Mr. Norman Gunewardene, a past Chairman of Aitken Spence & Company Limited, passed away on the 17th May 2008. Mr. Gunewardene joined Aitken Spence in 1959 as an Executive, in the shipping division. Having been trained at the Britannia Royal Navy College in Dermot – UK, where he graduated as a mid shipman, it was indeed very natural that shipping became his passion at that time. He witnessed the birth of containerization and saw its eventual arrival in Sri Lanka, in the late 70’s.
As a founder director of Aitken Spence Shipping Ltd in 1972 Mr Gunewardene headed the Far East Liner division of the Multi principal shipping agency company and helped to elevate it to become the industry bench mark. He later led the entry of Aitken Spence shipping Ltd in to the prestigious Multiport ship agencies Network.
Mr. Gunewardene was instrumental in the launching of freight forwarding and air cargo operations at Aitken Spence. Ace Air Cargo (Private) Limited was set up to handle Air and sea Freight operations, customs brokerage and also international courier operations. The company made vast strides in the Freight Forwarding sector and grew to be among the top Freight Forwarders representing a host of leading International Global Freight Forwarding Companies. Later on, he was to set-up Sri Lanka’s first local courier service – Mail Fast also under the Ace banner.
In the early 1980’s the Sri Lanka Ports Authority was congested with laden and empty containers and this reached a crisis situation. In a drastic and desperate move the Port ordered shipping lines to move their empty containers out of port within 48 hours. At this point Aitken Spence was well positioned with storage space for empty containers at the Aitken Spence Yard at Mattakkuliya due to Me Gunewardene’s foresight in setting up such a facility. Mr. Gunewardene took the initiative to set-up a fully fledged container freight station, Ace Containers (Pvt) Limited, which today has moved location to Mabole – Wattala to be one of the largest facilities in the country. Mr. Gunewardene had the vision and daring to foresee the growth of the logistics industry in Sri Lanka, when he pioneered the setting-up of Ace Distriparks (Pvt) Limited and set-up satellite units of the Distriparks in strategic outstation locations and Container Freight Stations in the Free Trade Zones.
Mr. Norman Gunewardene’s long and distinguished career at Aitken Spence reached its pinnacle, when he was appointed Chairman of the Group in November 1995. He retired from this position in October 1996 and remained as a non executive director in the company until June 2002, thereby ending a long and distinguished career with the company spanning 43 years.
Mr. Gunewardene’s business ideology was rooted on integrity and discipline which he instilled in the minds of the people who worked for him. Together with the other visionaries who led Aitken Spence in the in the years before the turn of the century Mr. Gunewardene was able to establish Aitken Spence as one of the most admired and respected blue chip companies in the country.
Norman Gunewardena had a very distinguished school career at Royal College where he shone in sports. He excelled in swimming and rugby and played in the Bradby shields of 1950 and 1951. He continued his passion for rugby after leaving school and his rugby career reached great heights when he represented the CR & FC from 1954 to 1961 and during that time was called up to represent the country on many occasions .
Later in life his passion evolved from Rugby to Golf and appreciating wine.
Mr Norman Gunewaerdene will be remembered for his pioneering efforts in setting up the Freight Forwarding and Container Logistic infrastructure at Aitken Spence which now is reaping rich dividends for the company.
May he rest in peace.
2008 – Ace Magazine Issue 2