Royal People

A dedication to those wonderful people who served Royal Primary School & Royal College, in Sri Lanka, since 1835, and, who will be remembered for their committment, sincerety and unselfishness.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Skanda signs off

A fitting tribute to a great sportsman and a truely great Business Leader, among the mushrooming "Businessmen" which we find very rare to come across or recognise nowadays here in Sri Lanka

Skanda signs off with a flourish

“The values that I learnt at my alma mater (Royal College) and on the playing field from the noble game of cricket held me in excellent stead throughout my career, particular in the eight years I spent as chairman”

By Sa’adi ThawfeeqThere comes a time when all good things must come to an end. At ‘Steuart House’ at Janadipathi Mawatha in the heart of Colombo Fort where lies Sri Lanka’s oldest business house, George Steuart and Company Ltd, its group chairman S Skandakumar finally brought the curtain down on what has been a highly successful and distinguished career when he bid adieu to the establishment he had served so faithfully for 34 years on March 31.

The message that ‘Skanda’, as he was popularly and affectionately known to all, leaves behind in his retirement is a true example for the younger generation to follow. Through sports, which is a great leveller Skanda has shown that one can attain the highest echelons in the field of industry and commerce.

Skandakumar was a cricketer, cricket administrator and group chairman of a leading company that had withstood the times.

“I consider it a privilege to have served a company so rich in history and tradition and an honour to have been it chairman since April 2000,” Skandakumar told ‘The Nation’. “The values that I learnt at my alma mater (Royal College) and on the playing field from the noble game of cricket held me in excellent stead throughout my career, particular in the eight years I spent in the chair.”

The chair Skandakumar explained had its own history. It was used by HRH the Duke of Gloucester on his visits to Sri Lanka as emissary of the King of England and was secured by the executives in the company’s centenary year in 1935 and gifted to the chairman at that time, Sir Thomas Villiers. It has remained in the board room since as the Chairman’s Chair.

Going into a little bit of history about the company, Skandakumar said the founders of the company James and George Steuart set up business in 1835 for the right reasons and the plantation industry which they pioneered is still the mainstay of Sri Lanka’s economy. Further he said, the Steuart brothers maintained a sterling reputation for honesty in trading and encouraged fair mindedness, tolerance and justice in every sphere of the company’s activities.

“These precious values are still very much the hallmarks of the culture of the company even today and have coincided happily with all that I learnt at Royal and on the cricket playing fields,” said Skandakumar.

Another factor Skandakumar attributed to the company’s longevity was that although the Steuart brothers founded the company they did not pass it down to their families. Instead they established a concept of succession through merit which inspired confidence and encouraged commitment.

“Consequently, interpersonal relationships have always been most cordial and the 34-year period I spent there has been a long and happy one,” he said.

Delving into the ups and downs of the company Skandakumar said: “As much as cricket has been a great leveller, in business too there have been ups and downs.” He cited the nationalization of plantations in 1975 and the Central Bank bomb blast in January 1996 which destroyed Steuart House and set back the entire group’s business with devastating consequences which the company had to go through.

“Yet as in the noble game, staying united and committed without compromising our values and standards helped the group to grow to a formidable diversified conglomerate today,” stated Skandakumar.

He recalled how he still sports a broken nose as a testimony to the horrific bomb blast. “When the bomb exploded I was in the board room on the eighth floor of Steuart House which is directly across the Central Bank. I fractured my nose from the impact and had a gash at the back of my head. As I emerged from the room bathed in blood the grandfather clock which stood outside since 1917 chimed eleven. It was a grim reminder that no matter what happens: ‘Time was not going to stand still’. I believe that God saved me for a purpose and I think that I have fulfilled that where George Steuarts is concerned,” said Skandakumar.

Born on January 21, 1948, Skanda received his early education at Royal Primary and thereafter at Royal College Colombo where he distinguished himself as an outstanding cricketer winning his colours in 1965 and being awarded the Best Performance prize at the annual Royal-Thomian encounter of 1966 in which year he was also a prefect. Thereafter he gained admission to the University of Colombo to read for a degree in science and graduated in 1970 offering double maths and chemistry. He continued to be involved in sports at the university too adding tennis and table tennis to his cricket and was adjudged the most outstanding sportsman in 1970.
Further laurels followed when he joined the Tamil Union and was selected to represent the Sri Lanka Cricket Board team in its annual Gopalan trophy encounter against Madras CA in 1970, an event which was considered on par with the highest level of competition played in Sri Lanka at the time. His aspirations of representing his country at cricket suffered a setback due to serious ill health in 1976 when he suffered a serious attack of hepatitis. Upon recovery Skandakumar associated himself with George Steuarts SC and assisted them to emerge champions in the Mercantile F, E and D divisions. He was also president of the sports club and captained Tamil Union in the Premier division from 1982-86. He was assistant secretary of Sri Lanka Cricket from 1982-88, secretary from 1988-91 and, vice-chairman and secretary of the first cricket interim committee from 1999-2000 during which period he was responsible for negotiating the return of Sri Lanka’s successful coach Dav Whatmore. He wa s also president of Tamil Union from 1998-2000.

Skandakumar joined George Steuarts as an executive in 1974 after serving as a management trainee for three years at Whittall Estates and Agencies Ltd. He made steady progress and in 1984 was invited to the board of George Steuarts and in 1997 elevated to the post of managing director. Three years later he became the company’s group chairman, a post he held till his retirement.

Skandakumar will spend his retirement fulfilling his other aspiration in life – working for the welfare of the underprivileged. The message he leaves behind is: “Continue to place loyalty to the institution above everything else. Remember that when you are loyal to the institution, you are automatically loyal to both your superiors and colleagues. If however, you place personal loyalty ahead of your loyalty to the institution, you only succeed in creating conflicts which are best avoided.”

This article first appeared in our Sunday paper The Nation on April 6, 2008.

Note: Skandakumar joined Royal Primary School in 1953, Royal College in 1959 and is an active member of the Royal College '59 Group. He lived down Castle Lane at Bambalapitiya and has since moved over to Frankfort Place, also in Bamba.


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