He stresses that their core business is in advertising - Triad - and that whatever decisions and investments have been made as a company not as an individual. He says that Sri Lanka needs to recognise true entrepreneurs and value innovators. Well, is Dilith Jayaweera the mafia and the manipulator? This is his story.
Who is the God Father?
I am not aware of any God Father other than for Al Pacino in the movie God Father. While it amuses me to be tagged this way, it also gives me a wild aspiration as being recognised as the “Capi de tutti Capi”, which has its benefits and if not anyone else my nieces and nephews will be impressed.
First of all, I enjoy the whole idea of trying to make me a part of a mafia. If they liken me to a god father, it gives me some sense of satisfaction. The reason we named our organisation – the original company – Triad, was because when we looked up the meaning of Triad in the dictionary it said; a strong combination of three people or three things, coming together towards achieving a common objective. A further definition given in the Oxford Dictionary for triad is a Chinese secret organisation. In a general context around the world however, Triad actually means – the mafia. Even then, we felt that this name had attitude and spirit. The only sad thing is that it seems to have taken us almost 20 years to really acquire this title and recognition!
A while back, at the height of the Chillies Advertising Awards when Triad started winning ‘The Agency of the Year’ status year after year on three consecutive occasions, some decided to call us the Mafia and scammers. This time around, some have found a new route to tag us the same way. They must have their own reasons though for thinking so.
Could you talk about your involvement in the Colombo Stock Market?
As far as the stock market is concerned, I must tell you the whole story in order to give the full context. Triad was started in 1993 when we were still in the Law Faculty. Personally, I didn’t believe in following the conventional path of becoming a lawyer and I felt that we could do broader things to fulfill our aspirations.
This business was our first option as it did not require capital to start. Thereby we commenced Triad and positioned it as a “local agency”. That went against the accepted and widespread belief of that time, since almost all the local agencies went with multi-national tie-ups.
Being the local agency convinced our clients that we best understood the Sri Lankan consumer’s psyche and behaviour far better than any multinational company. We believe we have mastered the art of finding locally relevant human insights. This was our unique positioning which was channelled from the inception to build local brands. We came up with the motto “Sri Lanka Can” and on every occasion that we could express our collective philosophy, we did so by rallying together under the national flag. You would have noticed our team on the stages of Chillies Awards year after year. Our approach has always been national and patriotc. This gave us the edge to differentiate ourselves from others. Looking back almost 20 years later, we believe we have made a difference in the business of communication in Sri Lanka. Our recognition at creative awards locally and internationally stands testimony to this.
Our business model is to reinvest the money we earn without taking money out as dividends. All that we have earned we have reinvested in new ventures. In 1996, we began our backward integration by investing in an offset printing press. We bought a second hand Heidelberg grey cord printer from Premadasa printers and put it in the garage at our Claessen Place Triad office. That was our first subsidiary. From thereon we set up a new venture almost every year. A colour separation company, outdoor advertising company, commercial photography company and then a commercial film production company. These were all investments that we have made to strengthen our communication product.
At the same time in 2004/2005, due to our stringent financial discipline we managed to save some extra funds from handling the election campaign, “Rata Perata”. This we invested in a company called Asia Commerce. Today it is George Stuart Finance. It was first a leasing company, and the requirement for a leasing company was to have a capital of 75 million rupees. This was our first forward integration effort.
By 2010/2011 we had set up at least 21 subsidiaries. We had also experimented with certain ventures and then decided to do away with them as we found them to be unsuccessful. Article 14, which was our furniture designing arm producing wrought iron furniture and a café named Café Freedom located at the same place were both such unsuccessful ventures for varied reasons. But we were happy we attempted various initiatives as we believed in being value innovators.
Using creativity as a tool to innovate value for our clients is what we did. Compared to our competitors we tried to apply this theory to ourselves, in innovating value within our own company, to assure that our biggest asset – the Triad Team that they have long term benefits for their efforts. Just as one may decide to ask a horoscope reader or palm reader as to why they can’t read their own palm or horoscope, there may have been those who could have asked us why we don’t innovate value for ourselves, if we hadn’t done all what we have to innovate value using the tool that we know and have mastered– which is creativity. When we apply ourselves, we apply to something that Sri Lankans can appreciate, if they are willing to and are generous enough to think that way.
When Varuni, Ishini and I started the company, two of us were law students. I knew nothing about advertising. I came into the industry as a fresher. We learnt everything on the job. Today our printing press has six machines and a brand new Heidleberg. We have expanded each and every one of our businesses, but we have remained low key. Only after the war, did we seriously think of taking on greater tasks.
We felt Sri Lanka was ready for it. One of my colleagues and partners Sarva, had decided that we should invest in the stock market. I was not too keen on it at the time. Three or four months later I saw the gains and since I had ample time on my hands as all of our companies were running independently, decided to manage our portfolio with the view of creating value using non conventional thinking.
Then we put more and more money into it and gradually started trading in the Colombo Stock Market. When the money was not sufficient, we took a small margin facility, bought more and one fine day we realised that we had bought a considerable stake of a company in the process. In fact we were interested in buying stocks for trading but those quantities were too big for us to trade.
This share was called Reefcomber, which we later rebranded as Citrus. Then we had to look at a long term plan which we had to keep in mind. This is how we have carried out our expansion process. We never thought out and strategised. We didn’t go through lengthy financial proposals or plans, and feasibility studies as such. It was a gut feeling that gave us the go ahead.
As a company, today we are stepping into our 20th year. None of us have taken dividends from any of our companies. We have our salaries and our basic facilities just like any other company. All the money that we have saved we have reinvested. Regarding Citrus, when Dhammika Perera got Nimal Perera to sell it in the market, we realised that we couldn’t dispose of such a large quantity in the market. We decided to take it as a challenge and take over the management of the hotel and give it to professionals to run it, innovate value, rebrand and contribute creative thinking into the hospitality business. We added value from that perspective. That became our first acquisition into the leisure sector. We wanted to innovate within that sphere as well. We never thought of the stock market as a tool where you buy, sell and make money. We have always looked at it from a creative perspective.
Being simple people, we have never desired for big money. We are not people who spend extravagantly and like to live the so called “elitist’ life in Colombo. We are hard working people who enjoy doing what we do, creating value for our companies, the people within these companies and our country as a whole.