REDIRECTING LANKAN-NESS IN INTERNATIONAL LANDS! – CLUB SECRETARY AND CEO AT CITY UNIVERSITY CLUB LONDON, HASITA SENANAYAKE FIH

Articulating Sri Lankan roots through actions and decisions, Hasita Senanayake FIH, the Club Secretary and CEO at City University Club London, outlines the ins and outs of his inspiring narrative.

Hasita, born back in the year 1961, was schooled in St. Joseph’s College, following the footsteps of his Father and his two brothers. Hasita sat his Ordinary Level examination at the mere age of 14, unlike others who usually sit the O/L’s in the age of 16. Hasita’s Father, a doctor and his Mother, his constant pillars of guidance, have always supported and trusted Hasita at every step of his life. In 1976, Hasita travelled to England with his Mother, resided with his sister and was schooled in Portsmouth. After his Advanced Levels, he made his way to London, where he engaged in a Business Studies course followed by a Hotel Management course.

Hasita found a low paying job which he took in stride, “My first job at the age of 18, was working 7pm to 5am for 6 days a week and I got paid £44 in 1979- in a wimpy hamburger bar with a first shift of slicing onions!” After the completion of his studies, he was fortunate enough to find a job at the Ritz Hotel, as a Revenue Controller. Further progressing into life, he had a chance encounter with the CEO of Trafalgar House Hotels, “I have a job I need you to do at the Stafford Hotel. We need a Food and Beverage controller.” Hasita was one of the lucky few who had an opportunity to knock on his door, as the saying goes. “I was responsible for setting up the F&B systems and designing their bills and organizing a huge wine cellar too,” said Hasita. His journey then led him to Crest Hotels and then Taj Hotels in London. By the late 80s as the Food and Beverage Manager of the Café Royal, he highlights how they managed to secure their first Michelin star for the Grill Room.

In 1993, Hasita married Supema in Sri Lanka. Later that year he received an offer to visit South Africa for an interview which he accepted for his interest in exploring nature, “Went there for the fun of it and to see a few wild animals exclusive to Africa, but after 4 days I was offered job.” Hasita then travelled back to South Africa to train a team of 20 or so F&B controllers for the Sun City Hotel Complex. In the year 1994 he lost both his wife’s younger brother in July and his own Mother in December. Being constantly active with the Sri Lankan cricket team, No one from Sri Lanka could convey the news of his Mother’s passing. Fortunately, someone had the idea to reach out to the Sri Lankan cricket team in South Africa, with whom Hasita was at that time. “Arjuna was the person who conveyed to me of my Mother’s passing”, he states.

Hasita made his way back to London in 1995 and joined the Hurlingham Club as the Financial Controller. There was a new GM and found that he was thrust right into the middle of a volatile environment, which he took up as a challenge. “I joined the Hurlingham Club as the Financial Controller, with a new GM only to realize there had been 3 GMs 4 FCs at the Club in the last 4 years some of them have had nervous breakdowns! Soon I realized why this was, 2 months after joining the new stock takers produced a Food GP of 35% and Liquor GP of 40%, bringing home our task ahead when the GP should be at least 70% plus the accounts were 20K in the red at the end of 4 months into the year!!! Soon we got to work, I took on a very hands-on
approach with GM managing the Club Committees. I managed the operation and ended the year making a profit for the first time in 5 years from the catering side,” said Hasita while retelling how he faced and overcame the challenges in his career and what shaped him to be the individual he is today.

Hasita welcomed his first child Shinali in 1995 and a son Suraen in 1998 whom he lost in 2018 to Leukaemia, after a very hard fought and long battle.

As someone who is passionate about cricket, he was fortunate enough to be there with the Sri Lankan cricket team for the World Cup final in Lahore. “My real passion for so many years was SL cricket, having supported them very closely from their first tour of England. It resulted in me being with the SL team for the World Cup final in Lahore sharing the room with Hashan and Kumar, the highlight was winning and holding the Cup with Arjuna,” Hasita said reminiscing the golden days of the past. From 1992 onwards Hasita has been for the finals and closely associated with the cricket team and supported them. “Recently I was in Karachi lending support to the SL women’s team and saw them at the Commonwealth Games.”

