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PEOPLE and EVENTS - Island Thu may 30 2002
A. Y. S. Gnanam — the living legend

I vividly remember the first encounter with Mr. Gnanam on a Monday evening in December 1976.

It was the final interview for 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.

He did it in very brief terms. "The first point you must remember is that the Finance Manager is a key person in this organisation whose primary responsibility is to run this organisation profitably, efficiently and in an orderly manner. The second point you should know is that our Finance Division is in a total mess right now, with everything in arrears, everything in a form of disorder, and everything in a mess".

I was quite surprised at this disclosure but kept silent.

He paused for a while and asked me "Do you still think that I should consider you for the Post?"

I was only 23 years of age then and having just qualified as a Chartered Accountant with absolutely no practical experience in Management. Quite naturally I was highly excited but was determined not to show the excitement, since I was equally pleased to try my hands at the great challenge.

"Mr. Gnanam, I am quite confident that I will be able to do it, provided I am given a total free hand. But could I accept it subject to a trial period of 3 months?" I asked him without blinking an eye lid.

He said: "If you have confidence in yourself, I don’t mind even giving you a trial period of 6 months". Thus the interview ended abruptly and I was thrilled when I was asked to come the next day to collect my Letter of Appointment.

The five years I spent at St. Anthony’s were the most exciting period of my life where I learnt not only the intricacies of financial management but also the challenges of entrepreneurship of the highest order.

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, not of words, for whom no excuse, whether looking good or otherwise, is acceptable.

He is not bothered about the amount of effort you put in to 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 has a clear vision as of anything he is involved in and also a well defined goal. He knows the way to achieve it, too. For him it is only a matter of organising his team to work towards the goal. He wants everyone to think positively, no matter how difficult the task is. Anyone could criticise the plan within such a framework.

Several top notched civil servants, government officials, political leaders and even heads of states used to consult him regularly on various matters about the country’s National Economy and Industrial Policy. country to greater heights.

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

Another important thing I found about Mr. Gnanam is that he is a person who would not get excited by any calamity. He is a firm believer in God and in himself for whom failures are always pillars of success. Even when his entire industrial complex was destroyed in 1983 at the ethnic disturbance, his enthusiasm did not suffer even an inch. He came back with sheer determination and rebuilt everything to a greater height.

Although he is known to be a great entreprenuer in all quarters, there is another aspect which he is not very much known of. That is the super qualities he possess as a great human being. He is a gentleman in the real sense of the word. However, since he does not allow his right hand know what his left hand is doing, most people do not know what a great gentleman he is. I know of several individuals who are being constantly helped by him for the sole reason that they have helped him at some stage or other of his life.

Let me wind up with something I myself experienced about 18 years back which goes to show what a great man he is.

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 in working for somebody and gave his blessings.

I was building up my industry and he very keenly followed it and was a great help at every stage of my progress.

Rohan B Fernando
(Past President — SMI Foundation).