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Appreciation: Rohan Hapugalle By Firoze Sameer:
Sunday Island 13.01.2002: p13
After a long illness contracted on a visit to distant Peru in South America in recent months,
Rohan N Hapugalle passed away in his home at Maradana on 03.01.02.
Had he lived, he'd have celebrated his 65th b'day on 22nd May.
Immediately after the landslide victory of JR Jayewardene's UNP government in July-77,
came Hapugalle's appointment as chairman of Sri Lanka State Trading (General) Corporation,
or STC, presently Lanka General Trading Co., Ltd. A splendid stint of over 5-years at STC,
he resigned from that exalted office on 07 Feb-83, the very day I joined as an accountant,
having faced him earlier with trepidation at a pleasant but intense interview, and later on
moving up to become company secretary. Very much senior to our 61-Group at Royal College,
Colombo, Hapugalle hailed from the Class of 48.
Hapugalle was synonymous with STC, and his contribution is unparalleled in its 31-year history.
He had the knack to transform the psyche of the office peon to the general manager. He made
some significant changes, thawing STC from a rigid monopoly of trade quotas to a flexible and
dynamic business entity, as prevalent in the private sector. He saw STC survive against formidable
and fierce private sector competition, and emerge as a major trading organization engaged in the
importation of top-flight technical products spread over an islandwide distribution network via a
decentralized system of sales representation. Such sound systems at STC were the hallmarks of Hapugalle.
The light blue-tiled storied STC head office building, abutting the panoramic Beira lake teeming
with black-headed ibis, egrets, pelicans and crows foraging in its pristine waters and foliage,
amidst the precincts of the azure-roofed Gangaaramaya Seemaamaalakaya against a white-stuccoed
dagoba, serving as a hallowed backdrop surrounded by steady traffic, stands as a monumental
landmark on this prime land along the rich trade road of Nawam Mawatha: a valuable contribution
made with STC funds by Hapugalle.
Trade & Shipping minister, Lalith Athulathmudali's vision in providing the public with a cheap
but improvised television became a reality with Hapugalle importing a consignment from Tokyo
in 1979. History was made when General color TV sets 12", 14" and 20" were sold by STC at
Rs 1,625, Rs 4,975 and Rs 8,150! STC exported a fair number to the State Trading
Organization in Male on 14.09.79. In similar fashion, Hapugalle made deep inroads into the
transport industry, procuring Honda-185TNR motor cycles, low-pricing them and disposing them
like hotcakes, forcing local agents to drop their prices. Import duty withdrawal on bicycles in
July-79 saw STC importing standard type RMI push bicycles from India, forcing market prices
to take a drastic downturn. Hapugalle helped the transport problem by supplying 50,000-Nos
push bicycles on tender to CTB, 15,000-Nos to Government Stores and flooded the market,
stabilizing prices. Such was Hapugalle's business acumen.
He saw that rigid government tender procedures were modified to suit the times, while all
imports from recognized and reputed foreign firms were established on agency basis to ensure
a continual flow of trade. The spate of agencies Hapugalle established in his golden era at STC
was legion: Boge shockabsorbers, Boosey & Hawke musical instruments, Canon photocopiers,
Crocodile mammoties, Daito office supplies, Everest helmets, Forte and ORWO color film,
General TV, Lion office equipment, Madico solar control film, Pitney Bowes marking systems,
Plessey telephone and intercom networks, Tixo office products, Twyford bathroom suites,
UTP welding electrodes, Yokohama tyres and tubes; the list is long and laudable. He established
retail salespoints at Mt Lavinia supermaket complex, Hyde Park Corner, Panchikawatte, and a duty
free shop in Colpetty. The mandarins at Old Moor Street saw him as the writing on the wall after
STC successfully established the trade in ferrous and non-ferrous metals. His vision was varied
and various: apart from setting up a library and a trade intelligence service, the trade in tea
chest panels, plantation industry needs, export-packaging, sports goods, artists' materials,
cement, chemicals, household supplies, lab equipment and X-ray film, arms and ammunition,
commercial explosives, and STC's assertive participation at the Mahapola trade fairs
islandwide showed him as a merchant par excellence.
When Batticaloa was hit by a devastating cyclone in 1980, causing extensive damage to housing
in that area, STC imported roofing tiles from South India to assist in the subsequent
construction work of housing projects.
Hapugalle's business strategies and techniques, his prudent policy decisions, eventually
established STC as a household name. STC permeated into the public eye to the extent that
it built absolute confidence in its customers who hardly harboured a doubt on the good
quality of products they purchased.
To improve the quality of their lives, Hapugalle extended to STC employees some valuable
welfare facilities, which are still being reaped. However, during his oft-recounted reign,
he brooked no nonsense from any quarter nor did he suffer fools gladly. Hapugalle set and
maintained very high standards of discipline which cascaded to the grassroots at STC.
Interacting mostly with the general manger, he seldom entertained heads of division let
alone minor staff; sometimes very rarely by appointment which was hardly given by his
industrious PA. Such were the sublime standards he set; an epitome of exemplary chairmanship.
Employees of STC who paid their respects to Hapugalle were sad not to have been able to
see and interact with such a unique personality before his demise in view of his deteriorating
health condition. May he reap the good of what he sowed.
