Inside the entrepreneurial illuminati | Daily News


 

Inside the entrepreneurial illuminati

Kishu Gomes wants to make a difference in this country. He wants all 21 million Sri Lankans to understand the value he is creating for this country. Outstanding Personalities features Kishu Gomes, a business leader who makes bridges and lights up the hearts of men and women. He leads by example and instills self -belief.

That concept of following role models should be eradicated from the world, Gomes insists, for everyone has a lesson to offer. “I learn from beggars and people who sell vegetables in the market. Everyone has that which is inherent. There are things you cannot copy at all,” Gomes elaborates.

Q. What does it take to make a great leader? What does it take to make success?

A. You have to be able to understand people. A leader is someone who will work with people. So one fundamental need or a requirement for a leader to be able to be successful, is his or her ability to be able to understand people. While it sounds very simple, a lot of people get this wrong. When you go to provide the leadership to people, without really understanding them, things can go wrong.

Q. How old were you when you became a force to be reckoned within the business world?

A. I was known at the age of 19, when I was doing special events and sales promotions for Coca Cola. I joined Coca Cola at the age of 19 and in a few months time, I managed to make an impression through hard work and nothing else. And then that gave me the opportunity to head the Special Events and Sales Promotion Unit, which was to do with sponsorships and corporate communications at a very young age.

Of course today there are so many organizations but at that time you only had a handful of companies like Unilever, Coca Cola and Ceylon Tobacco. To be able to get to that level at a relatively young age was a big thing. So when you become the man for sponsorships especially working for a company like Coca Cola, you get to associate with all the top leaders in the country.

I remember even working with President Ranasinghe Premadasa in connection with Gam Udawa. He was a hands-on man. He used to know each and everyone who was involved in that operation. At that time I was a lovable character, very simple and could attract anyone’s attention. I had that kind of personality. So I was known. At that time although TV was there, it wasn’t big business. But I used to be in the papers literally every other day with top people such as sports ministers, other ministers and the President himself. Big cricketers like Muralidharan received best school boy cricketer of the year, through the program I sponsored for Coca Cola. So I still have photos taken and then there was Marvan Attapattu. Those big guys were all part of my society. So I was known.

My decision to leave Coke and join Caltex was a big move and it was not a rational decision I made. It was an emotional decision because I only looked at a couple of things. And my wife said – why don’t you give it a try? So it was a decision of that nature.

I became the CEO/ Managing Director at the age of 35 years to become the youngest to head two truly multinational operations in Sri Lanka.

Chevron is a company that operates in 180 countries in the world, and this company was headed by expatriates before me. So I was only 35 and they decided to try me in that position. That was the big turning point, but I have always had that respect, fame and recognition from the society I was a part of. Chevron is a multinational company based in the US and is one of the largest energy companies in the world. During good times that company makes over 20 billion US dollars.

Q. How did you build your empire Chevron Lubricants?

A. Chevron Lubricants PLC is a company in which public has 49 percent shareholdings. We are a publicly listed company. 59 percent is owned by Chevron Corporation US. We are into manufacturing and marketing of lubricants in Sri Lanka but we also send products to a few countries. We have an export model as well. Bangladesh and Maldives come under the purview of local operations. Apart from that we send products to a few other countries as well on and off.

But my role goes much beyond just the Sri Lankan operations, we have two companies. One is the company we talked about. Other than that, we have Chevron Ceylon Limited. I head both companies. Apart from that I have a leadership role to play for the entire Asian Pacific region. So I happen to be a leadership team member for the entire Asian Pacific region. I have another role within lubricants as an extended leadership team member.

I built the empire through good strategy and aggressive strategy execution and working with my capable people. I have always been very keen to get the best people from the market and I work with them and train them and coach and mentor them to get the best out of them. And then we pool in all the individual brilliance we build in people. That way you take the company forward.

Q. Who are the leaders you admire in history? Why do you admire them and what lessons have you learnt from them?

A. I learn from not only leaders. I learn from every single human being. I don’t believe in looking at successful people and just copying them. Just because someone is successful don’t think that you can be the same by copying that person or you can achieve the same level of success. The concept of following role models should be eradicated from the world. I learn from beggars and people who sell vegetables in the market. Everyone has that which is inherent. There are things you cannot copy at all. Every single individual has a mix of skills and talents. It is humanly impossible to copy. It is good to learn from successful people but not to copy them as an individual. Also learn from every single human being you interact with and learn from every situation. Be authentic, unique and create your own profile.

Q. How did your school influence your life? Did you display leadership qualities back then too?

A. I was the National Hurdles Champion and Colombo district hurdles champion for five consecutive years. I was a star even then. It gave me a lot of leadership skills. I received a lot of recognition for all my achievements. When you start enjoying such recognition, you get to a point where you cannot be without that feeling. And that is a feeling you want to keep maintaining. So you have to keep working very hard. You have to do things differently and you have to change and develop commitment and dedication. So these attributes I was able to develop in me, made me the man I am. Today I work for recognition and nothing else. And that is what I tell people. Because if you work for recognition, the rest will fall in place.

Q. What is your message to any young boy or girl?

A. Get your plan in place. Use your head more than your body. Mind before your body. Not body before your mind. It is all about getting the right strategy in place. And then supporting your strategy with your body which is the execution part of it. And that will give you the results you want. Most Sri Lankans, without spending enough time strategizing or brain storming or coming out with the right action plan, without having the right plan in place, just start executing. You will have an outcome but that outcome is not aligned with what you want to achieve. Because you have not got the plan in place.

Q. What do you count as your achievements? What are the milestones in your life?

A. Your success is measured through the value you create for your stakeholders. It is the value that you as an individual or as an organization being able to deliver to your stakeholders. It is not what you achieve for yourself. So that is what I see as being your delivery or your achievements. As a business, we have a business model in which it creates immense value to the country.

Unlike in other multinational organizations, it is only Sri Lankans who work here. I don’t have a single expatriate working here. Probably the only multinational company that does not have a single expatriate. And I am very pleased about it. When an expatriate CEO comes to Sri Lanka from outside, he or she will take anything between 5 million to 10 million rupees a month. And I don’t think that is helping the country’s economy.

We export housewives, carpenters, plummers, drivers and unskilled labor and each one will bring in just Rs. 40,000 – 50,000. So from that perspective as a multinational company employing only Sri Lankans, is a big thing for the country. Not only does it give economic value, it also sends the right signals to the rest of the business world to say you can do very well with just Sri Lankans.

As I told you before we are exporting products to countries. As and when we get orders we supply as well. We bring in foreign currency. We contribute over three billion rupees to the government coffers on an annual basis. We also create indirect employment. In every sense we create value to the country. We touch the hearts and minds of the fisher-folk and farmers. Sri Lanka Railways and Sri Lanka Transport Board are among our biggest customers.

Pictures by Thushara Fernando

 

 

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