MAS Holdings, My Favorite Sri Lankan Company


mas-holdings-logo.jpgI fell in love with three Sri Lankan companies ever since I had some experience with them. This is about the second company I admire a lot and recommend for other young people to work at. (This is not a paid advertisement but I write this on my own free will.) I am listing the three companies only in chronological order of me meeting with them, not according the order of my preferences.

Read about my other preference at this link.

  1. MAS Holdings www.masholdings.com

Slimline is one of the garment factories owned by the prestigious MAS Holdings chain of garments. I am here talking about Slimline as I have experiences working only  at that factory but my comments here are common to all subsidies of the MAS flag I guess. They have more or less the same management style and working conditions for the machine operators and the admin staff.

I had never heard of MAS Holdings till I got a message from Mr. and Mrs. Gaminitillake (first benefactors of Horizon Lanka) saying that a gentleman by the name of Dian Gomes was willing to extend some help to Horizon Lanka by donating some computers and also offer me a job after reading a short article I wrote to Horizon Newsletter! I never knew my writing ever had such an impact.

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Dian Gomes

I was taken from Colombo to Slimline, MAS Holdings’ flagship garment factory that produced world class lingerie such as high end brands like Victoria’s Secret, by the Assistant Manager of HR & Admin at Slimline, Sanjeewa Jayathilaka. We drove there by his car. We had a nice chat on the way to the factory that covered 70 km and Sanjeewa told me a lot about Slimline and Dian, the CEO of Slimline. So, I was highly taken up by the stories he told me and was looking forward to see Slimline and meet that amazing gentleman called Dian Gomes.

Sanjeewa took me to Slimline and then I was asked to be seated till the scheduled interview would take place. I was asked to sit till the interview took place and some might-be-colleagues of mine from the staff shared smiles with me and we had a talk. Then, a staff member named Menik took me on the trip around the factory.

Oh my! I was embarrassed big time,  when she took me to the factory floor,  where the young girls were making panties and bras in the thousands! Lingerie was everywhere and Menik was showing them to me  and  sharing ‘ small talk’ with the sewing girls. ( I was not in love with a girl except for the school  days  crush, which  did not take me that far during my teen years). I knew almost nothing about ladies undies. As Menik was showing me different brands, styles, etc., of lingerie,  I was hoping the ground would open up  an swallow me, as I was so embarrassed of this grand display of female intimate garments which I knew nothing about.
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MAS lingerie

Menik also introduced me to the top level management of Slimline and most of them had sexy panties on their tables but by that time I was quite comfy with, well, panties (and bras.) She explained me that those lingerie were the Slimline’s main exports and there was nothing wrong in workforce being intimate with those intimate wear. (But I was still not fully comfortable with them, well, till I met my sweet little girlfriend in 2002. I bought her a good collection of MAS sexy lingerie only from the employees’ annual sales at the factory.)

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Dian Gomes

I was briefly interviewed by the HR manager who asked me to join Slimline immediately. I was still to meet Dian though. Then a very energetic man with pleasant broad smile came into the HR department and it was Dian. He asked me when I could start working for him. Then I told him that I was to go to the USA for a short visit and would have to wait till that trip was over. Then Dian said “මචං උඹට කැමති වෙලාවක වරෙන්.” (You may come when you want buddy.) I was pleasantly surprised when my boss-to-be called me මචං (a friendly Sri Lankan term that is similar to “buddy”) because prior to this, the only private sector establishment I had worked for was Asiri Hospitals, Colombo. We were treated quite poorly there, there during 1993-1995 period. It was pure feudal system management that was in place at Asiri and the employees were treated as garbage. I will state three examples where the employees were treated like rubbish by the management there.

  1. Once a female nurse had been slapped in the face by a consultant physician for her forgetting to add one of his visits in the bill. I heard there had been a protest and the management took the doctor’s side and the nurse was not given a fair deal.
  2. We worked full time during the worse part of 1993 parliamentary and presidential elections which were marred by terrorism and political violence which resulted in long lasting curfews. But we volunteered to work long hours as we wanted to give the nurses (who traveled  from long distances to have enough time),  to go  cast their votes. Since we could not go outside of the premises due to the curfews we were given food from the hospital kitchen. The food was so bad it was nearly inedible. Some nurses had complained the relevant authority who imparted the message to the top lady who oversaw the operation and her answer had been, reliably, “ගම්වල කරවල කටු කන එවුන්ට මේ කෑම හොඳ වැඩියි.” (For those nurses who eat dry fish bones in their villages, our food is too good.)
  3. A consultant surgeon had fondled a pretty nurse’s breasts in his consulting room and the nurse had cried and complained to her superior who reported the incident to the same top lady and you would  be surprised with her answer. “ඉතින් ඕක ටිකක් ඇල්ලුවා කියලා ගෙවෙනෙවයැ!” (A little feel of the  breasts does not wear it off ?) Imagine this coming from another lady!!!!!

