National Level Decision Makers
03 / 1994
Patrick Amarasinghe could be a role model of how to cock a snook at the establishment and succeed by your own efforts. He started characteristically with only US$5 in his pocket. His first workshop was in his own backyard doing woodwork as his hobby. He chucked up his job doing accounts in a leading newspaper office and pursued his natural bent creating and exporting furniture from chemically treated Rubberwood.
His woodplex business is now the largest exporter of knockdown units which are reassembled in U.S, Australia and UK. to reach this though he had to hang on to his dream with bulldog tenacity. When he got a chance to go to the U.S mainly through assistance from his personal friends, he found he had no practical knowledge of marketing or market survey backup.
He struggled hard to fill some of the blanks, and come back with a wealth of practical experience in business management. He learnt the tricks of the most successful businessmen in America who typify the rags to riches story.
The only trouble as he admits ruefully, is that American business techniques cannot be implemented here because of the determined obstacles to progress created by our bureaucracy. Everything from bank loans to provision of electricity are resisted.
Patrick found his market overseas because he could overcome the barriers. This is not true of most small scale entrepreneurs here especially those from the rural outbacks with no knowledge of business English. They find most doors closedto them. So Patrick has dedicated himself to helping the small businessmen to surmount or at least avoid some of the barricades put in his way.
It was to help them that he founded the National Export Association (NEA)to focus the problems of the small and medium entrepreneur. This organisation has won several incentives for the small businessmen, including tax holidays and better credit facilities. As President he has great clout here and abroad, and now officialdom has to accept him and his recommendations. What irks him is that most of the financial bureaucrats have no practical experience for the advice and opposition they dole out, but learn their expertise secondhand at management courses. You can do everything in this country according to the guidelines of state business promoters but the problem starts when you begin to practice. Everybody is there to nab you and the smallest detail can trip you up. Now Patrick has positions in more than 10 Chambers of Commerce (he is President of the Federal Chamber of Commerce)and has won 4 national export awards for his company in 4 successive years.
In his own company Woodplex he has made it a point to take dropouts and recognize talent without formal training. He has been a dedicated service to those who need a chance.
At the same time he hits out at labour which tries to queer his own pitch by sloppiness and lack of professional commitment. They have to be rigidly trained in responsibility professional obligation and above all emphasizes there is no substitute for hard work.
As Alternate Chairman in IRED’s development agency, PRDA he helps with advice, follow-up support in accessing finance, markets, and designing new implementations, having learnt it all the hard way. He reiterates the necessity to remain competitive by constantly updating your plans.
If I summed up his philosophy it would be "solve, don’t create problems. Try to help less advantaged fellowmen to help themselves". It is a perfect lifestyle for one whose kotto is to try to make somebody happy everyday.
The UNIDO training manual, the first of its kind in asia, models its training on a practical study of his business experiences and how he handled problems. It should help trainers and new business alike.
IRED Asie (Development Support Service) - 562/3 Nawala Road - Rajagiriya - Sri Lanka Tel : 94 1 695 481 - Fax : 94 1 - 688 368