|Thursday, 29 July 2004|
Noritake how it happened
I refer to the recent news item "Noritake Matale celebrates 30 anniversary".
As the founder Chairman of Noritake Sri Lanka, I am very happy to read of the tremendous progress of this organisation during a period of 30 years. Supplementing the Director/General Manager's story, I believe that the public may also be interested to how all this happened.
In October 1971, in my capacity as the Chairman of the Ceylon ceramics Corporation I visited Japan on the invitation of the Japanese Ceramics Institute. In Tokyo I learnt that Noritake was planning a joint venture in Australia.
When in Nagoya, I sought an interview with the chairman of Noritake the late Mr. Iwata where I proposed that Noritake should consider a joint venture in Sri Lanka with Ceylon Ceramics.
As expected the initial reaction was negative as this was a time that the UNF Government was taking over the estates and some private sector business under that now infamous Business Acquisition
I persisted that despite this legislation Noritake should consider my proposal and handed over details of the technical specifications of the main Ceramic raw materials that were locally available including kaolin, feldspar and quartz along with the labour and electricity rates.
I was asked to call back the next day for a further meeting. The meeting was headed by Noritake Director the late Takafumi Kurata (who went on to be Chairman) and a techno economic team. The meeting lasted five hours and I fielded several questions about Sri Lanka's ceramics industry and its political structure. I believed that Noritake was impressed with my performance and agreed to send Mr. Kurata to visit the country shortly.
As I had a good rapport with the late Mr. T. B. Subasinghe, I visited him at home that evening and broached the topic again. Mr. Subasinghe although he was the Secretary of the SLFP told me that being a Marxist at heart he was very worried about the "ugly Japanese image" that had sometimes prevailed in Thailand and Taiwan during this time.
I assured Mr. Subasinghe that these adverse comments that we sometimes read will not happen in a joint venture where the local party is strong. I persisted so much that Mr. Subasinghe reluctantly agreed to meet Mr. Kurata against the advice of his officials.
Mr. Kurata visited Sri Lanka in November and being impressed with the professionalism of the officials of the Ceramics Corporation and with Mr. Subasinghe, cabled Noritake to defer the Australian proposal and rush an evaluation team to Sri Lanka. The team headed by Mr. Koisho spent over a month in the island. In January 1972, Noritake submitted a joint venture proposal. By then, the writer had also moved to the Ministry as Additional Secretary Industries.
The Cabinet appointed a subcommittee of Dr. Ananda Meegama representing the Planning Ministry under Mrs. Bandaranaike, Dr. Hema de Zoysa from Dr. N. M. Perera's Ministry of Finance and the undersigned to report on the proposal.
The committee cleared the project in March, 1972 and as proposed by the writer a joint venture company Lanka Porcelain was established later that year. The writer along with the Japanese technical staff inspected several sites and ultimately selected an old Coconut Estate at Rattota.
The foundation stone was laid in October 1972 and commercial production started in middle of 1973. It may be pertinent to reveal that although the joint venture agreement between Ceramics and Noritake allowed for no exports during 1973 and progressively increasing to 50% in five years time, due to the unstinted enthusiasm given by the local staff and the Japanese engineers, we were able to export products manufactured at Rattota in the very first year.
The writer places on record the great service given by the General Manager Lanka Porcelain, Percy de Silva, Factory Manager Kongahage and technical staff like Waduge, Tissa Jayaweera (later the Chairman) and Ferdinands among others and of course the Japanese technical staff.
Lanka Porcelain Directors Dr. Meegama, L. W. de Silva, Wimal Perera and the late Ivor Patternott were of considerable assistance to the writer to make this project what it was. It is because of the success of the Noritake project that the writer was able to set up the second joint venture Wall tiles at Balangoda and the Noritake electronics factory at Pannala.
The writer is also aware that the Sri Lankan Government over the years, has cited the Rattota project as the shop window in convincing others to invest in the country. I will be failing in my duty if I do not mention the great support given to this project by Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike and Minister Subasinghe.
Dr. Anura Weereratne, Ex Secretary, Ministry of Industries, Chairman Ceramics Corporation, founder Chairman Lanka Porcelain and Lanka Wall tiles.
Produced by Lake House