Tag Archives: Ace Magazine

Reliably Consolidated

29 Dec

Not unlike its counterparts, under the logistics umbrella, Aitken Spence Containers, began as a division of Aitken Spence Shipping and was based in Vauxhall Street. Spearheaded at the time by the inimitable Mr. Suriyakumar, who personally visited the port to work on the containers until the historic night in 1979 the Ports Authority made a sudden decision to move all containers out of the area, for want of space. Given just two or three days to make the move, the outfit cleared and re-located to a company-owned land in Mattakuliya, from whence it continued to function as a division of Aitken Spence Shipping. In 1981, it was incorporated as Ace Containers.

In 1989, security restrictions in the Mattakuliya area forced another move. This time, to the eventual 20 acre land in Mabole. This shift proved to be an unexpected gold nugget, for in expanding the initial 12 acres, Ace Containers found a spring board for diversification. The experience in filling and developing the land led to the purchase of the adjacent seventy perches, which were then re-sold for housing development.

The company, which processes a container every two minutes, was the first container depot in Sri Lanka has been the largest transport operator for the last 5 years, with at least 100 trucks on the road at a given moment. It currently has the biggest bulk liquid transportation service in the country. In addition, they have pioneered services such as multi-country consolidation, third party logistics and transportation and installation of over-dimensional cargo.

Competitors, including the likes of John Keells and Hayleys, have come and gone. Yet, Aitken Spence Containers has endured. The company, which began as a container depot operation and later grew into a diversified company, credits its success to several factors which includes the ability to diversify at the right time. The fact that when the company started, capital investment was much less and that they now have the resources to service customers with little to no down-time, is a result of the dedication and teamwork of the staff.

Sources from within, give credit to all the dedicated staff, for they all play an important role. Employees are empowered and encouraged to discuss issues openly, via regular meetings and unit outings. An open-door environment is cultivated: fostering the feeling that work is less like an office and more like a second home. Indeed, the building exudes an air of confidence on entrance. For, far from the confused bustling about seen in other companies of this nature, staff are seen working quietly. Conversations observed are not carried out in hushed, hurried tones but, in poised, secure voices. This reflects in the company’s success, for it has grown over 100% in the last five years and is one of the most asset-rich companies in the group.

It is the teamwork seen here that convinces the observer, that the company’s plans for eventual regional expansion will meet with nothing less than resounding success.

Ace Magazine – Issue 7 – Vol 1


Tourism Boom

3 Dec

Aitken Spence Hotel Holdings, with a portfolio of 27 resorts and hotels, spanning Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and Oman and translating into a huge 2,300 room capacity, is currently Sri Lanka’s largest resort operator. The company’s 600 rooms, spread across 7 resorts also make it the largest international operator in the Maldives.

Already boasting of exotic properties such as Barefoot at Havelock, located on the “ best beach in Asia” as rated by the Time magazine, Heritance Kandalama Sri Lanka’s most awarded hotel and “an icon of modern hotel design” as rated by the Observer UK, Desert Nights Camp, Oman rated as “one of the top ten desert retreats in the world” by The National and the unique Heritance Tea Factory rated by The Independent UK as one of the ‘top five factory hotels’ in the world and “one of the best 100 places to stay in the world” by the Sunday Times UK, the chain is poised to further astound the tourism sector, both at home and abroad. Aitken Spence is unrivalled in product diversity; from the quaint colonial house-turned hotel in Bandarawela to the upscale Heritance Ahungalla, the group has something for everyone.
On the island, new plans include expansion in all of the cardinal directions, as well as further developments in India and possibly the Middle East. Whilst majority of the new properties will target the high end, Aitken Spence plans to broaden its portfolio, keeping the variety for which it has become renowned and cater to additional niche segments such as wellness and business travel. In addition to a new resort planned for the company’s 100-acre plot of land on the soft white sands of Trincomalee, plans for a high-end resort to be built in Ahungalla are also under way. The latter, will include an island on the Madhu river and be run under the Six Senses banner. In keeping with its reputation for diversity, Aitken Spence also aims to construct city hotels in Colombo and Jaffna. A sustainable tourism model, which Aitken Spence pioneered in Sri Lanka will be the key consideration in growth.
When questioned on how future plans for new target markets would affect the current portfolio and perception of Aitken Spence properties, Mr. Hapugoda quickly says, “We have always been confident of Sri Lanka and continued to spend on our properties during the low years; as such we are one company that is ready to take the upturn. Having said that, as tourism is due to boom, we have some of the best and most unique resorts and we can boldly target the high end, whilst continuing to have a presence in the volume market.” In post-war Sri Lanka, when the future of tourism is looking brighter than ever, Mr. Malin Hapugoda, Managing Director, Aitken Spence Hotel Managements, acknowledges that the true strength behind the award-winning Group is the team who continuously strives towards excellence in service. He encourages them to persist in their endeavours as he says, “There is no favouritism, everyone is rewarded on merit and in the company’s expansion plans, current staff will always be given preference for growth opportunities within the group, whether in Sri Lanka or abroad.”