Still there was nothing the staff could do. Once I lead a protest of my colleagues, when their one month’s salary was deducted for not being present to sing Christmas carols during our vacation. We all went home but the crazy nursing trainer lady had ordered us to come for the carols. She got the management to deprive us of our salary for a month for this sin of not being present to sing Christmas carols which was not in our religious beliefs. When I met the then Managing Director of the Asiri Hospitals with a colleague of mine to negotiate a settlement of our due pay, he said the salary was deducted as a punishment. I asked him if the punishment for such a simple thing were too much. Then he said, “It is me who decide if the punishment were too big or not, not you.” And the management was to get rid of me giving the whole batch a special and extraordinary test the nursing trainer was to hold (with the pure intention of failing me to fire me from the job which backfired to herself and at the end; all her bad schemes were revealed by the management and it was she who was fired and not allowed to enter Asiri premises to date. I did not do anything to that effect; it is only repercussions of bad intentions that landed her in that situation. Our deducted salary also was given.

In addition to all these, we were called by surnames and had to call each other by surnames. Just imagine calling your girlfriend by surname even within working hours!!!  How about that?

(It is said that the working conditioned were changed when a young doctor called Manjula Karunaratne took over Asiri Hospitals as the CEO and now it is a pretty good place to work.)

So, with all these negative experiences in the private sector, I was in the seventh heaven when my boss called me a buddy at Slimline. I joined MAS after my trip to the USA and I felt very comfortable in the establishment from the very first day. I was given a separate PC, unlimited access to the Internet, air-conditioned working space, free food and snacks, free access to gymnasium and ample opportunities to use the sporting field for team sports like cricket, free accommodation with a cook in a spacious house with few of my colleagues, free transport, and company paid medical insurance, ample opportunities to partying at staff houses. We were given company paid training whenever we wanted them. My public speaking abilities were sharpened by one such training that the MAS sponsored me at the British Council, Colombo. I am indebted to MAS just for that more than anything else. I had been a very shy guy till I completed that great training program. My colleagues who went to the training with me were from elite schools in Colombo and Kandy and I was the only one from a not-so-famous school in Anuradhapura. After the final round of speeches we made, the trainer came to me and said my speech was the best of all. I was over the moon, not for being the best but for being able to getting rid my fear of public speaking.

We were paid a very decent salary. Working conditions were awesome. I was once asked by a colleague of mine what I liked most about MAS. My single-worded answer was “freedom.”

If I had chosen to stay with MAS, I am sure I would have easily become a top manager by now, but I chose to leave the establishment in 2002 to commit full time for my own organization, Horizon Lanka Foundation.

Slimline was situated in a very traditional village called Pannala in the outskirts of Kurunegala. But once you enter inside the factory, you feel like you are in an American state. People there were open minded and you could tell anything to anyone in the face than beating around the bush. They won’t have long faces for being cut and dry and they took the comments with a smile and changed themselves to the better. In addition to that, you’ve got five star facilities, American style management and, of course, American standard bathrooms that were super clean at any given time at the establishment.

Dian himself would pick up any litter himself if it were found anywhere inside the factory (which was extremely rare to find.) Once your boss himself does it with such humbleness, none of the coworkers need to be told to do that by the boss. Dian did it giving example and everybody got the message.

Dian also had this habit of getting mad (or pretending to be so) and shouting at his top management team on top of his voice, sometimes. I must have been the only one who was not being told off by him. I don’t know why though. I wasn’t a very good staff member as as my heart was in my village than in Slimline, something which Dian understood quite all right and made allowance for  that as much as he could. His own school alumni got earful but not me.

There was of course professional jealousy, slandering against the coworkers to the superiors to get more benefits or attention that were available just like at any other organizations. Yet for all that, especially when someone had a personal (or even official) challenge, everyone would come as a team and extend their generous help. I can remember how the coworkers and the management contributed when someone was terminally ill or was to go for a life threatening surgery. Everyone would chip in and offer help and you feel as if the company is more than your family.

