Glowing tribute to a persevering entrepreneur, a great classmate and friend from P P Perera, a long-time professional associate of Graetian and Rubber Asia representative in Sri Lanka

On the 30th anniversary of the Rubber Asia magazine there is one person we in the rubber industry cannot forget. He is Graetian Gunawardhana, who brought immense benefits not only to the industry but also to the social network in Sri Lanka.
 As I sit in his compact yet comfortable office which is adorned with the numerous awards, trophies, certificates and photographs of a lifetime, he goes down memory lane and enlightens me with the details of his career since we left college around 50 years ago

Brave police officer

Graetian Gunawardhana is a product of Thurstan College in Colombo. He decided not to enter into the medical school but instead opted to get involved and be prepared for his future vision. What was in front of him was a vacancy in the then Royal Ceylon Air Force and he simply grabbed this opportunity in order to be a Jet Pilot.
 Although he went through rigorous training at Diyathalawa for 2 years and got involved in repairing engines, there was no vacancy for Jet Pilots. Thereafter, he was invited to join the Sri Lanka Police Force where he got the opportunity to play for the Sri Lanka Police Rugby Team. This was a challenging time for him in the police force.
 Around this time in 1970, he met Sriyani and later got married to her. However, they could not be together for long as he got a transfer to Baddegama Police Station and it was the time there was an insurrection in the country, which was called Che Guevara insurgency and he was in charge of a campaign to control it .
 During this period he became the Officer-in-Charge of the Baddegama Police Station and leading a Police team surrounded and recaptured the Elpitiya Police Station which had been set afire by the insurgents. For this act of bravery, he got a special promotion to the next rank with 7 increments added on.
 Subsequently, as his wife was expecting a baby he requested for a transfer to Colombo and he was transferred to the Transport Division and became the Officer in-Charge of this Dept. During the Non-Alliance Summit Conference, he was in charge of providing transport facilities for 76 Heads of State who came along with their entourage.
 He was well received by the higher ups and when he decided to resign in order to go for a lucrative job in the Middle East, they were reluctant to release him. The then IGP Ana Seneviratne asked about the salary that was offered in Saudi and when he mentioned it, the IGP jokingly remarked ‘can you also get a job for me’.
While he was in Saudi Arabia he was treated in the same level as the American counterparts and took over the assignment of an American who in fact later became his business partner in Sri Lanka.

Rising entrepreneur

After two years he returned to Sri Lanka and set up a factory for manufacturing gloves at the backyard of a house with only 10 people and ventured out visiting buyers and convincing them that he will be able to deliver goods if he was given an opportunity.
 The company called ‘Edmont’ from USA commenced giving him orders to produce rubber coated gloves and this was his stepping stone for the establishment of a gigantic business empire that is called Hands Group. Soon he gave employment to more than 500 people in that small location in Negombo and changed the operations to the present place at Seeduwa which is a 25 acre property facing the Katunayake – Colombo highway.
 He gave employment to 3,000 workers and became the sole supplier of gloves to Ansell Edmont. The company who bought Edmont started a facility in Sri Lanka as well. He produced varieties of gloves for Ansell over the last 25 years and he was the No. 1 supplier and ventured to produce dipped products. This company was called ‘Hands International (Pvt) Ltd’ and he formed another company named ‘Hands Dipping (Pvt) Ltd’ .
Subsequently Ansell showed their interest to buy this company and he could not resist the offer made by Ansell. He parted with his great enterprise which he had nurtured for the last 25 years along with all the workers and sold the business giving the premises on rent.
 During his period of leadership he was able to run this enterprise without any unions and there was no one who wanted a help from unions as he fulfilled all the requirements of his workers. They were very sad when they heard that he was going to move from the company without staying there anymore.

Laurels all the way

It’s laurels, laurels all the way for him. He was adjudged the Entrepreneur of the Year 1999 by the National Chamber of Exporters in Sri Lanka. During the year 2013/2014, he was adjudged the Asia Pacific Entrepreneur of the Year 2013. He has also won Presidential Awards for exports for many years as well as several Gold awards.
 I saw all those trophies adorned in front of him on the shelf. He was keen to display these achievements to me and said that all these were received due to the commitment of his fellow workers.
 He was not only a great leader in the industry but also provided leadership and facilitation by being the Chairman of Sri Lanka Exporters’ Association, National Chamber of Exporters and Sri Lanka -Taiwan Business Council and a Director of American Chamber of Commerce. He was also invited to serve for the Security Exchange Commission and the Insurance Board where he served for nearly for 6 years.
 He always supported the needy and was fond of assisting them even from the days of his Chairmanship of Hands Group when he helped to build 10 houses at Hikkaduwa during the Tsunami period and also completed several houses for his workers which were damaged in Negombo area.
 He has been very active in the Lions movement ever since he was elected unopposed as District Governor (306 B2) in 2005. During the year, he formed 20 new Clubs in Sri Lanka and a Club in another country, Maldives. He contested with 750 Governors in 200 countries and was selected as the ‘World’s Best Governor’ of the Lions Club International. He is also a recipient of Lions International’s highest honour of ‘The Ambassador of Goodwill’.
When he was the District Governor in the District 306 B 2, he set a record in fund raising. He spent his personal money in getting a Chinese Circus to Sri Lanka, which showed for nearly a month and collected nearly Rs. 100 million! He used this money to build a Home for Street Children in Ragama and still takes care of these children and grown-ups numbering 30.
 His greatest contribution to Thurstan College, our Alma Mater, was the donation of a swimming pool fully funded by him in the year 2000 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the school.

Ambitious plans

He is continuously in touch with the rubber industry attending various exhibitions and conferences. He has now ventured into the pharmaceutical industry by setting up a joint venture with a leading pharmaceutical company in Sri Lanka and an Indian public company.
 He plans to set up a sterile manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka for the first time with EU GMP standards, targeting the USA markets. He is also assisting his daughter and son-in-law in their intimate garment manufacturing facility in Sri Lanka.
 Hands Group is also involved in real estates and he has already built a hotel along with one of his friends and is planning to put up many hotels and apartments in other locations in Sri Lanka.
 This is the man who started from zero and treaded on a long journey through the rubber industry and brought it to higher levels while engaged in his social obligations and serving the Motherland
 He is proud of his three grandchildren, Shanel, Shenaya and Shenouk. They are waiting for their grandfather to give them the pride of Hands Group by getting involved in the rubber industry once again.
 As a classmate and close friend for sixty years and as a rubber man, I am proud of his achievements and wish Graetian good health and strength to continue to be a beacon for entrepreneurship.


Copyright by - Rubber Asia
Link Source - http://www.rubberasia.com/2016/07/09/graetian-gunawardhana-a-beacon-for-entrepreneurship/