Changing Lives, Helping Communities

29 Nov

“Considering the level at which I joined and where I am today, I am very happy and I can now easily support my family. The training we receive is on-the-job and the experience we receive is the best. Before the plant was started the Company promised the community many things and these have been successfully delivered.
So much has been done and the community is very happy”

These were the warm words of praise spoken by Mr Nimal Premarathne from Ace Power Embilipitiya. He joined at its inception in 2005 as a casual worker with the title of junior general helper. Through the years he has risen in ranks to the position of technician. This has been made possible through his dedication and love for the Company as well as the trust and confidence placed on employees by the Company. Ace Power Embilipitiya, a joint venture between Aitken Spence and German owned DEG, is an independent power producer for the CEB. Set in a considerably rural area, the idea of a power plant was not greeted enthusiastically by the community at first. This of course was natural, given the fact that it is generally the norm that power plants are noisy, disruptive and the people and area become industrialized.

This is where Ace Power Embilipitiya proved every negative thinker wrong! This power plant, set on 44 acres of marshy land, occupies only 10 of it for the plant purposes. In the 5 years since Aitken Spence took over its operations and management, not only the plant but the surrounding villages have developed in leaps and bounds. Community development projects are an ongoing process and are chosen based on the need and impact on the community. A most pressing need was that of drinking water. The plant, through the construction of 6 tanks, was able to meet this need to a great extent, benefiting around 3000-4000 families. Several other projects focused on the supply of electricity to the villages and on road development. All these projects, even when outsourced, gave priority to the local community in terms of jobs. Whilst these development projects have been a great strength to Community development projects are an ongoing process and are chosen based on the need and impact on the community. A most pressing need was that of drinking water. The plant, through the construction of 6 tanks, was able to meet this need to a great extent, benefiting around 3000-4000 families. Several other projects focused on the supply of electricity to the villages and on road development. All these projects, even when outsourced, gave priority to the local community in terms of jobs. Whilst these development projects have been a great strength to the community, what has had a bigger impact on their lives are the environmentally friendly practices brought about by the plant. The land area not utilised for the plant has been drastically changed to accommodate 10000-15000 plants, medicinal herbs, agricultural development projects and bee keeping projects.

The dramatic change from a barren land to the lush green area it is today is certainly a big achievement. Once again, it is with the community in mind that these changes have been instigated. The plant conducts advisory services (which include course programmes and training sessions) on farming, bee keeping, herbal plants as well as youth development programmes. It is clear that Ace Power Embilipitiya has gone above and beyond their call of duty to integrate themselves within the community, therefore leaving a green community footprint in the area.

K G Nimal Premarathne (left) and Amal Thushara

As Amal Thushara, another employee at the plant, who has worked there since its inception and has risen to the rank of plant assistant technician from his former general helper status, says – “A real change and a change for the better has taken place through the various services offered by the plant. Everyone is pleasantly surprised because as soon as they walk through the gates of the plant they can see the difference. The plant is open for viewing 3-4 times a week and this greatly benefits the school children too. Also, the plant and the Company helps the community no matter who or what they are. This goodwill and good reputation is beneficial to all of us who work at the plant as well. This plant is a plant with a difference”.

What better praise and accolades can a Company receive, than that of their longstanding employees and the community in which they operate?

Ace Magazine – Volume II – Issue 7

A Capacity To Endure

20 Apr

A discussion with Dr. Rohan Fernando, Director, Head of Business Development & Plantations, Aitken Spence PLC

Sustainability, the carbon footprint and carbon neutrality have become the “buzz words” of business today, but few truly understand the need or the multi-faceted significance of sustainability in today’s business climate. Dr. Rohan Fernando says that the Corporate Sustainability Team champions the need for sustainability in the current global context, adding that “Sustainability is not about doing good; it is about doing good business.”

Whilst most understand the environmental aspect of a sustainable business, many are unaware of the economic and social factors being focused on in a corporate sustainability strategy. In a drive to ensure the long term viability, profitability and integrity of business, the Corporate Sustainability Team in conjunction with the SBUs have taken it upon themselves to build on the strengths of each individual company, guiding the group on the path of corporate sustainability. The team is led by Mr. Ravi De Silva, whose vast experience and knowledge on the topic of sustainability, is consulted on sustainability strategizing and implementation.

Dr. Fernando says that sustainability in business makes the company more competitive, and, therefore, improves the bottom line. Globally, customers, investors, financing institutions, governments and interest groups are increasingly demanding greater levels of transparency in business conduct. Likewise, businesses which embrace corporate sustainability stand to gain with more loyal customers, enhanced business opportunities and mutually beneficial partnerships with key stakeholders. Hence, as a leading conglomerate with a dynamic global outlook it is natural that Aitken Spence builds on its heritage to aggressively pursue a group-wide sustainability strategy.

The diverse activities of the group pose a challenge in itself, for the nature of each company’s business dictates the aspect of sustainability it should adopt. Whilst certain companies, within the group such as Aitken Spence Hotels are able to champion sustainable strategies which have an environmental impact, other companies may decide to champion health and safety, governance, innovation, quality and human resources.

A deep-rooted belief that “As a leading corporate in Sri Lanka, with a global reach, it is our responsibility to maintain sustainable practices,” is one that must be both instilled and cultivated.  Each subsidiary has its own “sustainability representative,” who works in tandem with the Business Development unit to help inform and assist their colleagues in formulating an enduring and practical strategy for continuance, one that is customised to each entity’s separate needs.

The road to sustainability will be neither short, nor easy, but if travelled properly it will most certainly be a rewarding one for Aitken Spence.

Ace Magazine – 2010

The Edible Route

8 Apr

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