By Gehan Perera
Mr. Sivaratnam was an exceptional personality – an inspirational and a visionary leader. As displayed in his youth in the field of sports, in his professional life as well he believed in team work and had the remarkable ability to inspire his subordinates to rise above themselves. Mr. Sivaratnam stood tall and reached the highest echelons in the business world without compromising on his integrity and the values he stood for.
In his long and successful career at Aitken Spence his achievements were many. He pioneered the tourism sector in the group making Aitken Spence one of the largest Tourism companies and took Sri Lanka’s hospitality expertise overseas. He advocated organic growth. He started the tourism sector with Neptune Hotel and then went on to develop internationally popular iconic hotels such as Triton (now renamed Heritance Ahungalle) & Heritance Kandalama. These hotels indeed bear testimony to his vision and his ability to marshal his troops to achieve the impossible even in great adversity.
Similarly, Aitken Spence Travels and Ace Travels & Conventions the two leading travel companies in Sri Lanka were his brainchild which he nurtured from the beginning. The very successful Power sector within the Aitken Spence Group was conceived and brought into fruition by him.
As Chairman of Aitken Spence & Company Mr. Sivaratnam was fondly remembered by every one not only for his exceptional leadership skills and the unprecedented heights he took the company to but as one who treated everyone with fairness and dignity and for his humility. He was an outstanding leader who was ahead of his times. He advocated the need for economic benefits of business to percolate down to the common man, treat the environment with respect and work with competition for the common good of industry far before corporate jargon such as Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainable Development, Coo-petition etc. were even coined.
On a personal note, I vividly remember meeting him for the first time at my final interview at Aitken Spence 30 years ago. Although I had already been selected for 3 other jobs and despite the salary offered being pretty modest, I was blown away by his charisma and decided to take on his offer of employment.
I was privileged to work under his guidance over the years and learn from this great man. He emphasized the virtues of honesty, integrity, perseverance and loyalty to the organization which he lived by. He led by example as an integral member of the team. He taught us to believe in ourselves, build trust and rise above situations. He never let small issues get in the way. Being the visionary he was, he always had the big picture in mind and was there with us to take us through one step at a time.
Mr. Sivaratnam insisted in not compromising in Quality. When discussing market leadership he advised us to tread cautiously and reminded being an excellent no 2 or 3 is better than being no 1 not living up to expectations. He was firm when the situation called for but was always fair and guided us to do the right thing irrespective of the circumstances.
He not only showed us how to treat our own team members well but also to respect and work with our competitors in business. Hence, he was equally loved and respected by everybody in the tourism industry and the business world. He was always humble and approachable. As youngsters even when we used to question business decisions, he always gave a patient hearing and engaged in discussion, even when we disagreed.
He was a man with great empathy. In the late ‘70s – the good old days of tourism when we were struggling in office late in the nights with a few wades for our dinner from the near by Ambal café which is what we could afford on a trainee’s allowance, he despite being the Director in charge would drop by and inquire if everything was ok and share a wade with us.
Mr. Sivaratnam selflessly served the Toursim industry and the business community at large through the many honorary positions he held as President of Association of Group Tour operators, Chairman Employers Federation, Chairman – Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, Chairman Export Development Board etc. His wise counsel was always available to anyone.
He was one who loved Sri Lanka dearly. I remember him talking me out of migrating overseas many years ago. Sri Lanka has lost a son who served the country with distinction. Through his philosophy of organic growth he created thousands of jobs and brought in invaluable foreign exchange in to the country.
Mr. Sivaratnam will be long remembered as a great sportsman and one of the finest business leaders this country ever produced. However, he will be most loved for his wonderful humane qualities for he was truly a great human being who touched the lives of many.
Thank you, Sir, for being my mentor, inspiration and making a profound impact on my life. May your soul be blessed with eternal happiness.
2008 – Ace Magazine Issue 2