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Concluding chapter of the Lalith de Mel autobiography achieving a main board place at Reckit and Colman

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Served on boards of 27 companies abroad and 11 in Sri Lanka

(Excerpted from the autobiography of Lalith de Mel)

Q: You have had a fascinating career. Tell me something about it?

A:“It was fascinating because I constantly moved to doing things that I had not done before. From an undergraduate to working in a petroleum company to working for a multinational, in personal care and pharmaceuticals, both of which were new to me. Then working in Portuguese in Brazil. Coping with being a managing director at 32. Then posted to working in England which was new experience. And finally, the daunting experience of working with the board of directors of a top 100 company in the UK.

If I reflect on how I survived successfully, I would say that it was by understanding the external emotional environment that affected me and then successfully responding and reacting to it. In other words, having good emotional intelligence.”

Q: What are your thoughts now when you look back in reflection?

A: “Reckitt & Colman was a job. You got fired if you did not perform and promoted if you did. What was achieved in profits, brandshare, acquisitions, etc. are not retained in the mind and have faded away. What remains in the mind are people. It was the people who made my job of earning a living a pleasant and happy experience. I still think warmly of those who helped me along on my corporate journey. They remain friends, and I shed a tear and say a prayer when one passes away. My great good fortune right through my journey is that I worked with very nice people. The exceptions were very, very few.”

Q: When you look back, how do you view your S ri Lankan experience after returning upon retirement from your roles in the UK?

: “I wanted to help both the State sector and the private sector by using my experience. I wanted to be a catalyst for change, where change was better for the organization. I worked for President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and for six different ministers in various roles in the State sector. Without exception they were all polite and nice people who appreciated my work. The senior Government servants were equally nice people and appreciated my contribution. It was a good experience and I have absolutely no regrets.”

Q: What do you mean by nice people?

A: “There are two parts to being nice. Being friendly and being appreciative of what one did. If I perceive both, I say they are nice people.”

Q: What was your experience with the private sector?

A: “In the same catalyst mode, creating better governance invariably meant making change. That often affected people due to transferring authority and decision-making from the individual to the board or its committees, and creating accountability. This could be a difficult experience and was a pleasant experience only if one worked with nice people. I was on the Delmege Board, a private company for many years; they, JKH and First Capital and Serendib Hotels all had very nice people and embraced change in the best interests of the organization. They put the organization before self”

Q. You did not mention Hemas, where you were on the Board for a long time?

A: “It was at times difficult and at the end not a very pleasant experience.”

Retirement

Q: You have been on the boards of 27 companies abroad and 11 companies in Sri Lanka; do you find yourself feeling restless at times and wanting to rush back to work again?

: “I have not felt any need to resort to the prescription of a mistress, a dog who loves you unconditionally, and the spirits that give you euphoria.

I had neglected my family for years. Whilst working in the UK I was traveling incessantly. When I started the new innings in Sri Lanka, it was a month in Sri Lanka and a month in the UK. I have missed so many birthdays and anniversaries and missed the grandchildren’s special days at school. I am now doing all of that, spending quality time with my wife, and slowly collecting my brownie points and enjoying it immensely.

It is a busy life in a gentle way. I enjoy racing and owning a leg in a racehorse for many years was fun. I play golf both in Sri Lanka and the UK. I enjoy a nice bottle of wine in the UK with my daughter and son-in-law, a wine connoisseur. I drank Petrus on my birthday and Sassicaia on his.

In Sri Lanka I enjoy my elder sister Charmaine’s special Sunday lunches. My younger sister Assunta is married to Derek Wijeyaratne, the Chairman of Rockland, who is a connoisseur of good spirits, so we have some excellent evenings together. I also have exceptional company in some of my old school and university mates when I am in Sri Lanka.

My regret is that I did not retire much earlier. My only concern is whether, when the bell is rung and I get to the other side, they will have a golf course and the wines and spirits will be as good. I guess they will!”

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