Reluctant Lion rises to global presidency

“As a result of being a Lion I have learned a lot about teamwork and getting people to work by motivating them. In business, people tend to work because there is a power relationship. But these people are giving up time and working for free. You must develop human skills to be successful. You must show leadership rather than management. And these lessons have helped me a lot as a businessman,” he said.

By Samantha Whybrow
Forty years ago Mahendra Amarasuriya, Chairman, Commercial Bank, had to be co-erced into joining Galle’s Lions Club. But, within four years he was President of the club. A few years later he moved on to become District Governor. Continuing his rise through the National and International ranks, Amarasuriya has now been elected President of Lions International—the first Sri Lankan to hold this prestigious position.
“It took a lot of persuading to get me to join back then, and I basically did it to get people off my back!” he recalls. “For the first few years I was not very active. But then I was appointed Treasurer. The club finances were in a mess. So I got them sorted out and I gradually got more involved.”

Amarasuriya’s business acumen, eye for detail, and leadership potential were assets for a voluntary organization that needed to get its books straight while at the same time selling a product—in this case people giving freely of their time. Under his leadership the membership grew and by the time he became Director of Hayleys in 1977 the Galle Lions refused to let him go.

“Normally when a Lion moves, you transfer your membership to the place you move to. You cannot attend meetings if you live far away,” he chuckled. “But they wouldn’t let me go. So I am still a member of Galle!”
Listening to Amarasuriya discuss Lions Clubs’ membership details, fundraising initiatives, strategic plans, projects across the world, managing a $60 million dollar budget, and the challenges that lie ahead, it is as though you are listening to him speak of his own workforce. He speaks with the precision, drive, and vision that befits his business background. It is apparent that Lions is about to be bestowed with a dynamic and innovative leader who will use his business skills to the club’s benefit. “My theme over the year of my Presidency is ‘challenge to change’,” he said. “We need to change the way we are doing things, so we are more up to date. Take technology, for example. We need to use the internet and develop the idea of cyberclubs to make more productive use of people’s time and resources. We can even hold meetings via the internet!” he exclaimed.

Amarasuriya realises that in the current global context voluntary organisations must be competitive. They are competing for people’s time. To retain volunteers and attract new ones change is required. Amarasuriya knows that clubs will need to alter the way they traditionally do things to motivate members and make participation more widely available and attractive.
From all this it is clear that Amarasuriya’s business know-how has helped him as a Lion, but also that his Lion’s work has helped him as a businessman. “There is a great cross-over between the two,” he said.
“As a result of being a Lion I have learned a lot about teamwork and getting people to work by motivating them. In business, people tend to work because there is a power relationship. But these people are giving up time and working for free. You must develop human skills to be successful. You must show leadership rather than management. And these lessons have helped me a lot as a businessman,” he said.

Lions Club has clearly made significant achievements around the world—raising hundreds of millions of dollars to help the needy. In Sri Lanka, Lions Clubs have been integral in developing quality eye care services and supporting medical students through scholarship programmes.
However, despite this, Amarasuriya knows the clubs have the potential to be even more efficient, and provide more benefit to people the world over. Therefore, with his businessman’s cap pulled firmly on, he has asked every Governor across the world to develop a plan for how they will grow their club in the next few years. This includes setting targets to attract women and younger people who he says are essential for the long-term sustainability of the clubs.
Amarasuriya also hopes to use his position to promote Sri Lanka around the world. In his capacity as President it will be his task to travel the world to meet with Lions Clubs on nearly every continent. This provides him with an opportunity to showcase Sri Lanka’s assets. However, he notes that, unfortunately, the ongoing conflict in the country will make this job difficult.
Many will view this travel schedule as a bit regrettable for Sri Lanka as Amarasuriya will spend more time abroad than at home. He is well-known for his efforts in trying to motivate the business community to take action over the ongoing conflict that he sees as hurting everyone.

“As President of Lions International I cannot be pre-occupied with Sri Lankan issues,” he said. “Although I am Sri Lankan and care about what is going on, I have to shed that hat a little. This Presidency is a short position so I can only facilitate others within Sri Lanka to take action rather than be directly involved myself.”


State Bank of India to reduce govt. stake

(AFP) - State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender, said Thursday it may sell shares at the end of 2007 as part of a plan to dilute the government’s stake to 51 percent and raise capital to expand.
“State Bank of India needs to raise capital of 500 billion rupees (12.19 billion dollars) over the next three years, which includes a 200 billion rupees requirement this year,” bank chairman O.P. Gupta told reporters.
“The earliest we could look for a domestic share sale will be December,” Gupta said.
State Bank said the move to sell shares was made possible after the government said this month it would buy a controlling stake in the lender now held by the Reserve Bank of India of 59.73 percent, pending changes to federal law.
Over the past decade, State Bank has lost market share in stiff competition from private sector rivals such as ICICI Bank and the government wants to expand the capital of the state-owned lender in response.
Earlier this month, ICICI Bank raised 175 billion rupees (4.3 billion dollars) through a share sale to expand international and rural banking and offer more loans to consumers.
State Bank has more than 14,000 branches in India and 84 offices in 32 countries.


