Toast among disseminators of Japanese electronics expertise
Executive Director of TOS Lanka Co. (Pvt) Ltd Merrick Gooneratne and
Factory Director Nobuyuki Tanaka.
(Pictures by Sumanachandra Ariyawanse
A specialist in electronics manufacturing services, TOS Lanka Co. (Pvt)
Ltd, a wholly Japanese - owned BoI enterprise, located in the Biyagama
Export Processing Zone, has braved all over the past 12 years and
continues vibrantly with its core business concerns.
In this interview, the company's Executive Director Merrick
Gooneratne and its Factory Director Nobuyuki Tanaka focus on how Sri
Lanka has gained by TOS Lanka's presence besides elaborating on other
areas of interest.
Q: How would you describe your enterprise to the public ?
Merrick Gooneratne: We are a Section 17 BoI enterprise, fully
Japanese owned, specializing in electronics manufacturing services,
entirely for the export market.
Q: What's the structure of your organisation in regard to
equity and ownership ?
Merrick Gooneratne: It is fully owned by a Japanese company
which has a history of about 30 years in manufacturing, located in Kyoto
and is a major sub contract supplier to renowned brand names in Japan,
in various electronics end uses.
Q: What are your main product lines ?
Merrick Gooneratne: Our focal activity is what you would call
surface mounting of printed circuit boards. It is a very hightech
product process which involves the assembly of printed circuit boards on
using high-speed chip mounters.
The product goes into various end uses because virtually every
electronic product needs printed circuit boards. So it goes into
telecommunications, automotives, bio-medical engineering - whatever you
name there is a PCB required.
Telecommunications is a major end use of printed circuit boards.
Because every telecommunication equipment needs a printed circuit board,
whether it be a small telephone or a mobile phone, or instrument or
whatever, at the higher end of service position, it requires a PCB.
Q: What's your strength with regard to employment ?
Merrick Gooneratne: With regard to employment we have around
240 employees at the moment but we should go up to about a thousand.
Q: Will one be right in assuming that you are a young company?
Merrick Gooneratne: Yes, we are into our tenth year of
commercial operations. What is significant is that this company was
launched in 1995 at the height of the war in this country.
In fact our BoI agreement was signed in the aftermath of the Central
Bank bombing. Despite the confusion in the country the President of the
company who is a Japanese gentleman, was undaunted; he was determined to
go ahead with the project.
He came on time, we signed the agreement. Our banker at that time was
ABN Amro and if you remember, they are located next to the Central Bank
and they were in shatters.
Despite all that the project took off. What is more, you can
understand his commitment to the country and the project because he has
just constructed the second factory, also at the height of the conflict.
Another interesting point is that our project was commissioned at the
time that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the Minister of Labour. He in
fact was the chief guest.
He supported us in various ways.
Q: Over the past 12 years, how has Sri Lanka benefited from
your enterprise ?
Merrick Gooneratne: Sri Lanka has benefited in two ways. One,
is through the introduction of a very high technology, specially in the
area of surface mounting.
I believe we are one of the few companies in the country
concentrating on this and this at a very high level of technology.
Secondly, the company operates a very high level human resources
development programme, where we send our employees in various
categories, at management level, supervisory and at operator level, for
extensive training in the facilities in Japan.
There they get exposed not only to the technology in Japan but also
to the lifestyle, the work ethic and culture of Japan.
They come back better human beings. Over the years I have trained
over 150 young men and women under this programme. We don't charge any
fee and after they come back we don't want them to work for long
periods. They are free to go at the end of it.
But most of them serve us for at least two or three years. In foreign
exchange earnings, the value-added percentage is about 25 percent, so we
generate a substantial amount of foreign exchange as well.
Q: How has the present President of Sri Lanka helped your
Merrick Gooneratne: In 1995 when we launched this HRD
programme in Japan it was under the initiative of his Excellency who
found us a counterpart in Japan which enabled us to facilitate the
training programme. He was associated with the initial stages of the
training as well because he assisted us with the various procedures at
Q: Mr. Tanaka, would you describe your experience of working
in Sri Lanka as beneficial in nature ?
Nobuyuki Tanaka:I have interacted with your workers when they
came for training to the holding company in Japan. We have continued the
interaction after they returned to Sri Lanka and resumed work here in
the factory. I find that they have a strong commitment to their work.
Secondly, they are very diligent in following instructions.
They will do as they are told.
Q: Is it official Japanese policy now to promote investment in
South Asia ?
Nobuyuki Tanaka: Because of the continuous escalation in
manufacturing costs and other inputs in Japan, the Japanese
manufacturers are on a track to relocate themselves overseas.
Their first choice upto now has been China. But now they are moving
towards Vietnam, which is an emerging destination for investment and of
late they are looking at India very seriously.
This has nothing to do with any official policy, it is a purely
commercial decision; a businessmen's decision to relocate themselves
initially in China, and from there looking at a better base in Vietnam
and from Vietnam at India, as a cost-effective base as well as the
potential offered by a huge domestic market. Cost and the potential of
marketing, these are the key factors.
Q: Could you give us details of any other major on-going
Merrick Gooneratne: We are a fully Japanese company but we
have had a successful interaction with a Norwegian company, through the
Sri Lanka - Norway Match-Making Programme executed by the Chamber of
We have met a Norwegian partner who is specializing in putting into
the Norwegian market a product which will facilitate the life of a
disabled or aged person. But this is not a component, it's a total
We are turning out this total product here and the Norwegian partner
buys it back in its entirety and has now successfully marketed the
product and the quality is in compliance with all the requirements of
that sophisticated market.
Secondly, the partner is now developing the programme into its second
stage by doing an R and D project with this company, supported by some
young graduates from the University of Moratuwa. And we are successfully
developing a second range of products for this Norwegian company.
So, internationally, it is a very interesting experience because you
have a partnership between Japan, Norway and Sri Lanka working on track.
This product enables the disabled and elderly to communicate with
their household utilities electronically.
It also helps them to communicate with any visitor coming to the gate
or any health institute that provides them facilities. And Sri Lankan
engineers are adding value to this product. I am very proud of the fact
that there are three young Lankan electronic engineers who are adding
value to this product locally.