Miss Chitrangani Herat Gunaratne (First row, third from right) leads CIM’s efforts in aiding members of the Sri Lankan Institute achieve excellence in marketing and branding efforts. (Photo credit: http://www.ft.lk)

The Columnist (TC): How are the Sri Lankan brands doing so far?

Chitrangani Herat Gunaratne (CHG): Extremely well. We have many local brands that have been developed over the years and are able to compete with the MNCs . For example, Hemas Group can be a strong competitor to USL while brands like Munchee and Maliban have become giants in the confectionery industry . Some of our brands like Dilmah has even gone global while the mobile industry too has strong local brands. I must say that our business leaders have been able to maintain their leadership in all the industries .

TC: The country is growing very fast; are entrepreneurs critical at this stage of development?

CHG: Of course, when a country is talking about a double-digit growth in GDP, it will also encourage entrepreneurship. We have been able to rid ourselves of a civil war which plagued the country for 3 decades and now, entrepreneurs are ready to take on opportunities which have opened up. The private sector has always played a prominent role in our country’s economic growth and we see many new entrepreneurs taking leadership roles .

TC: Governments have had a mixed record in nurturing successful entrepreneurs, what do you think?

CHG: Well, what entrepreneurs need at this moment is financial assistance and infrastructure development which the government is focusing on. I cannot see any differences in the way that they treat entrepreneurs as they are aware that they need the entrepreneurs to rebuild the country .

TC: Global powers like China have an interest in your country, how does that impact growth opportunities for local businessmen?

CHG: China is helping us with infrastructure development and training which will indirectly help the local businesses. In addition, the innovative products that are entering the market from China at reasonable prices offer opportunities to our local businesses not only for trading but also to develop their own products.

TC: Who is the poster child for entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka right now and why?

CHG: Well there are many and I can name a few like Mr Ranjit Page, Chairman of Cargills Group, Mr Ashok Pathirage, Chairman of Softlogic, Mr Dhammika Perera and so on. We can also proudly talk about the many female entrepreneurs such as Otara of Odel. Besides these entrepreneurs, there are many others that have risen.

TC: What are the challenges facing the Sri Lankan entrepreneur?

CHG: I would say the biggest challenge is the facilities that are available, such as transport systems, power etc. But as I mentioned earlier, the government is focusing on this now.

CIM runs various events to foster the growth of marketing in Sri Lanka (Photo Credit: http://cim.lk)

TC: As the chairman of CIM, what is the institute’s role in shaping the Sri Lankan economy?

CHG: Our main objective is to enhance the knowledge and skills of the marketers. The annual conference is one way of exposing our professionals to foreign expertise. Having said that, I must say that our local speakers add value to these sessions by helping to develop  middle management. Most of our members hold senior positions at local and foreign organisations in the country which shows the quality of their qualifications. When we nurture and develop private sector’s management, we indirectly help to build the country’s economy too .

TC: What makes the Sri Lankan entrepreneur different?

CHG: Sri Lankans, by nature, are a very warm hearted people and I believe our strength lies in that. In all leadership theories we talk about the human angle, which we have in abundance. Our entrepreneurs have the ability to empathise with their employees as well as customers, which makes them real leaders.

TC: Why is this a special time for Sri Lanka?

CHG: It is special because we are in a growth phase now. As I mentioned, we have just gone through three years of civil war and there are many foreign organisations who see the potential in Sri Lanka. One area of development is tourism. Sri Lanka can offer not only its beaches but also culture, heritage, wildlife as well as natural beauty from its mountains. Our people are thirsty for knowledge and the media has done a yeoman service in exposing them to the outside world. I feel that we are moving toward a great economic boom as the government is developing our infrastructure as well.

TC: Thank you, Miss Chitrangani. We wish you well in the coming years.

This interview was conducted for The Columnist, a newsletter by Consulus that offers ideas on business, design and world affairs. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Consulus.