cent to Rs. 5.68.

Aitken Spence has operations in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific. Listed in the CSE since 1983, it has major interests in hotels, travel, maritime services, logistics and power generation. The group also has a significant presence in plantations, printing, financial services, insurance, information technology and garments.

Profit before tax from the tourism sector surged by 26.2 per cent to Rs. 2.3 bn while revenue rose by 10 per cent to Rs. 10.3 bn, for the nine months.  The company recorded strong growth from its resorts and inbound travel business in Sri Lanka. Aitken Spence operates a wide portfolio of hotels and resorts in Sri Lanka, Maldives, India and Oman. Its travel arm, the largest in Sri Lanka, is a joint venture with TUI Travel.

During the period Aitken Spence Hotel Holdings PLC., a subsidiary company entered into a shareholders’ agreement with RIU Hotels of Spain to build a 500-room luxury resort in Ahungalla, costing approximately USD 100m.

Cargo logistics sector, which includes its international maritime services arm, recorded Rs. 545 mn as profits-before-tax, an increase of 29 per cent over the previous year, while revenue was up by 16.8 per cent to Rs. 5.1 bn. Aitken Spence is Sri Lanka’s largest logistics services provider and has port management services in Africa and the Pacific.

During the period under review Aitken Spence acquired 51 per cent shares in Ports Terminal Limited., through a public-private partnership and took over the managerial and operational responsibilities at the Fiji Ports Corporation.

Strategic investments sector showed drop of 38 per cent in profits-before-tax and 34 per cent in revenue, to Rs. 489 mn and Rs. 9 bn respectively, for the period under review. Whilst the printing and garments businesses performed well, the power business has shrunk as its plants in Horana and Matara were not operational, following  the cessation of the power purchase agreement entered

into with the Ceylon Electricity Board.

Subsequent to the balance sheet date, the 24 MW thermal power plant owned by Ace Power Generation Horana (Pvt) Ltd., was disposed.

The Group’s services sector saw profits-before-tax growing by 18.5 per cent to Rs. 154 mn and revenue rising by 19% to Rs. 458 mn.  The services sector includes financial services, insurance, elevator agency and technology businesses.


Sale of Original Unused Spare Parts for Wartsila Power Plants 6.3 MW HFO 18 V 32 LN

28 Jan


Heritance Tea Factory Secures the First Organic Tea Certification in Sri Lanka by SLSI

25 Jan

Heritance Tea Factory was recently awarded the first organic certification in Sri Lanka by the Sri Lanka Standards Institute (SLSI) for the cultivation and processing of tea. After eight years of refining the processes used to cultivate and process organic black tea, green tea and herbal tea, the hotel emerged pioneers in achieving the organic certification.

Heritance Tea Factory is surrounded by lush tea plantations that stretch over an expanse of twenty five acres. The mini tea factory in the hotel serves as a processing plant that produces different flavours of tea that are consumed by guests at the hotel and can be purchased as souvenirs. The mission to achieve 100% organic status was first realised in the year 2005 when the hotel discontinued the use of all forms of chemical fertilizer, pesticides or weedicides in the tea plantation. Artificial material was replaced with greener substitutes such as compost manure that is produced at the Hotel’s in-house composting project; replaced fertilizer. The growth of gotukola as an underlayer in the tea plantation was encouraged to prevent the growth of weeds and help in nourish the soil. 

The process of obtaining the organic certification involved a significant amount of hard work and dedication from the team at Heritance Tea Factory. The initial stages called for several tests that were carried out to analyze the condition of the soil and compost manure of the plantation. The tests were conducted at the Agricultural Research Centre in Kundasale and at the Tea Research Institute in Thalawakelle. Experimental samples were also collected from the tea leaves at the Heritance Tea Factory plantation, in order to analyze if the samples of tissues of tea leaves cultivated at the plantation met the specified criteria.  The process also involved three site visits at different stages by the auditors from the Sri Lanka Standards Institute. The first audit was conducted to verify whether the standards met the criteria set by SLSI, the second audit was to measure the progress the Hotel made and to recommend further improvements where applicable and the third and final audit was to confirm the hotel’s suitability for certification.

“Heritance Tea Factory has experienced a positive impact with the achievement of being 100% organic. Guests at the hotel can witness the return of a myriad of birds and insects that once deserted the plantation. We are indeed proud of our achievement and promise to strive to sustain our green initiatives. It is with sincere admiration that I applaud the efforts of those involved in making this dream a reality” commented Mr. Roshanlal Perera, General Manager of Heritance Tea Factory, upon the achievement of the certification.

Heritance Hotels and Resorts operate a portfolio of five unique properties in scenic locations across Sri Lanka. The chain of hotels has been continuously recognized as a pioneer in sustainable tourism and continuously strives to sustain and innovate processes that reduce the impact of its operation on its surroundings.



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