In January 1975, Gemunu Goonewardena was a kitchen trainee, starting his career at the Neptune Hotel, shortly after the property’s opening. He continued working at the Neptune, whilst attending hotel school and in 1983 he joined the newly opened Palm Village for a brief period before being posted back to the Neptune Hotel, this time as Executive Chef.
Aitken Spence sponsored a course conducted by the Culinary Institute of America in 1985. In 1987 he migrated to Australia where worked and studied before returning to Aitken Spence in 1991 as a consultant. Now a Director, Gemunu Goonewardena fervently believes in coaching and empowering staff and “Developing people through work.”
On his return from Australia, Gemunu had been given the task of streamlining Food & Beverage operations at all the hotels. He did this by setting up standard operating procedures and putting in place minimum quality standards for food and beverage operations; his expertise was called on to give direction on proper infrastructure facilities for new hotels and for creating a working environment that was conducive, by allocating proper resources and giving leadership. Today Gemunu Goonewardena is heavily involved in ensuring that F&B staff are well-trained.
When asked how he went about the daunting task of streamlining F & B operations in all the properties, Gemunu cites three main tasks. The first and foremost he says was to train the staff by inspiring a passion for service, this he does by speaking to each individual, getting to know them and encouraging their aspirations. It is only then that Gemunu mentions the steps that have been put in place to guarantee that clientele are ensured of the same high quality standards at any Aitken Spence hotel. All suppliers have been given specifications for each product purchased and food is stored separately so as to preserve their unique individual flavours. In addition to internal checks and procedures for ensuring high quality food, Aitken Spence also has ISO 22,000 certification in several hotels and is working towards making this a norm for all hotels in the group.
Gemunu Goonewardena’s love of his job and his loyalty to Aitken Spence is evident when he speaks of his role in staff training, saying that each individual must be trained, moulded and allowed to grow. He says “You have to believe in people,” and when asked what he felt his greatest achievement was he simply says “My biggest pride today is that my chefs in all the hotels are much better than me”. He is proud to see the immense talent of the people who work in the different properties and to have watched them grow and develop from trainees to managers, now training others in turn, passing on and sharing knowledge, he says, “It’s like a tonic to see what they have achieved.”
Moreover, Mr. Goonewardena stresses that his journey has not been made alone, nor without help and that he will always grateful to the company, superiors (past and present) and to his colleagues for the their support, encouragement and values. Citing colleagues Amal Nanayakkara (now General Manager Training) and Ravi De Silva (whose sustainability principles guide the group’s activities) as particular examples, Mr. Goonewardena adds that his work has been facilitated by all departments, from training and engineering to finance, purchasing and marketing; he says he is truly appreciative of everyone he has had the pleasure of working with as each and everyone has contributed in some way, to make his career and his ideas for improvement, a success.
Ace Magazine – 2010