The Greatest Declaration of Leadership – Aelian Gunawardene, Founder and Managing Director of JAT Holdings Limited

The Founder and Managing Director of JAT Holdings Limited; Aelian Gunawardene, is the driving force of the renowned company. He has earned undeniable brand equity as a marketing professional by pioneering innovations while boosting JAT’s footprint both locally and internationally. Aelian has led JAT Holdings to be recognized as the first private company in Sri Lanka to receive Moody’s ICRA rating of ‘A+ (Stable)’ outlook for five years in a row. Aelian is a well-respected corporate leader in Sri Lanka, with over 27 years of leadership and strategic skills to bring to the Board. In 2017, he was honored with the title of “Entrepreneur of the Year” in Sri Lanka.

Being a successful entrepreneur entails much more than launching new businesses every day. It denotes a positive attitude towards business as well as the determination and grit required to succeed. Every entrepreneur, according to Aelian, must be passionate and industrious. They must have strong enthusiasm for their concept or ambition and be prepared to work smart and tirelessly to make it a reality, despite the hurdles and obstacles they may face. He goes on to say that you need a great product or concept that fills a market demand or gap. “Do not become a follower. Create something unique, believe in your product and yourself, and success will follow”, he stated. He goes onto emphasize the importance of having a positive mindset and a winning spirit to accept failures. There are no successful entrepreneurs who did not experience setbacks along the way. Aelian briefs that every entrepreneur must understand how to learn from their failures and mistakes and use those failures as stepping stones to prosperity.

Being a market leader entails constant pressure to maintain a high standard and continue to repeat success. Holding this position has numerous advantages that the more powerful companies use to maintain their dominance. When you set out to be a market leader, you will discover that being number one provides numerous benefits. As a market leader, Aelian intends to develop the company’s future by inaugurating an Initial Public Offering (IPO). While JAT Holdings does not require external funds at this time, he believes that listing the company in Sri Lanka could unlock significant potential. Aelian finds that doing so will not only improve their product portfolio but will also strengthen their credibility and serve as a platform for listing their regional companies in countries such as Bangladesh. One of the many projects Aelian hopes to implement once they list in Sri Lanka is the establishment of a manufacturing plant in Bangladesh, and later in Africa.

JAT Holdings currently exports from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh. By establishing a manufacturing plant there, the company will be able to go public in Bangladesh as well. To support their never-ending quest for new products and innovations, they will undoubtedly upgrade their R & D facility to a state-of-the-art Research Centre in Sri Lanka on par with the best R & D facilities in the world. Aelian also states that JAT Holdings aims to remain the market leader in the wood coating sector and hopes to further develop this sector through regular innovations and value proposals. As a reliable, efficient, and quality partner/provider, JAT Holdings allows the company to contribute to major development projects like Port City (e.g., CIFC), ITC, RITZ Carlton, and so on. Aelian has a strong conviction that Sri Lanka can rebuild its success in other countries, adding value and marketing to leading global brands – Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Kenya, Uganda, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Ghana.

When confronted with challenges, we can most importantly think positively, move beyond, learn and grow from them and be adaptable. When asked what the challenges are for JAT Holdings, Aelian responds that, as with any company operating in Sri Lanka, the Political, Economic, Sociocultural, Technological, and Legal environments (PESTEL) are the most significant challenges. JAT Holdings is constantly looking for ways to overcome these challenges to continue operating at peak efficiency, which is another motivating factor in their IPO journey as they plan to expand across South Asia. In terms of recent challenges, the import restrictions promulgated last year, as well as the rupee’s depreciation, have had an impact on their operations. However, their export operations have helped the company significantly alleviate these difficulties.

JAT Holdings’ greatest strength, according to Aelian, is its brand reputation and market equity. “We are confident that, virtually, any product we offer under the brand name will be accepted as one of superior quality, unparalleled consistency, backed up by exceptional customer service”, he stated. Moving on, the corporate’s strengths were put to the test in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks in April 2019. JAT Holdings continued to operate due to diversification efforts in Bangladesh and the Maldives, despite the uncertainty and dramatic local economic downturn. This led Aelian to believe that JAT’s results were not considerably affected by the tragic effect in 2019 in their strategic diversification efforts.

Furthermore, Aelian observes that by strengthening its financial strength, JAT is honorable to recognize that, despite the slow market conditions following a pandemic, it is one of the only Sri Lankan private entities to be ranked as an A + (Stable) by ICRA Lanka Limited, a Moody’s Group company, for five consecutive years. He considers its financial discipline, rapid decision-making, and strategic management to be key to ensuring the stability of the Group and supporting them in overcoming the pandemic. Aelian is proud to say that JAT Holdings is one of the few companies in Sri Lanka to have a positive net cash balance during this difficult period.

While most companies tried to minimize expenses by laying off employees and adopting wage cutbacks, JAT Holdings focused on providing services through its core capabilities. For background, immediately after the pandemic broke out, they were able to launch a new business vertical, the JAT Care brand of sanitizers and disinfection surface cleaners, which were generously supplied to front-line employees like the Army, Police, and several hospitals. In conclusion, Aelian claims that JAT Holdings’ resilience was due to their brand recognition, value, financial stability, authority, professionalism, and team effort, and he feels that this durability is a fundamental strength of their company. He encourages people to not make excuses, to take responsibility, to be grateful for what they have, to focus on their health, and to strive for perfection in whatever they do while remaining honorable.

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