Mr. V. Kailasapillai – ‘Manitha Neyar’ cum Financial Wizard

Mr. V. Kailasapillai was born on 31st March 1934 at Araly South in Jaffna District to a conservative Hindu family. He was one of the two children – both sons - of Mr. Kanapathiar Viswanathar and his wife Parvathiar. He lost his father at a tender age of four. He and his brother - Dr. V. Ambalavanar who is a well-known economist and was always in Public Service ending up as Adviser on Economic Affairs and an Additional Secretary to His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka - were brought up by their mother with the assistance of their grand uncle Mr. Sellappah, who is gratefully remembered by Mr. Kailasapillai forever. Mr. Kailasapillai’s family was one of the five families who gave substantial financial assistance to build All Ceylon Hindu Congress Headquarters (ACHC HQ). When we wanted to honour his family he requested us to honour his uncle Mr. Sellappah whose portrait has been unveiled at ACHC HQ.

Having attended Araly Saraswathie Vidyalayam in the village of Araly for the first years of primary education he was admitted to Jaffna Hindu College which is one of the well-known premier Tamil Hindu educational institutions in this country. Mr. Kailasapillai excelled in his studies and entered the then University of Ceylon and he graduated from Colombo Campus as a Bachelor of Science specializing in Mathematics with honours.

Mr. Kailsapillai who is well-known as ‘Kailas’ and also as ‘John Kailas’ to the business community of this country was a financial wizard from his young days and, naturally for this maths genius, his chosen profession was Accountancy.

Having been served articles at the then leading Chartered Accountancy Firm of Satchithananda, Schokman and Wijeratne, Kailas was the obvious choice for Lander Prize which is awarded to the best student who excels in the final examination for Chartered Accountants conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He began at the bottom of the ladder and raised himself by degrees to the most exalted position in the accountancy profession by unremitting attention to his work and by his uncompromising commitment to the high ideals of his profession.He began at the bottm of the ladder and raised himself by degrees to the most exalted position in the accounting profession by unrem

Having been a member of the Council of Examiners of the Institute, he has held various posts in the Institute of Chartered Accountants ending as its Vice-President.

Having worked in Mercantile Credit Limited for a short while as an Accountant he spent some time at Colombo Commercial Company Limited in the same capacity. Thereafter he joined John Keells Limited where he came to be identified so closely with that Group that his friends used to call him ‘John Kailas’. John Kailas made his mark at John Keells and helped make it a leading conglomerate. Having risen to be one of the Directors of the Group, he ultimately retired as Deputy Chairman of the JKH Group.

Mr. Kailasapillai wizardry as the Finance Director of John Keells Group helped by helped JKH’s rise as a leading conglomerate. As recorded in "Legacy" (the John Keells commemorative publication) -

"………..important influence on the diversification programme was V. Kailasapillai. The Finance Director showed himself to be an expert at capitalizing on incentives and concessions offered by the government to promote the development of specific industries and business sectors. He was even more adept at identifying ways to reduce the tax burden on the group and its shareholders by taking advantage of official tax breaks and shelters. These talents were useful enough in the days of the United Front, but when that regime was replaced by an enterprise-friendly government eager to use the private sector as an instrument of growth, Kailasapillai was in his element. In the report quoted above, Mark Bostock notes that ‘the investment policy of the Company has enabled shareholders to receive a fair slice of their return free of tax’. They did so thanks to the financial wizardry of V. Kailasspillai."

Though Mr Kailasapillai is a strict vegetarian and teetotaler throughout his life, I am told that he had to keep a beer mug on his table only as a showpiece just because he was a Director of John Keells. It is a well known ‘secret’ that he declined to be the Chairman of the Group because he felt that he could not throw parties or cocktails, for the reason that to Kailas’ principles were more important than glory as the Group Chairman.

His success as a business leader is attributable to his characteristics as a typical industrious Jaffna man. When he was asked the secret of success, he replied: "It won’t just fall on your lap. You have to work hard, sweat for it". Then he added with a mischievous smile, ‘And of course, you have to take risks’.

With tea and tourism in regress, most of Keells’ income in the late eighties was derived from Keells Food Products and the other businesses into which the group continued to diversify. Turnover and profits continued to rise year on year, as much a tribute to V. Kailasapillai’s financial skills as to the slowly improving business climate.

Mr. Kailasapillai and their colleagues, having discovered the capital-conjuring magic of the stock market relatively early, were determined to make the group and its holding company as investor-friendly as possible.

"Trade in company shares was modest at the beginning of the Eighties. Relatively few companies were publicly quoted and there was little investment capital available. The share market was the preserve of a handful of wealthy, knowledgeable investors….." However, Mr. Kailasapillai in his own unique style had John Keells Holdings Limited listed on Colombo Stock Exchange on h October 9, 1986.

JKH has been a dominant force in the Colombo stock market since then. Although I do not have personal knowledge of his role in that sphere , the historical records and the business leaders still recall his achievements in John Keells and Colombo Stock Exchange which he has once led. Of course, if he feels that he should not remain anymore no one can stop him stepping down. In 1993, he resigned from the Chairmanship of the Colombo Stock Exchange. News was flashed "Kailasapillai’s resignation rocks Colombo Stock Market".