08 January, 2002
No. 5, Canal Lane, Colombo-6
Telephone: +94-1-585606: +94-1508524.
Appreciation: ROHAN HAPUGALLE
By Nalini Coswatte
Daily News: Sat., 12.01.2002: p24
Mr Rohan Hapugalle, former chairman and managing director of the Sri Lanka
Export Credit Insurance Corporation (SLECIC), passed away. Mr Hapugalle, an
eminent businessman and Rotarian, was appointed as the chairman and managing
director of SLECIC on February 7, 1983, by the former minister of trade and
shipping, the late Lalith Athulathmudali.
During his term of office, SLECIC entered a new era, becoming
internationally renowned when it was elected to the most prestigious
association of export credit insurers, the International Union of Credit and
Investment Insurers (Berne Union).
In June, 1984, Mr Hapugalle placed on record the election of SLECIC as full
member of the Berne Union at its 50th anniversary meeting in Montreaux,
Switzerland. He then represented the Berne Union meeting in Sicily, Italy,
in February, 1985, and the annual general meeting in May/June 1985 in
Singapore, and in Finland in June, 1986. The corporation was represented by
Mr Hapugalle at the general meeting and the annual general meeting of the
Berne Union that was held in Cancun, Mexico, and Seoul, Republic of Korea.
At the meeting in Seoul, Mr Hapugalle was elected as chairman of the
Regional Co-operation Group that functions under the aegis of the Berne
Union for the year 1987/1988. In February, 1988, as member of the Berne
Union, Mr Hapugalle represented the general meeting of the Berne Union in
Sydney, Australia, and visited the Export Guarantee Office (EXGO) in New
Zealand. He also represented SLECIC at the annual general meeting of the
Berne Union in May/June, 1988 in Algarve, Portugal.
When Mr Hapugalle was the chairman and managing director of SLECIC in
February, 1986, SLECIC hosted the annual workshop of the Berne Union in
Colombo at which 47-delegates from 27-institutions participated. Apart from
the subject of export credit insurance, the delegates were also afforded an
opportunity of not only visiting major places of attraction in Sri Lanka,
but also gaining first hand knowledge of the country. This helped Sri Lanka
to be upgraded in the country classification of Berne Union member countries.
Visiting Berne Union meetings gave the opportunity for Mr Hapugalle also to
visit the International Trade Centre in Geneva to obtain technical
assistance to train his executives to upgrade their skills in member export
credit insurance institutions of the Berne Union.
At SLECIC, Mr Hapugalle continued to have a closer dialogue with commercial
banks, exporters and chambers, and assisted many exporters to export with
In 1983, among the new schemes SLECIC launched were the issue of guarantees
to commercial banks favouring the then Sri Lanka National Council
International Chamber of Commerce covering the ATA-Carnet System. It enabled
participation of exporters at trade fairs and exhibitions. In 1985, SLECIC
introduced the Export Production Credit Guarantee Scheme to cover domestic
letters of credit to be of assistance to indirect exporters. During this
period, new business underwritten under both policies and guarantees
increased as a result of his guidance in an aggressive marketing campaign.
In 1987, Mr Hapugalle made arrangements for effective use of a computer
system at SLECIC, training its staff in word processing and in many areas of
export credit insurance and management, both locally and internationally,
for the betterment of the corporation.
This is only a gist of services he rendered to SLECIC.
The director-general and the staff of SLECIC express their grief on the
demise of their former chairman and managing director, Mr Hapugalle. His
services to SLECIC and the exporter community will always be remembered.
– Island, Sunday Jan 20, 2002
Mr. Rohan Hapugalle
is with a profound sense of sorrow that 1 learnt of the demise of "Uncle
Rohan", while I was out of the country. On my return one of my first
deeds, was to pay my last respects to "Aunty Neelakanthi", and the
family , which I did very reverently, with my parents.
Rohan, was gifted with many great qualities. He was a gentleman "Par
Excellence and a very humble person. Despite the high positions he held in the
Jaycess Rotary and the field of commerce, and industry, he never lost the
common touch. One example was when I attended the funeral of a fellow Jaycee
friend of mine, who died under tragic circumstances, I was surprised to see
among the many friends, Uncle Rohan attending the funeral, being such a Senior
Jaycce, attending the funeral of a very junior colleague but when I asked him,
as to what made him come for the funeral, he replied "It was his duty to
come and pay my respects to a fellow colleague. Although I did not know him
personally". This alone marks out his humane and human qualities, which
was a trade mark, amongst the people who knew him personally. Another
remarkable thing about him was that whenever I sent him an congratulatory note
on his multifaceted activities, he would make it a point to acknowledge every
note I sent him, despite his busy schedules, and on being asked by me, he
replied "I learnt this from the Jaycees, son, as you did". Even
under the worst conditions, he was never ruffled and kept his cool always.
conclusion, it is my earnest hope and prayer, that Uncle Rohan be a living
example, not only for the younger generations like ours, but also to many
others, not only for his acts of nobility and sincerity, but also for his
humane and human qualities "Par Excellence".
his soul rest in eternal peace, and be blessed with nirvana, and may aunty
Neelakanthi and the family be given the strength to bear this tragic and