Gerry Suraweera, in Daily News, 13 February 2016, with title “Ian Pieris: The unsung pioneer of Sri Lankan industry and business”
The recent demise of Ian Pieris brought spontaneous appreciations from the field of cricket, where his prowess in bowling, batting or administration was never in doubt! He is also being credited as the only “gentleman” who resigned from the post of President of Sri Lanka Cricket. It is sad to note that since his departure from Richard Pieris Group as the Deputy Chairman and Managing Director, his pioneering achievements as an industry and a business leader has been forgotten.
My objective as an ex-employee of Richard Pieris Group and a person who has been in involved in manufacturing, marketing, publicity and advertising to appreciate this great man’s contributions to the rubber and the plastic industry, international and retail marketing in Sri Lanka.
The Ceylon Squad in Pakistan in 1966/67. with PI on extreme right (as one views) seated
Ian graduated from Cambridge University with a Honours degree in Economics, also having earned a Cambridge Blue for Cricket in 1962 and joined Richard Pieris Company, founded by his father Percy, Uncle Richard, Walter Rutnam and Evelyn Fonseka. He later became the Executive Director of the Nawinna Factory.
By that time Richard Pieris had gained a reputation as a well run “Ceylonese” company among the majority with British links. Under Ian Pieris’s guidance the company moved towards an import substitution industrialisation strategy with great drive and enthusiasm, his considerable foreign exposure a key factor to success. In the mid-eighties he moved to the Colombo Head Office as Managing Director of Richard Pieris Distributors Ltd., and made his presence felt with innovative ideas: It was he who converted the Showroom which hitherto carried only Arpico products to a mini-consumer durable supermarket enticing numerous products from other leading Sri Lankan suppliers. This soon became a hit with the customers as they could find most of their home requirements under one roof. The novel idea of having discounted sales every last weekend of the month increased customer traffic by leaps and bounds though some in the business community were critical of our strategies!
Ian always found time to attend the Arpico Sports Club functions and encouraged our hockey team who became the Mercantile A division champions several times and the Cricket teams. He was the happiest when we won the first and only Mercantile’A’ division cricket final against Lever Brothers in 1976, when he too was a member of the team.
His concern for employees must be highlighted: We proposed a sponsorship package for children of employees who entered local universities. A grant of Rs.18,000 per year was approved and when the first installment was handed over at a simple ceremony, his comment was, “I don’t know why we didn’t do this earlier.”
When one considers his numerous achievements to revolutionise the Sri Lankan industry and retail market, it is difficult to imagine how one person could provide leadership to so many successful pioneering ventures during a lifetime. It is also amazing that most of these products still maintain their market leadership. His uncanny knack for identifying business opportunities and customer preferences, willingness to take risks, the ability to face any challenges and being strong enough to say “I don’t know,” unlike typical CEOs who pretend to know everything, were his strengths.
I know that his first love was Cricket – may the turf lie gently over him.