Santhiyagu Ceylon Co. was founded in January 2019 as a luxury tea brand that offers authentic Ceylon tea, by Manjitha De Silva who is currently the Founder and CEO of the company. Since then, it has expanded into many foreign markets through exports, as well as introducing its wide range of products to the local markets via island-wide retail and wholesale distributions. Currently, Santhiyagu Ceylon Co. plays a major role in the Sri Lankan commodities market by importing specialised products to Sri Lanka.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Manjitha for an exclusive interview to gain insight into his experiences and perspectives while delving into their unique story and learning from his wisdom. We are excited to share his insights with our audience.
1. Can you walk us through your personal and professional journey?
Glancing through my life journey, I pursued my school education at Royal College, Colombo. I served the college as a senior deputy head prefect and my college days were well spent as I engaged in many sports and extracurricular activities. I was appointed as the vice-captain of the college hockey team and chaired several clubs and societies. Later, I graduated from the University of London obtaining a BSc (Hons) in Banking and Finance and I’m currently navigating the Santhiyagu group as the Founder/CEO.
I was inspired to step into the world of business from a very young age by looking at my father, who is a successful businessman and a philanthropist. The exposure and advice of my parents laid a solid foundation to start my career journey.
SANTHIYAGU was founded in January 2019 as a luxury tea brand to cater authentic Ceylon tea for tourists visiting Sri Lanka from all around the world. During this time, I was just a 20 year old undergraduate. I had to build up a brand from scratch and develop products according to international standards to be competitive in the market. Taking up this challenge was not easy as I had to face many ups and downs throughout the initial stages. Today, I am proud to say that we have built up a business out of this brand by expanding into many foreign markets through exports and introducing our wide range of products to the local markets via island-wide retail and wholesale distributions. We also provide transportation, packaging, storage, warehousing facilities and many other services to third parties. Currently we play a major role in the Sri Lankan commodities market by importing specialised products to Sri Lanka.
2.Functioning as the Founder & CEO, elaborate on your ethos and principles channelled to further enhance the operations at Santhiyagu Ceylon Co.
I strongly believe that there are three main factors that can touch the hearts of people. Firstly, Quality of the product, this is the main factor I concentrate on when we manufacture our products. Secondly, Availability of the products, wherein our brand is reachable to the whole population at ease. Third being Affordability of products to each and every level of the society. Operating business activities adhering to the above principals have helped us come a long way in the food & beverage industry.
As stated in our mission, we as a company have taken the responsibility to uplift the living standards of people now and for generations to come, through maintaining ethical manufacturing practices and sustainable sales procedures. I always consider our customers as the most valuable asset of the company and I make sure my team understands this as well by conducting specialised training programs on customer relations & services.
In my opinion, honest and trustworthy employees are the key to drive a team towards set targets and achieve greater heights. I treat such employees as my own family and keep them cheered up and happy.
3. Sri Lanka is among its worst economic concussion. How has this altered your decision-making process at Santhiyagu Ceylon Co.?
I would say that the first 4 years of my business have been the most challenging years for the Sri Lankan economy so far. Starting from the Easter Sunday bomb attack in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 & 2021 and the economic crisis in 2022 up to date.
The worst effects for a business from these adverse events are the uncertainty and instability. Businesses are all about planning and predictions. But with the instability of the external environment it is very hard to drive a business towards growth. I’ve been focusing on 3 main traits within the business to survive these challenging times.
First is Resilience, it is the ability to successfully face challenges, to maintain psychological well-being, withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult experiences. Giving up was not an option for me since I’ve worked so hard to set up the business. So, holding on to it strategically was the best option. This motive was passed across all the stakeholders of our company.
The second trait is Confidence. Confidence in the end product, confidence in the process of survival and confidence in the future of the business are the key virtues I have mainly focused on developing within the company culture. I am personally confident in the products that we manufacture. This makes employees and stakeholders feel confident about the company’s process of survival and its future.
Adaptability is the third and most important trait. Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory states that, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one more adaptable to change.”
Adaptability is the key to success at these uncertain times. We made drastic changes to our business which included structural changes as well as directional changes since we had to adapt to the country’s frequent policy changes. We also diversified our portfolio further by taking up new challenges in new paths which made us less volatile as a group of businesses.
We cannot change the direction of the wind but we can hold on to the helm, be confident about the direction you are heading and change the direction of the sails to reach the ultimate destination.
4. What future plans do you possess for the upcoming years in Santhiyagu Ceylon Co.
Going global as an establishment is one of the main goals of our company. Even though we are involved in international trades, it’s a well-known fact that building up a multinational company is not an easy task.
In the past years we’ve been developing the ground work to lay a solid basement to our venture. In the coming years we are planning to expand our company within the country by strengthening our distribution networks, upgrading production and warehousing facilities as well as introducing advanced technologies into our operations.
We have diversified into many other industries apart from the food & beverage industry and we are targeting to minimise the market risks as well as increase our overall profits by reducing the costs within the group through diversification. Gradually we are developing Santhiyagu into a corporation with a well-diversified business portfolio actively operating in a number of industries.
5. As a young business personality, leave us with an inspiring piece of advice for the youth who are looking to step into the world of business.
In my opinion, it is a brave decision to step into business at a young age.
The reason is that when you get into business early in your life, you have more room for error. You can take many risks by trying new things and failing, try again without giving up until you succeed. This gives you the experience to deal with these problems when they come up later in life. You have ample time to recover from the failures and be stable later in your life by choosing what you love to do as a business.
Patience is the key to success, especially in the early stages of the business. The hardest part of the business is building up from scratch, and you won’t be achieving the targets as planned. Being patient and focusing on the sustainability of the business is the priority. We’ve seen most of the people give up as soon as they feel like they are falling behind and not achieving set targets. Especially when you look at most of the successful business personalities, one of the key qualities they had was patience. They have sacrificed years and years going through the same challenges and building up a business slowly and steadily.
Before starting any business, ask this simple question from yourself, “Am I ready to accept losses from my business?”
Any human being is ready to accept profits at any time but if you are to be a businessman you should be ready to tolerate losses more than the profits you’ve expected. Only that would differentiate you as a businessman from others.
As a conclusion, I would like to wish every start-up and existing business in Sri Lanka all the very best to overcome these difficult times and be successful in rebuilding our motherland into a better country with an advanced economy and high living standards.