A Daring Entrepreneur | Aelian Gunawardene
When the company he worked for was not proactive enough to respond to his idea, Mr. Aelian Gunawardene did what most people at the age of 25 would not dare to do. He quit his job and founded JAT Holdings, believing that his idea will work out. And it did! Today, JAT Holdings is the leading industrial brand in Sri Lanka and operates internationally.
Today, JAT is the leading industrial brand in Sri Lanka and is recognized worldwide, with operations in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Africa. In addition to that, it is the only private company to achieve a Moody A+ Stable Rating for 5 consecutive years. In addition to that, Aelian has won multiple awards and recognition for his success as an entrepreneur, such as the FCCISL Sri Lankan Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2019. He is one of the iconic and leading entrepreneurs in Sri Lanka and is recognized worldwide.
The challenges faced!
Aelian had no family background in business and was an employee until he chose to start his own company. Thus, he did not have strong financial support, nor did he have bank support. But he had strong willpower and wanted to achieve his dreams. Hence, he emphasized that the key challenge as a young entrepreneur back and even still is finance – “If you are passionate, have a good product or concept which the market needs. Go for it! Any investor will be willing to provide financial support.”
JAT faced another challenge in the initial stages. It was the bureaucracy of the government because JAT was importing products into the market. Hence, Aelian had to find the loopholes and understand the processes of dealing with the bureaucracy, such as clearing the good from the customs.
On top of that, the competition was another challenge faced by Aelian, “Just like, in any industry, the competition always wants to kill off new entrants. So, dealing with competition was another major challenge.”
However, the competition was unsuccessful in doing so because JAT had a unique competitive advantage – its products and organizational values, which delivered exceptional service to the customer in exceeding their expectations. This allowed JAT to overcome the challenge and establish itself as a prominent player in the market.
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The role of technology and innovation for success!
Aelian strongly believes that technology adoption is vital for the organization’s success, “If you are not using the best technology in that industry to the utmost, then you lack behind. We recently got our ERP system done for all our branches, and it is working amazingly for us”.
JAT has also ventured into this industry with JAT Technology but focuses on technology-based construction products and services such as fiber optic cables and wiring. Aelian adds “We focus on the areas we are good at, which is the construction industry. Over diversifying into industries with less expertise can ultimately cost the company”.
Elements of success!
Aelian mentions a few elements that are required for success:
Passionate and hardworking – the entrepreneur needs to have a strong passion for achieving his/her dreams and be willing to work hard. Even if it means working the entire day. During the initial stages of JAT, “I had to work long hours from 6 am till 11 pm, handling all aspects of the business alone”. It is tough, but if the entrepreneur is willing to go to great lengths to achieve their vision, nothing can stop the entrepreneur from success.
Strong product/concept and gap in the market – the entrepreneur must have a strong product/concept with a need for it in the market. Aelian advises aspiring entrepreneurs not to be a follower. He realized that many are merely followers in Sri Lanka – “If there are 10 shops, do not be the 11th. Be unique, believe in yourself and your product, and success is not too far from you!”
Positive mindset and a winning spirit – the entrepreneur must possess a positive attitude, which is crucial in handling failures. There is not one entrepreneur who has not failed in their journey. Failures are the pillars of success and a learning curve. The entrepreneur must be able to overcome and learn from the failures and keep going till they make it. “I have made many mistakes, and my advice to an entrepreneur is that it is alright to make mistakes that you can afford and to learn from them.”
Maintaining the balance!
As the Founder and Managing Director of JAT Holdings, the workload can be pressurizing and stressful. Aelian uses an effective technique to deal with stress, where he perceives the problem for what it is (an obstacle to overcome). If it is out of his control, he does not worry about it but focuses on determining how to adapt to the change. “Covid-19 pandemic hit Sri Lanka. This is not a controllable factor. Thus I left it on God and focused on adapting and overcoming it. No good is going to come out of just worrying about something you cannot control.”
Aelian manages his time, working 4 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday). “I take the Wednesdays and Weekends off to spend family and personal time. Some of them are also part of the board. Thus we take this time to strategize” he explained.
Moreover, he strongly encourages fitness. “I work out 3 times a week, play basketball, and follow a healthy diet. It has significantly helped me be more productive, fit, and makes me feel good.”