I fell ill once with an acute fever and when I told my manager that I would love to go home for treatment, the manager asked me “Are you crazy Nanda? We will look after you.” And he immediately sent me to Asiri Hospitals, Colombo (the same private hospital I loved to hate for its appalling working conditions due to my bad experiences as an employee there seven years ago.) MAS paid all my bills and gave me access to the country’s best medical practitioners. My former colleagues at Asiri were highly taken up with the manner I was taken care of by MAS and I too did not expect even in my wildest dreams, that I would be able to enjoy the luxuries of a patient in this hospital would get. It was simply unaffordable for me to be treated here if I had to pay the bills myself.

Stories are too many to share about MAS. So, I would just take your attention as to what (or who rather) made Slimline a pleasant place to work. It was none other than Dian Gomes, a corporate giant who was voted many a time as Sri Lanka’s best CEO. He had a very simple way of managing this huge organization. It was merely just being friendly and let the workforce unleash their energy. Nobody was angry with the company like in the other places of work. Everybody knew honestly they would be taken care of. Everybody knew that the company would not dump them after taking the best out of them. Dian was a colleague, friend, brother, father and the Savior when you were in need. Dian did not worry much about the amount of monies spent on employees’ welfare as long as the workforce is productive and the company is meeting its targets. In most of the other garment factories, the sewing machine operator girls were treated like litter. But at Slimline, it was a different story. The staff was to call them with respect by their first name preceded by Miss, not the other way round like in most of the other places. We went to their department and distributed their salary with a lot of love and respect which they also appreciated a lot (till the salaries were transferred to their bank accounts due to fear of the salary truck being robbed by some goons. Then again, Slimline installed an ATM machine inside the company premises for the ease of the staff.)

The machine operators did not have a trade union that opposed every move of the company. Instead, they had this Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) where Dian himself was a fatherly figure rather than a corporate representative. The workforce never had to fight for a cause. The only thing they had to do was just increasing productivity. Dian would get the message and would come back to the next JCC with some more benefits that the girls didn’t fancy. Even the firebrand Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP,) the main Marxist party in Sri Lanka found no way to infiltrate Slimline for trade union actions. Why? Because Dian himself was Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro at Slimline. So, fake Che’s had no place, well, not at Slimline.

Dian retired from Slimline at the relatively young age of 55 and Suren Fernando, the former Financial Controller of the organization took up the reins as the new CEO. I am sure he would exercise all his knowledge and experiences in cutting costs in the establishment but with the Slimline culture I know, the company would spend what it takes to keep performing. Not even a hardcore financial controller like Suren would be able to resist that. Good luck Suren! You are going to need a lot of that.

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Dian at MAS Holdings Farewell Ceremony

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Inside MAS Factory

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Inside MAS

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INHUMAN RAGGING IN SRI LANKAN UNIVERSITIES AND HIGHSCHOOLS


Ragging in Sri Lanka

Ragging in Sri Lanka

I think most of Sri Lankans are already aware of inhuman ragging in Sri Lankan universities (Visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragging_in_Sri_Lanka) that has caused several deaths, lifelong injuries and both physical and mental trauma to the freshers. The most recent heinous act where a bunch of male and female students in the University of Kelaniya forced a new female student to remove her jeans saying that it does not suit to freshers and the girl in turn refused it blatantly and made a complaint in the police and the alleged raggers were remanded could be just the tip of the iceberg. Ragging should have been nipped in the bud but authorities turned a blind eye at the beginning and ragging went out of control.

In some universities or faculties ragging has been replaced with just socialization with fun activities but where there is strong Inter University Students’ Federation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter_University_Students%27_Federation influence ragging is going berserk causing the new students severe traumas. (ISUSF is allegedly controlled by Frontline Socialist Party. Formerly Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna -JVP did the same but they lost control of the ISUSF as a result of the party split into two due to inernal clashes.)

Ragging with Fun

Ragging with Fun

Due to inhuman ragging in universities, a significant number of students do not enter universities despite university entrance exam being highly competitive affair and only a small percentage of students get the opportunity to enter a state university. They either give up higher education totally or attend private higher educational institutes by paying huge sum of monies at a time they can get a better free education (with a bursary also) in state universities. (According to University Grants Commission statistics, just 17% of qualified Advanced Level test takers found places at state universities in 2009/10 (and just 10.5 percent of all test-takers.)

