Anil Wijesinghe : the uncanny knack of turning companies around

Enjoying its best ever financial year is 58-year old motor trading company, United Motors Lanka Ltd (UMLL). A company whose chief strength is its workforce of 360, it draws strength from the fact that it is noted for world class products and its well-established infrastructure.

However, according to its young Managing Director, D. Anil Wijesinghe (43), the company’s greatest asset is its people. A person who believes that people are important, Wijesinghe has rewritten the old aphorism “You can take a horse to the water but you cannot make it drink” to “You can take a horse to the water and make it thirsty”.

What does he mean by that? He believes that one should improve one’s workforce. “The right people are an asset, but the wrong people are a liability”, according to him.

Human Resource Management is vital, said Wijesinghe who has organised many seminars and workshops to develop the people under him. With a strong record at Diesel and Motor Engineering Company (DIMO) and Gestetner, where he turned things around, he has the uncanny knack of turning companies around and getting the best out of people and also resurrecting struggling companies.

Challenge

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How did this happen? After 15 years at DIMO, Wijesinghe left and joined a struggling company (Gestetner). Many of his friends told him that he was mad to leave a company like DIMO for a ‘dead’ company like Gestetner, but he was looking for a challenge. And a challenge it was.

“The DIMO Managing Director tried everything possible to keep me back, but the challenge of reviving a dead company made me change jobs. I had to win the people over and build team work. I strongly believe that every human being has hidden potential within him/her and that this has to be tapped.

We, as managers, have to motivate them by training and developing their potential. We have to reward and award them when they perform well. The moment you develop people, you move out; that is what I did at DIMO and Gestetner. “Another thing is learning to retain people. Most Lankan employers have a ‘Mudalali’ concept in that they just want a job done and do not care for their employees and then the employee leaves or goes abroad,” lamented Wijesinghe.

He believes in recruiting and hiring professional marketeers and has many promotional plans and strategies, using his creativity and imagination, to provide the best possible parts for UMLL customers.

Role model

Wijesinghe attributes his success to his master, Dr. G.S. Jayasundera, who was his role model or guru.

Social responsibility

UMLL donated a house to the Sri Lanka Navy recently. Wijesinghe said that as a corporate body, UMLL has a social responsibility and since we, as a nation, have depended on the Armed Forces, it is up to us to give something back to them. In another gesture of goodwill, United Motors honoured naval heros at the Colombo Hilton at a ceremony where Chairman Mahendra Amarasuriya handed over a donation towards the construction of a house to Ms Pearl Sandagiri, President of the Sri Lanka Navy, Seva Vanitha Unit.

The company had earlier donated a three million rupee MRI scanner.

Team work

Wijesinghe is a man who does not work alone, but affirms that team work is important. The UMLL team comprising technicians, accountants, sales personnel, front and back office staff, managers and directors, is closely knit and completely “united”. The company represents flagship motor vehicle brands in Sri Lanka. “The luxurious Mitsubishi Galant, Verada, Magna and Montero and the ‘workhorses’, Canter trucks and Rosa buses comprise its product range,” he said.

Four new Mitsubishi models were launched this year, a record for any year. Another ‘best’ is that those purchasing Mitsubishi parts automatically become members of the Mitsubishi Motors Club for the first year and enjoy membership benefits. Speaking on UMLL’s vision to be the best company in Sri Lanka through diversification while maintaining leadership position in the transport industry, Wijesinghe said that they are 25 per cent there. “We must not rest on our laurels as there is another 75 per cent of the corporate ladder to climb.”

His mission is to “delight and make lifelong relationships with our customers by providing high quality products, services and transport solutions using state-of-the-art technology, and developing a team which is committed to excellence with the highest level of integrity, through a corporate culture that encourages participative management to create a socially responsible corporate entity, while ensuring optimum returns to shareholders”.

Customer care

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“Customers are our business. When I joined two years ago, there was a rather unhealthy culture where customers had to come to us for their needs. Now we cater to their needs by going out to them and giving them a complete package. Our employees are trained not just to sell a product, but to cater to customers’ needs and find lasting solutions to their problems if possible. It is almost like doctoring their vehicles.”

“Our people are our most valuable asset,” emphasised Wijesinghe. “Our management style will encourage employee involvement and a positive work attitude. Our principals and suppliers are essential to our business. The difference is in building a company that is involved in the transportation business rather than in the business of selling vehicles.”

Wijesinghe said that the basic ingredient of success is to market a product, irrespective of what the product actually is.

Education

Having studied at St. Thomas Prep School, Kollupitiya and St. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia, Wijesinghe passed his Advanced Levels and went on to study at the Chartered Secretaries and Administrators Institute at Jawatte where he obtained administrative skills. He honed his business acumen, studying for an MBA. He has also followed many seminars, conferences and workshops at senior managerial level.

Financial discipline

Wijesinghe, hailing from Nugegoda, believes in achieving the objectives of the company Board. He represents a company that, for the last five years, has won the award for the Best Corporate Report and Accounts for ‘Group companies upto five subsidiaries’ at the annual reports competition conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka.

This reflects the management’s continued commitment towards maintaining high standards of financial discipline and good governance.

UMLL’s workshop complex is spread over seven acres at Orugodawatte. Apart from its spare parts outlets at Hyde Park and Orugodawatte, the company has also opened branches in Panchikawatte, Nugegoda, Kurunegala, Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya.

During the financial year just concluded, United Motors reached unprecedented heights by achieving a turnover of Rs 2.7 billion, an increase of 73.5 per cent over last year. Of this increase, 93.2 per cent was from vehicle sales, which recorded a 105 per cent growth over last year.

Family

His father was the Assistant Secretary at the Ministry of Labour, an International Labour Organisation Consultant, and former Director of the Foreign Employment Bureau while his mother was a lecturer. He has a brother and sister.

 

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