Colombo Dockyard gets more shipbuilding orders

 (LBO) – Colombo Dockyard Ltd. (CDL), Sri Lanka’s sole listed ship builder, may get new orders to build platform support vessels from India, following the timely delivery of an ongoing order for anchor handling tugs, officials said.
The yard successfully launched an anchor handling tug for Greatship (India) Limited recently.
The vessel tentatively named Greatship Anjali was the first of an order for two 80 tonne bollard pull capacity tugs. This had generated a repeat order for two more tugs pushing the value of the total order of four tugs to 65.5 million dollars.
Describing the order as the yard’s first breakthrough into the Indian market, Yapa said Greatship is having talks with CDL on giving orders for even more specialist vessels for the Indian offshore oil industry.


CMA organizes discussion on new Companies Act

Society of Certified Management Accountants of Sri Lanka (CMA) will be organizing a presentation and discussion on the New Company’s Act on July 12, 2007, from 4.00p.m. to 7.00 p.m. at Hotel Taj Samudra.
Presentations will be made by K. Kanag Isvaran, President’s Counsel and Chairman of the Company Law Advisory Commission on the ‘Introduction to the New Company’s Act.’
Nihal Sri Ameresekera, Chartered Accountant and Member of the Company Law Advisory Commission will speak on ‘Financial Aspects relating to the New Companies Act.’
A Panel consisting of Dr. Harsha Cabral, Presidents Counsel and Member Company Law Advisory Commission, Fred Puvimanasinghe, Senior Partner Fred Puvimanasinghe & Co, J. M. Swaminathan, Attorney at Law, Member Company Law Advisory Commission, D. K. Hettiarachchi, Registrar of Companies, Ranjan Casie Chetty, Financial Director, Aitken Spence & Co. Ltd. and Mahen Dayananda, Chairman, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce will lead the discussion.
The seminar will address matters of importance relating to the New Company’s Act from a commercial, financial and legal point of view.
The presentation and discussion is targeted at Company Directors, Finance Managers, Management Accountants, Managers, Executives, Legal, Accountancy and Finance staff of companies, Audit firms, Banks, BOI and Consultancy Companies.


LOLC on a major expansion drive

Rural and micro financing to become core business areas

By Indika Sakalasooriya
Lanka Orix Leasing Company (LOLC) on Tuesday announced that they are ready to lift their image from a specialized leasing facilitator to a Total Financial Solutions provider with a vast range of financial solutions to meet the needs of the company’s vast and growing clientele from all walks of life. The company has also revamped its brand logo to indicate their new pose.
“By being a Total Financial Solutions provider our objective is to become more customer oriented and provide them with the best of choices” said, Ishara Nanayakkara, Deputy Chairman, LOLC addressing a press conference in Colombo. He further added that their linkage with Japan’s Orix Corporation, the funding that they receive through multilateral agreements and their skilled employees will play a key role in LOLC becoming a Total Financial Solutions provider.
Kapila Jayawardena, formerly the Country Head and CEO of Citibank of Sri Lanka and Maldives and now the CEO and MD of LOLC said that by being a Total Financial Solution provider LOLC will be able to engage in cross selling of products through a synergy of all the companies under LOLC and find new avenues to develop the company’s businesses. He further added that the goal of LOLC is to become a “Financial Powerhouse.
To further its vision of being a Total Financial Solutions provider, LOLC has re¬aligned its business strategies to provide customer-centric solutions that will take it even further as a global financial services provider. The first step into the global arena was made with the acquisition of a 17.91% stake in PRASAC, a Cambodian Micro Finance institution earlier this year.
This investment also supports the company strategy of contributing to the economic development of the Rural and Micro financing sectors, the core business areas identified for future expansion. Apart from that, the Group is looking at selective expansion into other South East Asian and Far Eastern regions.
At the moment LOLC Group offers customers financial solutions in Working Capital, Fleet Management Services, Savings and Deposits, Insurance and Stock Broking through its extensive branch network countrywide. Non banking financial products on offer comprise debt factoring, stock brokering, finance, insurance brokering, and information technology, which cater to the expanding customer needs.


Sri Lanka exporters hit as shipping lines drop Colombo

(AFP) - Sri Lankan exporters are being squeezed as fewer container ships heading west call into Colombo, with global shipping lines moving more business to India and its booming economy.
Shipping costs have soared nearly 600 dollars for a standard 20-foot container (TEU) over the past six months as a result, compounding problems for Sri Lankan exporters who compete on price, innovation and time with their large northern neighbour.
“Some of the bigger shipping lines have changed their schedules over the past six months and the crisis is affecting exports of garments, tea, rubber and coir (coconut fibre),” said Sri Lanka Shipper’s Council chairman Jayanath Perera.
Clothing, which accounts for more than half of the island’s near seven billion dollar export trade, is especially feeling the heat as exporters face tight deadlines from buyers such as Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Nike and Marks and Spencer.
“The next alternative is to airlift shipments but that costs 75 percent more than sea freight. Air freight is not an option for a price sensitive industry like ours,” said shipping consultant Rohan Masakorale.
Masakorale, also a senior member of the clothing industry’s Joint Apparel Association Forum, said Colombo port is now fighting to retain its status as South Asia’s transshipment hub and to stem the flow of ships to India.
India has embarked on a major modernisation drive of its main ports, slashing charges to attract more international shippers to carry its booming cargo volumes.









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