According to a colleague of mine and my ex-girlfriend, the humiliation they were subjected to that was “worse than death” was being forced to perform sodomy and lesbian sex totally naked with a fresher of the same sex at least once (in front of 100s of seniors and freshers) just to “educate” the freshers such relationships exist in hostels and the freshers have to accept such behavior. If they themselves do not find gay sex as their cup of tea, they should not at least disturb others who find so. How about that huh? Any seniors???

Due to some unfortunate circumstances I could not sit for my Advanced Level in the stipulated year (1991) and had to sit for it in 1998 exactly after 10 years after sitting for Ordinary Level (1988) in a totally different stream (Arts) than what I studied for (Bio Science) without much assistance from others. I was already an English teacher when I did so and all I prayed was, “Please do not pass me to be selected to university. Give me a result where I can pass the exam but not too many mars to be selected university, just because of these horrific ragging.” I knew I will be targeted for who I am. Luckily I got ‘yes’ marks and not enough marks to be selected to a university. Thank God.

I love to learn in a university even at this late stage of my life but never in a Sri Lankan state university. I will invite troubles there. I will somehow save and study in an American university even at the age of 50 (in 6 years time.)

Ragging prevails even at high school level in Sri Lankan public schools. I entered Central College, Anuradhapura in 1990 to do my Advanced Level (university entrance exam) and was ragged severely inside a boys’ toilet for just “being tall.” The excuse given by senior students was that “if we did not rag you like this to a tall guy like you, you will become a dickhead in the school.” (උඹට මෙහෙම රැග් නොකළොත් උඹලා මේකේ කැරියෝ වෙනවා.)

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SRI LANKA – A LOST REVOLUTION? The Inside Story of the JVP – Professor Rohan Gunaratna


Sri Lanka A Lost Revolution?

Sri Lanka A Lost Revolution?

A year ago, I had the privilege of reading “SRI LANKA – A LOST REVOLUTION? The Inside Story of the JVP” by Professor Rohan Gunaratna. This is about the second attempt to topple the government by the Rohana Wijeweera-lead Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during late 80’s. It was an interesting read as I could remember most of the stories mentioned in the book as I was a teenager during the days of the insurrection. The JVP looked very attractive those days and I don’t know why I didn’t join the movement as it was so compelling to join them. Maybe due to the fact that my late father was against the violence though he was a leftist.

I have never seen Rohana Wijeweera except on TV. I listened to his speeches on TV during the 1982 Presidential Election and also listened to a recorded audio cassette which was then clandestine. He had the ability of mesmerizing people with his eloquent speeches. His posters were pasted everywhere during the election time and he became the third in the election by beating the old leftist candidates. It was this reason that lead to their proscription as a party by the then president late J. R. Jayawardene. Having cornered in the political arena like a wounded tiger, the JVP had to operate as an underground organization and resort to terror. Professor Gunaratna details these events extensively in the book.

The biggest turnaround of the rebellion happened after late Ranjan Wijeratne was assigned the Ministry of Defense. He meant business and took every action to quell the rebellion no matter how many were killed. Prof. Gunaratna says in the book “Indian Intervention” that Mr. Wijeratne had a chance of becoming the next president had he not been killed by the LTTE. Ultimately the hunter was hunted.

A detailed account is given about how Rohana Wijeweera was murdered and cremated in Borella cemetery. Some said that he was burnt alive. Recently a former soldier gave an interview to a weekend newspaper telling that what was reported earlier by many was wrong and Wijeweera was not burnt alive.

I can remember the day Wijeweera was killed. We were surprised by the news in the evening news bulletin over SLBC. People didn’t know whether to repent or to rejoice as everybody wanted a change but too much of killings from both sides had taken its toll on the general public and they wanted an end to this. I still lament that I missed the video clip which he made to television under threat of the army. It is not available in YouTube too.

The book includes a number of rare pictures of the bloody events and provides a list of people who were allegedly killed by Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya, the military wing of the JVP which the JVP distances itself from up to this date.

There is another book written about the same subject by veteran journalist C. A. Chandraprema but I didn’t feel like buying it as Prof. Gunaratna has given a full account of the failed rebellion of the JVP.

There is another review about the book by Kasun Herath at http://kasunh.wordpress.com/2008/03/24/a-lost-revolution-book-by-rohan-gunaratna/