A dialogue touching the progress of 20 million Lankans
REACHING OUT: Dialog Telekom CEO Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya. Pictures by
MOBILE MARKET: Innovativeness, bold experimentation and an abiding
confidence in the Sri Lankan consumer; these factors have enabled Dialog
Telekom Ltd, Lanka's biggest telecom services provider, to remain
"forever young", vibrant and phenomenally expansive on the local
Dialog Telekom has played a key role in transforming the "cell
phone", which only 10 years ago was considered a luxury item, into a
handy product which is affordable, useable and available to millions of
Lankans, Director/Chief Executive Dialog Telekom Ltd, Dr. Hans
Wijayasuriya, tells the Daily News in this interview:
Q: The financial performance of Dialog Telekom over the past six
months indicates the thriving nature of your organisation. To what do
you attribute this success?
A: I think primarily Dialog has a history of 12 years and this
success has grown over a long period of time. It involves a strong
commitment to the consumer and a strong belief in Sri Lanka's consumer.
The belief that our market in Sri Lanka is an extremely strong one,
has great depth and volume, that by taking a product which was earlier a
luxury item ten years ago and converting it into something which is
affordable, useable, available to millions of people, the fundamental
confidence in the Sri Lanka consumer has been underlined; this factor
backed by strong human resources, a good team and a very strong investor
- these ingredients have brought about our successes.
Q: The provision of telecom services has become a highly competitive
enterprise in Sri Lanka. What has enabled Dialog Telekom to forge ahead
as a front-runner in this competitive field?
A: We started as number four in this industry in 1994 and our story
from then on has been dominantly characterised by competition; we have
benefited from competition.
This competitive environment enabled Dialog Telekom to emerge from
number four to number one and grow in space.
But again fundamental to that has been innovation and a strong
commitment to the paradigm that the Lankan consumer deserves and should
get the best technology.
Not second hand technology, but the best facilities that are
available around the world. Once again, strong faith that the Lankan
market has depth and that the consumer has the acumen to take on new
technology and backed by, of course, a sustained investment drive, in
spite of the war, the civil unrest and various uncertainties, our
company has been very steadfast in investing not only in the Western
Province but in all regions of the country, including the North and
East. So, I keep returning to that fundamental.
That as a business, we have got our fundamentals correct, that we
identify the real resource which is available to us, that is the 20
million Sri Lankans.
That was identified early, before competition was identified. We made
our investment in that resource and we made our investments in the right
technologies for that resource, and that helped us to break through
Q: As CEO, in which direction do you intend to mould your
A: Our organisation is a very dynamic one. We draw our talent from
all walks of life, all social strata and cultures. We have disciplines
ranging from advanced technology to marketing and sales and services
plus engineering skills and we have a strong role to play in social
development. I am proud to see productive use of all citizens of this
country, from all walks of life.
In terms of moulding an organisation, I would say I would like to
mould the organisation into doing something durable and sustainable for
this country, while delivering returns to our stake holders. The company
is doing well, giving good returns.
But most importantly we are re-investing. From a re-investment point
of view, we have a re-investment ratio well in excess of 100 percent.
And that is the philosophy which will keep the business going.
Q: Would you consider your increasing subscriber base as a pointer to
the robustness of the Lankan economy? Would you consider it an indice of
A: Yes, there is a cyclical relationship between development and
telecommunication penetration. Obviously, GDP growth and GDP growth rate
influences telecom penetration.
Likewise, there is a reverse impact where telecom penetration adds to
GDP. This has been seen in many countries in the region.
It is called the socio-economic dividend in corporate activity. Take
the example of a self-employed trader, or a craftsman or an electrician.
Due to the fact that he or she is contactable, he/she will get more
business, will be more productive, will have higher income, educate
their children etc. So there is a reverse cycle as well.
But overall what is undisputable is that mobile phone use in
particularly undeveloped areas of the country is contributing a very
significant social dividend, in terms of socio-economic development. The
fact that today there are four million mobile phones is also an
indication that the economy is robust; that at the lower ranges of the
market, consumers are commercially active.
There is certainly no consumer depression. The consumer is active,
forward-thinking and progressive.
So I think more businesses need to address that energy, structure
their production and services so that they are affordable, reachable,
and when a consumer latches on to new technology - productive technology
- that has a ripple effect up the economy.
A multiplier effect. So the consumer becomes active, places demands
on service providers, service providers develop more, they give back
more and the cycle develops.
Q: Would you consider the State as providing the necessary business
environment for the flourishing of enterprises such as yours?
A: No enterprise could flourish without a fundamentally strong
environment provided by the State and a fertile environment provided by
You could see that from the Dialog story which in 10 years has become
the largest market capitaliser on the Stock Exchange. Obviously, the
State fundamentals have been good.
The support from the Telecom Regulatory Commission, the support from
the BoI, the support from the various regulatory authorities and the
Government in general has been good.
I can give a few examples of how our industry has been helped in
terms of new technology, so that Sri Lanka has been always ahead of
South Asia. That comes from forward-thinking telecom regulation.
In terms of international telecommunications, even international
roamings, where international settlements were involved.
Even the physical regulators have been forward-thinking. To give you
an example, international roaming was facilitated in Sri Lanka. We are
far ahead not due to technology reasons but due to the policies of the
Q: Doesn't the conflict in the North-East worry you?
A: Of course, we would be much happier if there is peace. But Dialog
has invested consistently throughout the worst period. We have stuck to
the paradigm that if you are in a country, specially as communication
provider, then you are part of the community; you should enjoy with the
people in good times and in bad times you must help them to get out of
This is one of the paradigms on which we went into the North-East,
three weeks after the ceasefire. We thought this was an opportunity to
build bridges, to go in and provide services to the community. And we
To answer your question, yes, it is much better if there is peace.
Peace is always good news for everyone, at the human level and the
business level, but these are minor fluctuations in the environment. The
fundamentals don't change, the consumer is the prime consideration, we
need to serve the consumer.