Dr. Godahewa speaks of his experiences in public, private sectors

*On state control of banks, leaving private sector alone and ego


"There is no purpose of being an expert on management theory if you are not a good practitioner. On the other hand, if you are a good manager, then what you practice would usually be linked to management theory because all good management theories have evolved from good management practices," said Dr Nalaka Godahewa addressing the students and members of Sri Lanka institute of marketing.

Dr. Godahewa who is professionally qualified in three disciplines of management; engineering, marketing and finance, in addition to holding an MBA and a PhD was sharing his experiences of his colourful career of 18 years across 6 different industries under the topic ‘Marketer - A key driver in building a strong corporate brand’ at an experience sharing forum organized by the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing recently.

Lanka Hospitals…

"We are building a total customer care culture at Lanka Hospitals with a strong business strategy supported by operational  strategies focusing on people, processes and resources," said Dr. Godahewa explaining the turnaround strategy adopted by the new board of directors chaired by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.

"I call this model TC3. The effective strategy supported by an efficient operation has already delivered results helping us to increase room occupancy from around 55% to almost 90% within one year helping us to reduce prices whilst increasing profitability from Rs. 7 million a year ago to Rs. 280 million in 2010. Lanka hospital has attracted the best medical and non-medical staff, invested in superior technology, improved processes to ensure customer convenience,  and above all created an environment where patients and their families felt at home," said Dr Godahewa.

"When you walk into the hospital you get the feeling that you have entered a hotel but at the same time you know that the best medical care is waiting for you".

Dr Godahewa said he strongly supported maintaining a mix of local and foreign doctors the state-owned hospital which was once operated by Indian Apollo Hospitals.

"I have also recommended to the board to consider recruiting a few well-trained foreign nurses for the ICU units Lanka Hospitals is heavily investing in. For example, the Philippines has a strong reputation for producing well trained nurses. A mix which includes reputed Indian doctors and experienced Pilipino nurses working hand in hand with best of Sri Lankan doctors and trained Sri Lankan nurses would give the hospital a multinational dimension," he said.


Talking about his experience as part of the original team which set up Suntel, he said marketing was not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions.

"When I took over as Head of Marketing for Suntel, rival company Lanka Bell was already leading the wireless telephony battle. Against the wishes of some local directors I recommended a brand positioning strategy based on good customer care and introduced a tagline ‘Your Telecom Partner for Life’ instead of the original tagline ‘New Dimension in Technology’ which didn’t mean much to the consumer.

"We introduced Sri Lanka’s first 24-hour customer care hotline and reduced the average installation time to just 3 to 4 days when the industry took about 2-3 months to deliver. We recruited beautiful girls to the customer care hotline and put them in front of mirrors so that they will always smile at themselves and feel good when they talk to customers.

"We invested into IT software to provide a better service to customers. It took only 6 months for us to gain market leadership with this clear differentiation strategy," Dr. Godahewa pointed out.

"However, Suntel did not sustain the same brand positioning after the original marketing team left, and had tried to go back to technology based branding. When Lanka Bell came up with a brilliant advertising campaign ‘ kurukuru less ‘ using Sunil Perera as brand ambassador, it exposed an unspoken weakness of Suntel and it affected market share in the wireless telephone market," he said.

"Even though sales is identified as only one aspect of marketing by educationalists, effective sales management is a key success factor in many organizations," said Dr. Godahewa talking about his experiences in building strong sales teams at Unilever Ceylon, Sri Lanka Insurance and MAS Holdings.

Apparels and garments…

"There is a tendency for the young generation to prefer brand management over sales. But in my opinion sales is a more challenging field, which tests your life skills and emotional intelligence. So organizations should push their best people to sales and all senior managers including CEO should posses’ strong sales skills," Dr Godahewa said pointing out that in successful organizations such as MAS holdings all CEOs were expected to be personally involved in sales. "That’s why they can successfully cater to international markets where your customers are top brands such as Victoria Secret, Gap, and Nike," he said.

"A good manager is someone who thinks out of the box and constantly looks for solutions. When a team of non-apparel experts took responsibility of turning around the oldest factory of MAS in the late 90’s they not only improved operational efficiencies by challenging old work methods but also found new opportunities to make money by engaging in forward and backward integration.

"By developing a clear business strategy and aligning the management team to support it, within 5 years we were able to grow the turnover of the company from US$ 20 million to US$ 90 million by expanding into four countries and made almost US$ 10 million in profits," Dr. Godahewa said.

"Eli Goldratt’s famous book ‘The Goal’, helped us a lot in understanding the improvements required in the production floor and very soon other plants started following the operational model and the factory layout developed by us," he said and explained how the founder of MAS holdings Mahesh Amalean decided to restructure the already successful organization in 2004 saying, "We must embrace change when we are doing well and not when we are going down and forced to change".

Sri Lanka Insurance…

When ownership of Sri Lanka Insurance was transferred back to the government, the company got a very good opportunity to re-launch itself," said Dr. Godahewa said.

"The company was financially stable and had government backing.  Because the company was under private sector management for almost six years, the company had developed a strong customer-care culture. We decided to build our brand on these two strengths; government protection and private sector-like care.

It was similar to the protection provided to a family by fathers and the care of Mother’s; so we built a marketing communication campaign which goes " Sri Lanka Insurance - like a father -like a mother’. This campaign was an enormous success and helped the brand to bounce back with the company regaining market share in almost all product categories".

"The company made a lot of money through effective fund management capitalising on the stock market boom after the war. Our strategic investments helped the government to gain control at Seylan, NDB and HNB banks.

"At Sri Lanka Insurance, I couldn’t finish what I started because I was moved to Sri Lanka Tourism as chairman," said Dr Godahewa.


Speaking about tourism Dr Godahewa pointed out that it was a 100 percent private sector driven industry and the role of government should be limited to policy making, investor facilitation and regulation.

"Rather than trying to do promotions within administrative and financial regulations of the public service, the state must empower the private sector to take the lead. Sri Lanka Tourism has developed a five year

tourism development strategy focusing on five key areas; creating an environment conducive for tourism, attracting right segments of tourists, enduring departing tourists are happy, improving domestic tourism and improving global image of Sri Lanka," he said.

Dr. Godahewa advised the students and members of SLIM to observe and study both successful professionals as well as those who failed. "From every person you come across in life you learn something. How you interpret what you observe and put that into practice is up to you. Never underestimate the value and power of constant learning. Attitude is more important than skills when it comes to corporate success and many people ultimately fail because they can not control their own ego," he pointed out.

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