His colleagues wanted to persuade him to stay on but he had flown to Malaysia. I can guess that he would have gone to meet his Guru, Swami Shanthananda Saraswathi (Head of Siva Family), whose guidance and blessing were his strength. In 1983 also he did that – of course, through Singapore. I would like to quote from what Mr. Richard Simon has written in the "Legacy"

"Tamils have traditionally seen education as a way out of relative poverty and routine discrimination. John Keells’ financial genius, Viswanathan Kailasapillai, is only one of hundreds of thousands of intelligent, industrious Tamils who have successfully traveled that route. ………..

"….The most senior victim at Keells was the Finance Director himself. V. Kailasapillai’s home was destroyed. While his family sought refuge with relatives, he himself was smuggled into Keell Hall by David Blackler. He remained there, in hiding, for three days. The experience was so traumatic that Kailasapillai vowed to leave Sri Lanka forever. When a semblance of normality had returned to operations at Katunayake Airport, he, his wife and another relative whose father had been murdered by the rioters, were driven to the airport by David and Jennifer Blackler in separate cars. There was anarchy on the streets that day: the mobs were stopping motorists and assaulting those they reckoned were Tamil. ‘There was all kinds of trouble going on’ says Blackler laconically, ‘I told Jennifer, if we’re stopped on the road and I put my flashers on, just do a U-turn and scramble.’ But the rioters were not interested in vehicles driven by Europeans; the little convoy got through, and Kailasapillai caught his flight to Singapore without incident. He would later change his mind and return to Sri Lanka with his family.

"……The Kailasapillais were among 150,000 Tamils who fled overseas in the immediate aftermath of the 1983 riots. Unlike the Finance Director and his family, most have not returned…….."

His family background and education in Jaffna Hindu College naturally made him an active religious worker. He was involved in almost every Hindu religious Institution in Colombo and he has held various offices in those Institutions and in particular as the President of Colombo Vivekananda Society of which he is now a patron. In the late eighties when Mr. V. Balasubramaniam was the President of All Ceylon Hindu Congress (the Federation of Hindu Religious Associations and Trusts in Sri Lanka) he persuaded Mr. Kailasapillai to be the Deputy President of All Ceylon Hindu Congress.

Mr. Balasubramaniam was determined to commence construction work on the ACHC Headquarters in the land at Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha which was given on a long lease by the Government of Sri Lanka and he wanted Mr. Kailasapillai to join in that task. Mr. Balasubramaniam must have had some divine guidance that Mr. Kailasapillai would prove to be the ideal person to take over the reins of ACHC and complete that task. When Mr. Balasubramaniam passed away in 1992 after a brief illness the unanimous choice of All Ceylon Hindu Congress as its President was Mr. Kailasapillai. I do not think that he has ever contested an election or would have agreed to be a candidate to contest an election.

Since his retirement on 31st December 1997 he has been devoting all his time to religious and humanitarian services and in particular in helping the children’s homes and the elder’ homes in various places and taking a devoted interest as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Thiruketheswaran Temple Restoration Society.

On August 2, 1992 he assumed office as President of ACHC and expedited the construction work. His leadership qualities and the ability to raise funds made the task possible, and, of course, he always had the grace of His Almighty because he has been a sincere devotee of Lord Shiva.

He is also the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Thirukeethesewaran Temple Restoration Society for several years and has taken a keen interest. He was a disciple of His Holiness Swami Shanthanantha and because of his Guru’s wishes he established a Temple of Fine Arts in Colombo and doing service to that institution also.

He is also the Chairman of Manitha Neyam trust. He has established branches of the Manitha Neyam trust in United Kingdom, USA, Canada and Australia. It is because of his honesty, sincerity and devotion to duty that he has been able to raise funds not only in Sri Lanka, but globally. Of course his financial capabilities were also an added qualification. He is also the Chairman of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies.

His wife, Abhirami, who is a first cousin ‘(Machchal’) of his and whom he married in keeping with the traditions of Jaffna those days stands by her husband in all his charitable and religious work. His son, Aravindhan, an Information Technology Engineer based in America, also helps his father in the work of the Manitha Neyam Trust. John Kailas’ accounting tradition is being carried on by his beloved daughter, Arunthathi, who is a qualified Accountant. She does not practice but, like her mother, she is a strong and ardent lieutenant and supporter of her husband who is Dr. Sivakumar Selliah (a Senior Lecturer at the Medical College, Colombo North) and also active in the business, following in the footsteps of his father-in-law and Deputy Chairman of a group of Hospital Companies) in all his work.

Mr. Kailasapillai’s 75th birthday fell on March 31, 2009. It is an interesting coincidence that the birthday of this financial wizard is "the balance sheet date" within the meaning of the new Companies Act. He has declined to be invited to any felicitation. However, at a book release on March 29, 2009, he was conferred with the title ‘MANITHANEYAKA’ (meaning ‘a human being who loves and works for the others’) by the Chief Prelate of Nalluar Aatheenam, Jaffna

www island.lk

Copyright©Upali Newspapers Limited.

Hosted by


Upali Newspapers Limited, 223, Bloemendhal Road, Colombo 13, Sri Lanka, Tel +940112497500