Knowing when to seize the right opportunity can set the path ahead of you into a direction of favorable outcomes. Nandana Ekanayaka, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Siam City Cement Lanka, faced many such moments that led him towards making calculated decisions, all of which paved the way to the journey that he is on today.
Aiming to become an engineer as a stripling, Nandana had initially chosen to follow the field of mathematics. However, gaining influence from his elder brother – an accountant – and following his footsteps, Nandana made a switch to the commerce streamline. Holding the possession of an executive education background, Nandana pursued his higher studies at the London Business School and International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Switzerland. As a Fellow Chartered Accountant (FCA) of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka, Nandana is also a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a member of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPA), Australia.
Initiating his career in an audit firm that also provided him with the necessary training, Nandana eventually rose through the ranks of a Finance Manager, Chief Financial Officer, Finance Director and so forth. In due course, Nandana made a move towards the General Management field, thus acquiring the position of a General Manager at Ruhunu Cement.
Joining Holcim (Lanka) Ltd. in the year 1999, Nandana emphasizes on one of his calculated decision making moments. He recalled being asked to step back down to the CFO position as the company wanted an expat for a CEO. Knowing very well that working in a multinational company was a great opportunity in itself, Nandana did not oppose the request.
“As a policy at Holcim, to become a CEO you need to have international exposure”, Nandana explains. In order for him to obtain that exposure, Nandana was offered a position in Holcim (Vietnam) Ltd. He worked there for a decade as the CFO and acting CEO before returning back home in the year 2017 due to the fact that many country business units in the Asian region were sold off by the Holcim Group, including the Sri Lankan branch itself.
Under the new ownership, Nandana was offered a dual role in time. Not only was he initially assigned as the CEO of Siam City Cement Lanka; upon the stepping down of the former Chairman, Nandana was also appointed as Chairman of Siam City Cement Lanka in 2019. “It’s been quite a long career in the cement industry”, Nandana remarks.
Calling to mind his time in Vietnam as an emigrant, Nandana says, “As a country it’s amazing, especially being a communist country. Unless you go and live there, looking from a distance one would never understand”. He goes on to elaborate on how very well managed the country is with an unbelievable sense of development and growth. The high quality of life present in Vietnam has not only benefited him; his children too acquired great exposure in terms of education and people through the presence of diversity.
When asked about the ethos and attitude that aided Nandana in succeeding over the years as a leader in the industrious field, he accentuates the importance of being patient, resilient and innovative with an out of the box thinking mentality. Defining them as the key areas of achievements, he elucidates on how conducting businesses in a very unorthodox manner often leads to companies shutting down. “There are a lot of innovative solutions we found in order to do things without compromising the compliance or breaking laws of the country” he tells us, “Not being able to do that in such a manner leads to debt”.
Further highlighting the necessity of patience and resilience in a capital intensive industry, Nandana speaks of how investments often require long term periods to recover from. Such a lengthy time span comes with its own ups and downs amidst which being strong and never giving up is a cornerstone.
In the wake of all hardships the industry had faced during the civil-war, there came ahead a few fruitful years where growth was prominent at a very high rate. “Compared to the rest of the world, we were one of the fastest growing in terms of construction industry”, Nandana states. Not soon after, several other setbacks took place due to events such as the Easter Sunday Attack, Covid-19 and of course the latest of them all, the ongoing economic crisis. Accommodating alternative working procedures in order to adapt to challenging situations is crucial for the company to survive within such an industry. “We really cannot just stop and leave as we have millions of dollars’ worth of assets on the ground”, Nandana voices.
Although the impact of Covid-19 was interim, the economy had fluctuated prior to the industry gaining back its momentum. Giving us an insight on the impacts the industry has undergone due to the economic recession Sri Lanka is facing, Nandana explains how the cement consumption has dropped fifty percent compared to last year. “Normally within the country we used to have around seven tonnes of cement consumption per annum”, he says. With productions facilitating towards a larger mass, the biggest challenge lies in keeping an idle capacity as only one out of several production facilities are running.
Despite the country logistically not being in a position to export, the industry continues to manage and keep the plants going. “All the surrounding countries have cement therefore there is no space to export. While there are countries such as Maldives and Mauritius, it cannot compete with larger markets such as India, Pakistan, etc.”
Having received support from the parent company for the meantime, Nandana also focused his determination on building motivation amongst the employees in the course of such high inflation occurrences by providing them with extra allowances, transports, etc. “Compared to a normal situation, it’s a lot of energy and work. Everything needs to be managed carefully and tightly”, he states diplomatically.
As a regional organization that is present in six countries, Siam City Cement Lanka is known to follow a variety of multinational concepts including sustainable developments. “We have a road map and in that we have certain goals to achieve by 2030 in order to help the environment”, Nandana says. Depending on the manner of operations and the products manufactured, the cement industry is one that emits a lot of carbon dioxide. While the industry as a whole is far ahead of others in waste recycling, the extensive process requires a lot of technological investments that need to be made.
Most countries are moving towards green products – a blended product. However, the movement of such a product within Sri Lanka has been slow. Nandana takes a look back into the year 2017, when the market was ninety percent OPC, the most non-eco-friendly products, in spite of being one that fits all purposes. “Today, it is the opposite. We have ninety percent of the blended products with only a few traditional customers who make requests for the other ten percent of the products”, Nandana positively states. He is also looking forward to further contributing to the environment.
Possessing a high end laboratory with all the mandatory equipment in place, the company is able to conduct tests and trials for all new products, including contributions towards manufacturing more eco-friendly products. Nandana also mentions that the lab is by far used by researchers, the government, NBRO, etc. for manufacturing purposes.
Having contributed to multiple projects himself, Nandana obtained high equity with an eminent ranking as a major industry player in the country throughout his regime. He continues to pour his focus into the growth trajectory of Siam City Cement Lanka, thus shaping the construction industry as a whole.
Working hard is important, yes. However, working smart is paramount. Lending out a piece of advice to all upcoming leaders and entrepreneurs out there, Nandana advises all to be ambitious with an understanding towards one’s own capabilities and capacity. Trekking through a career magnification requires patience and the flexibility to grab opportunities with an open mind. “Be prepared to take a step back in order to understand what’s in front of you.”