By 1998 he was approached with an offer to join the Carlton Club as the Accountant. “During my time at the Club I introduced new systems, computerized the whole Club a challenge in Grade 2* listed building. After many years of trying managed to persuade the Committee to let me apply to get the civil license so we can hold weddings at the Club and utilize the fantastic premises during the weekend since the Club was only a Monday Friday operation,” Then in 2012 I managed to persuade the Greek Olympic Committee to have their Greek House at the Carlton Club which a huge bonus since the Club is closed during August for staff holidays. He was able to make new changes and exceed the performance of the club. In the year 2006, Hasita started up a new event for the first time known as ‘SL curry events’ where he brought in 02 Chefs from Sri Lanka to prepare food for the members which ended up being the most popular club event and continued doing so until he left in 2016. “Since 2010, Harry Jayawardena has helped in my quest to promote SL by sending the Chefs over so that I can continue to promote the country. I am most grateful indeed for his generosity extended to me,” said Hasita Thankfully. The Club had helped tremendously in collecting funds for the needy in SL, “The Club also collected a huge sum after the Tsunami and I facilitated, 12 fully equipped fishing boats to be delivered to Kookilai. After the floods in Anuradhapura money was collected to build several homes for the families affected.” As well as collecting funds for the Autism project in Kandy. During his tenure of 18 years at the Carlton Club, he had the privilege to of meeting some VIPs like “Late Queen Mother, Lady Thatcher as well as several British PMs and Heads of State from overseas.”

Hasita joined the City University Club (CUC) in 2017, a smaller Club based in the City of London which was established in 1895. He then had to face a huge challenge not long after he joined the club, which Hasita took in stride as he always does. The landlord was reluctant to renew the lease despite the club functioning in the same location for there for 112 years. Hasita had to take up the mantle of responsibility, making sure that they find a new location for the club and shifted in a short span of time without hindering the operations. He did succeed in bringing favourable changes to the club, “During my time I have successfully merged the CUC with the Lloyds Club, increased the membership, and taken the Club to calmer waters through the COVID mayhem.” Hasita managed to get another club based in the City to share their premises which was lucrative to the club as their shift from the previous location to the current one came at a high cost.

However, Hasita also made sure to maintain the SL curry event, up and running along with other projects to make sure that the essence of Sri Lanka is shared with the world and bring opportunities to other Sri Lankans too. “My latest project is to bring catering personnel over to London, have managed to secure a job for a Chef de Partie at a Club. I hope this will be the start of a long line of opportunities for people from SL. With a bit of luck, my next venture will be successfully opening a top-class Sri Lankan restaurant in Dubai with a friend of mine who has a very successful business there.” Hasita is a Lankan through and through with a passion of seeing brand Sri Lanka excel in the world and bring pride and recognition to the country.

Hasita adds a genuine statement from his heart, “The sense of being a Sri Lankan, runs through my veins. Even after 40+ years of living in the UK and also getting the chance of acquiring a British passport in 1977, I still chose to have only my Sri Lankan passport. I am very proud of my roots as well as the basic foundation I absorbed while I was in SL and I will come back and contribute whatever I can, just like my sister did going back after home living 46 years in the UK and USA”.

On a concluding note, Hasita shares some words of wisdom with the audience. “Information is power, there is never too much info. It’s a question of what you do with it.” The learning never stops couldn’t have been said, any better. “There are always 3 sides to a story, your story, my story, and the true story,” this seems to be a key takeaway from his experience. Planning ahead is another virtue that Hasita believe would be an attribute of people who face challenges and come out on the top. “Always treat others the way you like to be treated,” said Hasita reiterating the importance of coexistence and co-dependency.

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