In Appreciation of P. I. Pieris — “Ian” to Some Pals, “PI” to Others

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.

 

27. Ceylon Squad in Pakistan, 66-67.jpgThe 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.

Gerry Suraweera

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2 responses to “In Appreciation of P. I. Pieris — “Ian” to Some Pals, “PI” to Others

  1. Pingback: Not a Pukka Royalist! Cricketing Insights from the CJ Van Twest Scrapbook for 1957 | Critiquing Cricket

  2. EMAIL COMMENT from MEVAN PIERIS, 31 August 2020: “Dear Michael
    Read with interest Gerry Suraweera’s appreciation of Ian Pieris. Indeed when Arpico beat Lever Brothers in the Mercantile A Division cricket Final in 1976, PI was really happy. I still carry happy memories of this match having captained the Arpico team that year. The whole team ended up at my home that night for drinks and to share a simple meal of bread, butter and meat curry.

    It was the custom then for Mercantile cricket champions to play the Rest of Mercantile. The match was played at the MCA grounds and the Rest team was captained by Neil Chanmugam and included most of the Maharaja Organization guys including Duleep Mendis and Sahabandu. It was a formidable Rest eleven. I was overjoyed when the Arpico defeated the Rest team; and of the six wickets I took in that limited over game, Duleep’s prize scalp was one of them; clean bowled with the first ball he faced. These are unforgettable moments that I still reflect upon. As far as I can recall PI did not play this game.

    PI was a great cricketer. He played for STC for four years, and in the 1953 battle of the Blues made 123 runs and recorded a massive 5th wicket partnership with Geof Wijesinha, which still stands unbroken. He won his cricket Blue at Cambridge, and played under Gamini Goonesena and was in the company of Ted Dexter then an undergraduate. He scored 40 runs for Cambridge against Ian Johnson’s visiting Australians in 1956.

    On his return to Ceylon in 1962, he took over the captaincy of SSC from FC de Saram and proceeded to captain the SSC for eight consecutive years until 1970 when he retired from 1st Division Club cricket at the age of 37 years.

    After leaving STC, I played one year for SSC in 1966, under the captaincy of PI, before entering the University of Colombo. That year was a most fascinating year of cricket for me to be in a side with several all time great cricketers such as PIP, CI Gunasekera, CH Gunasekera, Malasiri Kurukulasooriya ( Trinitian), Neil Chanmugam, Nihal Kodituwakku, Stanley de Alwis, Anura Tennekoon and Sriyantha Rajapakse. On more than one occasion, PI asked me to put on my pads to go in as night watchman if the need arose, and thanks to God for providing that opportunity to go in and join CI Gunasekera, I was able to bat the next morning with the great CIG, which was indeed a dream of a youngster just out of school. Then of course there were other greats like the famous Dr Hector Gunasekera ( first Ceylonese to have played for an English county – Middlesex ), FC de Saram, Sargo Jayewickreme etc who provided inspiring advice off the field. May the memory of all of these Master Spirits remain sacred in the hearts and minds of all of us who knew them……………. Regards ………………Mevan Pieris

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