A. Y. S. Gnanam, a legend for true “Entrepreneurship”

Mr. A.Y.S. Gnanam, 84, the head of Express Newspapers, Tokyo Cement, etc. died in Singapore on Jan 2 after a brief illness.

Mr. Gnanam started his business career selling scrap iron and built the multi-billion rupee St. Anthony’s Industries Group (Pvt.) Ltd.

The Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) said the passing away of A.Y.S. Gnanam, the doyen of the Tamil press in Sri Lanka created an irreparable loss to the newspaper industry as a whole and the Tamil language media in particular.

“As Chairman of Express Newspapers Ltd., publishers of the Veerakesari newspaper, Mr.Gnanam has had a long involvement with the media industry, providing a much needed voice for the Tamil language readers,” the SLPI said in a statement.

Following is a tribute By Rohan B. Fernando, MD – Starline Enterprises

I vividly remember the first encounter with Mr. Gnanam on a Monday evening in December 1976. It was the final interview for the post of Group Finance Manager at St. Anthony’s Group. Having gone into all the possible personal information about myself in detail in a very friendly atmosphere, he got on to describe the job.

The impression he gave me was that its going to be the world’s most difficult job and that I need to have a lot of courage, stamina and the ability to do hard work, if I am to do it successfully. When I did not express excitement, he was highly impressed and he offered me the job.

The five years I spent at St. Anthony’s were the most exiting period of my life, where I learnt not only the intricacies of Financial Management, but also the challenges of entrepreneurship of the highest order. It was a life time experience in deed! Soon I realized that my survival at the new job will depend solely on whether I deliver the goods or not. Mr. Gnanam is a man of deeds and not of words, for whom no excuse, whether looking good or otherwise is acceptable.

He was not bothered about the amount of effort you put into a job, but about the results it brings in. You cannot fudge anything to him, since he knows his job from A to Z in detail. He had an excellent knowledge of every field connected with industry and business, whether it was Accounting, Finance, Costing, Engineering, Marketing or any other. Neither an employee nor any other person could easily take him for a ride because of his wide knowledge of every connected subject.

He had a clear vision of anything he was involved in and also a well defined goal. He knew the way to achieve it too. For him, it was only a matter of organizing his team to work towards the goal. He wanted everyone to think positively, no matter how difficult the task is. Anyone could criticize the plan within such a framework. He was prepared to listen and amend the plan. However, once a decision was reached, everyone alike should ensure that it is implemented to achieve the desired result.

He is a man who has walked with kings without losing the common touch. Several top notch Civil Servants, government officials, political leaders including those with very big names and even Heads of States used to consult him regularly on the country’s National economy and industrial policy. He was quite outspoken and had a clear vision about what is to be done to develop this country to greater heights.

He was well respected even by foreign business associates with whom he had business dealings. I remember meeting the CEO of Sanyo Corporation of Japan when he visited Sri Lanka several years back, who told me that Mr. Gnanam always receives VVIP treatment when he visits his office in Japan. They were highly appreciative of his in-depth knowledge of industry and his integrity.

Mr. Gnanam is a person who would not get excited by any calamity. He was a firm believer in God and in himself for whom failures were always pillars of success. Even when his entire industrial complex was destroyed in 1983, his enthusiasm did not suffer even an inch. He came back with sheer determination and rebuilt everything to a greater height.

Although he was known to be a great entrepreneur, there was another aspect which was not common knowledge. That is the super quality he possessed as a great human being. I know of several individuals who were being constantly helped by him, for the sole reason that they have helped him at some stage or other of his life.

I left my job at St. Anthony’s after a stint of five years to start something of my own. Although he was not happy when I first told him of my decision to leave the job, on second thoughts, he told me that I will do better in an industry of my own than working for somebody and finally gave his blessings.

I was just building up my industry and he very keenly followed the progress I made. Once when I told him of my plans to get into a new field of business, he told me that he has some extra machinery which would be of interest to me. When I told him that I do not have the means to purchase them outright, but would arrange for a bank loan to purchase them, he not only asked me to take them and pay whenever I can, but also offered them at an unbelievably very low price.

He was simply expressing his appreciation for something he got from me some years back. This must have been just another one of the several thousands of such deeds he has performed in sheer humanity.

The greatest thing about the man was not in the reflection of the particular deed itself, but in the fact that he could not have even remembered that he has done a thing like that in the past. He never allowed his right hand to know what his left hand was doing!

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