Amidst working in his father’s business during the early part of the 1980’s, Vasudevan Subramanium possessed a dream of his own in starting up a business where he got to introduce and bring to life his ingenious thoughts. Proceeding to discuss his ideas with his immediate relatives, who encouraged him a great deal, Vasudevan began the trading of local steel products and opened Janatha Steels in the year 1986 as the Managing Partner with just three employees.
Due to the aperture of Sri Lanka’s economy at that period of time, Vasudevan recalls both the public and private sectors being actively involved in new construction projects such as the Low-cost housing projects that were initiated by the then Prime Minister, Hon. R. Premadasa, under Gam Udawa in 1987, the accelerated Mahaweli scheme, small and large-scale irrigation projects and hydro power plants, as well as general housing projects, all of which required supplies of hardware items. Thus, in the presence of such a circumstance, Vasudevan found it to be the perfect time to enter the field of hardware supply and cater to the rising demand. “Since then, there has been no turning back, and the business that I started has grown by leaps and bounds,” says Vasudevan. Having started off as a small-scale business, Janatha Steels now houses over seven hundred employees of all working levels.
Location plays a crucial role for every business when it comes to prospering. Janatha Steels is located in the commercial hub and heart of Colombo, in an area that is traditionally known for the trading of hardware items, thus making it easily accessible to customers. Vasudevan states that “customers are the most important factor in the growth of a business”.
Upon talking about the milestones that Janatha Steels has crossed in the last three and a half decades or so, Vasudevan lists down the important events and phases his company has achieved in chronological order. Starting off as a partnership company that traded with locally procured items, Janatha received its first imported hardware supplies from Singapore in 1988. Having acquired the company’s first warehouse two years later, they then started importing steel rods in 1994, followed by the purchase of more warehouses of over 150,000 sq ft in 1999. The business then embarked on manufacturing wire nails at its Ekala Factory in 2007 and also began importing tools in 2010.
As he continues to mention the many achievements, Vasudevan proudly talks about his son, Shayanthaan, formally entering the business as a partner in the year 2016. Subsequent to his arrival into the business, a strategic investment was made in acquiring Gamage Trading (Pvt) Ltd in order to manufacture round and square tubes at Matugama in 2018. Coming down to the last two years, 2020 and 2021, Janatha Steels started a total diversification program by beginning many new ventures in multiple fields like Janatha Plantation (Pvt) Ltd, Janatha Cement (Pvt) Ltd, Janatha Automobiles (Pvt) Ltd, Janatha Global Exports (Pvt) Ltd, Janatha Tyre Industries (Pvt) Ltd, Janatha Green Solutions (Pvt) Ltd, Hemka Pharma (Pvt) Ltd, and Taprobana Island (Pvt) Ltd. Being one of the most credible and pioneering hardware merchants in Sri Lanka, Janatha Steels continues to grow the business immensely and looks forward to creating many more significant milestones in the years to come.
Aiming for success requires a positive attitude and a mindset filled with components that help one reach greater heights and accomplish their targeted goals. For Vasudevan, the biggest such factor is honesty. “There are several different factors that I consider important on the path to success in any venture, whether business or personal. However, the most important factor, I believe, is honesty in whatever I do”, he shares. When it comes to aiming for success, Vasudevan stresses the importance of the concept of honesty as a must-have to reach the planned heights. “Honesty covers a broad spectrum of topics, from dealing with my customers, my employees, friends, family, and even myself.” Through the years of experience Vasudevan gained, he found the ability to achieve his goals by being honest above all else. To this day, he considers it to be the most laudable factor behind his success story.
It is no secret that as time passes, priorities can tend to shift and improve for the better, and for Vasudevan, it was no different. While his objective of exploring a variety of ways to develop the business and his continuity in aiming for success remains, he tells us about the priorities present in his early stage of career vs. now. Perceiving success differently in the beginning, he has witnessed the rise and the fall of many businesses over time and thus seeks to evaluate his own priorities by drawing on experience and knowledge.
“For example, I may say my priority now is creating happy, productive teams and a healthy work culture. In the beginning, my priorities may have been more centered on growth and earning money”, Vasudevan says. “However, with the growth that I have experienced and enjoyed, “presently I concentrate on the welfare and good living standards of those who have worked with me to achieve the position that my organization is in right now,” he continues.
When asked about the habits he follows in order to reach new heights, Vasudevan mentions his belief in passion as being the significant habit one needs in order to create the road to success. “I have a deep passion for what I am doing and I believe that I am successful because I chose to do what I love,” he says.
In order to be successful, Vasudevan feels that one must be adaptable and accessible. He not only welcomes his clients, bankers, and stakeholders, but he also encourages his employees to come to him with their ideas and concerns so that he may address them and find answers. Vasudevan is committed to his work and refuses to give up in the face of hardship. Instead, he pushes to prevail and attain his goals.“I always respond to circumstances with the ability to change course and act,” he says. “Being flexible allows us to respond to changes without being paralyzed with fear and uncertainty.”
Without a doubt, today’s corporate environment has become increasingly competitive. Vasudevan explains the four primary factors that distinguish Janatha Steels from their competition in the midst of it all. The first step is to teach personnel to treat customers with respect and courtesy, even if they lose their cool for unforeseen reasons. “The positive attitude of the staff has made the customers continue their loyalty with the company.”
The second element that he talks about is ensuring the quality of their goods is of high standard. “We procure items from long-standing and reputed suppliers,” he says. “Once a consumer purchases things from our firm, they will always return because they are confident in the quality of the products we offer”. In the third aspect, he describes the company’s obligation for replacing defective items that are sold, if any are sold. While client complaints are uncommon, Vasudevan guarantees that all issues are promptly addressed and resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction. Last but not least, each item is delivered promptly and without delay to consumers. “The customer’s orders are immediately attended to and delivered. Our sales team is in constant contact with the customers and attends to their priorities,” he states. As a result, based on such elements, Janatha Steels has gained the upper hand in reaching where it is now, notwithstanding the presence of any competition.
Janatha Steel prioritizes servicing people with a vision of being the leading supplier of hardware steel, supplies, tools, and equipment in the Sri Lankan hardware sector and a purpose of bringing quality products and services within reach of more people on the island. Vasudevan has remained loyal to himself and his business since the beginning of time, with unwavering passion and pure desire as he pursues his objectives and goals.
Sharing with us a principle quote by Herb Kelleher that Vasudevan stands by, he says
“Employees come first, followed by customers. And if you treat your employees right, your customers will come back, and that will make your business grow. Start with employees and the rest follows from that. “