The Life Cycle of an Entrepreneur: The Art of Diversification – Dinuk Hettiarachchi

Dinuk Hettiarachchi is a gentleman who wears many hats. He is the Chairman and Co-Founder of the 3DH International Group, the Managing Partner at Nihal Hettiarachchi & Company – Chartered Accountants (NH & Co.), a Board Member at HVA Foods PLC, and a member and past Chairman of the Chamber of Young Lankan Entrepreneurs (COYLE).

A past pupil of St. Joseph’s College – Colombo 10 and Gateway International School, Dinuk dreamt of becoming an Aeronautical Engineer. However, due to the lack of job opportunities in the field of Aeronautical Engineering at the time, Dinuk chose to follow in his father Nihal’s footsteps and earned his qualifications as a Chartered Accountant. Having completed his education, he joined Edirisinghe & Company for article training, and subsequently completed his training at NH & Co., an accounting and auditing firm, founded by his father in 1985. At NH & Co., Dinuk’s passion for IT and innovation drove him to modernize and digitize many of the firm’s processes, which up until then had been conducted manually. Today, NH & Co. is the largest local accounting and auditing firm, and is also one of the pioneers when it comes to using technology in accounting and audit firms.

“In 2014, 3 of my close friends and I initiated a new venture – the 3DH International Group, which is a group of companies diversified throughout industries such as Oil and Gas, IT, Advertising and Marketing, International Trade, Travel and Tourism, Insurance, Power and Energy, Real Estate, BPO, and Aviation.”

Speaking of the role models in his life, Dinuk listed his father, “Who has taught me many valuable lessons, primarily, the importance of integrity, to be honest and stand by my word, and to respect the people around me and earn their respect in return by working hard.” And secondly, Richard Branson. “I admire his entrepreneurial spirit. I have always wanted to try new things and Richard Branson is a man who built a world-famous conglomerate – the Virgin Group – from scratch and has driven its expansion throughout various industries. I also admire the manner in which he maintains his focus and continues innovating in order to keep up with the changes of time.”

“Success is not permanent”, responded Dinuk, when questioned about the most valuable lesson he has learned throughout his career journey. “The life of an entrepreneur is a cycle. So, it’s important to stay grounded in times of success and not let it go to your head. The more balanced you are, the better your chance at longevity.”

Expressing his opinion on what makes an entrepreneur, Dinuk stated, “The spirit of an entrepreneur cannot be acquired, rather it is something that has to come from within. Some say that the entrepreneurial spirit is something that one is born with. But even if you are born with it, you need to learn and acquire certain skills in order to harness and develop your entrepreneurial spirit. Just because you have the passion to be an entrepreneur does not mean you can dispense with a sound and structured education. Even today, though we are currently running our own successful businesses, my colleagues and I still attend educational seminars and sessions, read informative books and articles, and try to learn from others in order to better ourselves. Always keep learning. That is what makes a good entrepreneur, being able to learn and apply the lessons you’ve learned. You also need to have the perseverance to keep moving forward no matter what happens. As I said before, an entrepreneur’s life is a cycle made up of good times and bad. So, you need to have the drive to be grounded in the good times and motivated during the bad times.”

On the topic of the development of entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka, Dinuk explained, “The best way to develop entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka is to begin at the school level. We have some extremely successful entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka who will make fantastic role models to aspiring youngsters. But if students don’t learn about them, then they have no way of learning from them. There are plenty of examples of businesses that have collapsed following the passing of their respective founders, due to the unstructured model of the business. This is where the formal and structured education of an entrepreneur comes into play. Though passion and drive will help you start and run a business, you need a certain set of skills and knowledge to ensure that your venture lasts the distance. So, what Sri Lanka needs to do first and foremost is introduce entrepreneurship into the school curriculum, and encourage students to aspire to be entrepreneurs. Another way of developing entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka is for the government or the banks to find a stable way of financially supporting up and coming entrepreneurs. Because sometimes people who want to start businesses do not do so due to the lack of necessary funds, which is all wrong. If you take a look at some of the greatest businesses all over the world, they started despite the lack of money. Companies like Microsoft and Apple began in a garage. However, though you don’t need money to start a business, you need someone to help you along the way. So, we need to have the government and various organizations, like COYLE of which I was the Chairman, to put in more effort to make sure that aspiring entrepreneurs receive the support they require.”

“As I mentioned before, the 3DH International Group came into being in November 2014, due to the efforts of myself and 3 of my closest friends, whom I have known since Grade 1. We started small and built our group over the course of the last 5+ years. Today, we have branches in Singapore and Dubai as well. Our motto ‘One Family, One Goal’ was inspired by our friendship, which spans over 35 years. Our parents are friends with each other, as are our wives, and today, our children play together much in the same way we did so many years ago. So, we’re one big family, and we wanted to create and encourage that kind of culture in our group as well. We want our employees to feel like they’re a part of a family, working towards a common goal – the success of the business. Despite the current difficulties brought on by COVID-19, we have not reduced anyone’s salary, nor has anybody been laid off. We have assured our employees that we will take care of their interests at least for the next 2 months. Going forward of course, we will have to see how things turn out. But for now, we are one big happy family”, replied Dinuk when asked what the inspiration behind the group’s motto was.

According to Dinuk, the 3 primary tips to leading a successful conglomerate are – “First, when diversifying into various industries, make sure that you move into a sector that has a good growth potential. It’s pointless to try and move into an industry where there is no potential for you to eventually find a spot among the top 3. Because if you’re not among the top 3 of a particular sector, you’re not going to get enough results. So, if you want to move into a particular industry, don’t diversify for the sake of doing it. Analyze the sector and its potential to grow, and your potential within it. Second, be fair by your customers. Be honest and make sure that your customer service is of the highest standard. Because in a diversified group, if one sector does badly it will affect the entire group. Third, your employees need to be managed well. You need to find the right people to work in the right divisions.”

As the Managing Partner of NH & Co., Dinuk has made significant contributions to his father’s company. “When I first joined NH & Co. just after completing my studies, the company was mainly run on manual processes. So, my main contribution is digitizing many of these processes and introducing IT into the company, which has led to major advantages over the years. At 68, my father is a part of an older generation in comparison to many of our staff who are of a younger generation. So, I serve as the bridge between the generations, and it is something I put a lot of effort into. Looking into the future of the organization is another responsibility I take most seriously. We are currently a leading player in the local accountancy and auditing sector, but we need to maintain our status in the future as well. Recently we acquired another audit firm Wijeratne & Co., which is a third generation all audit firm. So, these are such things I get involved in, in order to take our business into the future”, said Dinuk.

Dinuk is a firm believer in social responsibility. As such, he has been involved in various projects and committees at his alma mater, St. Joseph’s College, and currently serves as the Treasurer of the school’s Sports Council. He also plays a significant role in church activities at both the parish and archdiocese level. He is a trustee of the St. Joseph Vaz Trust and a member of the finance committee of the Archdiocese of Colombo.

“Giving back to society is an important aspect of my life. In terms of my profession, I try to do a lot of lecturing. I used to conduct weekend classes for students and was a regular lecturer at JMC. However, due to prevailing time constraints, I cannot do regular lecturers anymore, but I serve as a guest lecturer on various topics at seminars and other educational gatherings.”

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