Appreciation: Rohan Hapugalle By Firoze Sameer:

Sunday Island 13.01.2002: p13

ROHAN HAPUGALLE

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.

 

Firoze Sameer

Colombo-6

08 January, 2002

***

No. 5, Canal Lane, Colombo-6

Telephone: +94-1-585606: +94-1508524.

E-mail: krystal@sltnet.lk

Office: +94-1-436418

 

 ***

Appreciation: ROHAN HAPUGALLE

By Nalini Coswatte

Director-General, SLECIC

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

SLECIC's protection.

 

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.

***

Appreciation Island, Sunday Jan 20, 2002
Mr. Rohan Hapugalle

It 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.

Uncle 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.

In 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".

May 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 unbearable loss.
Amyn Chatoor
Colombo 5.