Merril Joseph Fernando’s incredible decades-long journey through the Ceylon Tea Industry where he unrelentingly sought to maximize the image of “pure Ceylon tea” as opposed to blends containing a small proportion of Ceylon tea, was launched at Dilmah’s Maligawatte facility where the success story began.
Fernando who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday and is just out of a spell of hospitalization could not be personally present at the event hosted by his two son, Malik and Dilhan, who’s names he combined to coin the brand name well known to tea drinkers the world over. But his well known face and image was widely projected in the auditorium where the event was held.
The book is presented on its cover as “The Story of Ceylon Teamaker Merril. J. Fernando, Disruptor. Teamaker. Servant.”
The over 400-page, lavishly produced volume is not quite a coffee table book in terms of dimension but is very similar though much richer in the substance of its content. Over 200 illustrations complement the text. The production locally by Printcare, a printing and packaging company in whose founding Fernando played a big role and has an ownership stake, is of impeccable quality.
The book which would have been very expensive to produce will be available for sale at Rs. 10,000 a copy. Clearly the inputs would have been close to that price or higher if all costs are factored. All proceeds will go to charitable projects of the MJF group. It’s a must read for all corporate leaders and budding entrepreneurs who would benefit from a role model.
The story-line is gripping and few punches are pulled. Fernando who made many friends and enemies along the way to creating the best know and fully Sri Lankan-owned brand is fond of often saying that “business is a matter of human service.” He has lived by this credo, allocating 15 percent of the profits of his company for charitable purposes.
His son, Dilhan, the CEO of the listed Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company PLC, overlooks the social responsibility side of the business with priority given to People, Planet and Profit in that order. The support that Dilmah has extended, particularly to members of the plantation worker community and to the environment is well known and both Fernando as well as his family and companies are proud of it.
Wednesday’s event was attended among others by Printcare Chairman, KR Ravindran, Anura Gunasekera, a tea planter who worked for 10 years with Merril Fernando post-retirement from the plantation sector, Himendra Ranaweera, Deputy Chairman of Dilmah who has long been Fernando’s lieutenant in the business and Malik and Dilhan Fernando all of whom spoke at the event.
Gunasekera’s writing skills are evident throughout the publication. He wrote the book from material provided by Fernando at several long interviews over a period of three years. He said that Fernando’s power of recall was incredible and the necessary documentation had been meticulously preserved over a very long period.
Ravindran who first met Merril Fernando at a Rotary event in Australia – Dilmah first made its name in Australia and New Zealand – and the other speakers drew on a wide range of anecdotes in the principal including one from Malik Fernando who said that the famed masseuse, Don Thomas, who massaged both Merril Fernando and Ranasinghe Premadasa, played a major role in conveying information from each other which enabled clearing the Malgawatte site accommodating much of Dilmah’s warehousing.
(A review of the book will be published next Sunday)