‘Sirimavo Govt, tried utmost to nationalise Ceylon Tobacco’


First and only Sri Lankan Executive Chairman of Ceylon Tobacco Co. PLC Stanley Wanigasekera reminisces=Had to sort out record 78 union strikes within first two years of his tenure!=Also pioneered CSR and Soya bean cultivation in Sri Lanka

One of the most haunting memories that the first and only Sri Lankan Executive Chairman of Ceylon Tobacco Co. PLC, Stanley Wanigasekera has during his seven year old tenure as the Head of the local subsidiary of the Fortune 500 listed British American Tobacco PLC, from 1970-1977, was the hostile acquisition bid by the Sirimavo Bandaranaike government of 1970-1977.

He also has traumatic memories of settling a record 78 strikes which were staged by the company’s trade unions, also clamouring for the nationalisation of the company, also within the first two of his seven year old tenure as Chairman!

Having passed out as a British qualified Chartered Accountant and garnered the Fellow Membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants ( FCA) of England and Wales, it was at Ceylon Tobacco that he joined as Accountant. He was promoted Finance Director in 1962 and finally as Chairman, a post he held from 1970- 1977. What is also unique is that he is the only Sri Lankan Executive Chairman of CTC while all subsequent Chairmen including S.K. Wickremesinghe, Ken Balendra and incumbent Jayampathy Bandaranayake were in the role and capacity of non- executive Chairmen. He had four expatriate Directors on his Board.

"It was the worst period in Ceylon Tobacco’s corporate history with the combination of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Finance Minister Dr. N.M. Perera whose sole motive was to nationalize the company as it was the single largest revenue source to the country. They thought that they could take over and run the company on their own as their belief was that it was only a case of producing a cigarette and selling it!, Stanley reminisced in an interview with The Island Financial Review at his Cambridge Terrace residence.

The Unions were also hand in glove with the government of the day and it was their ulterior motive also to have the company nationalized. There were a spate of 78 strikes which were also within the first two of Stanley’s seven year tenure as Chairman and they struck work at the drop of a hat! That was to prove to the government that the company could not manage the business. Their aim was to disrupt production and that too, in a backdrop where all three meals were provided by the best of Ceylon Hotel School qualified chefs. CTC also adopted various strategies to keep the production and the stocks going.

There was a time that the management had decided to stop work on its own accord which was to spite the unions. When the final strike came, which lasted three long weeks, CTC threatened to terminate all the strikers! The crippling trade union action was promptly called off! They had to return on the terms stipulated by the company!

There was also a time in 1973 where there were severe restrictions on imports due to oil prices skyrocketing. Western government and Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike were at loggerheads with each other and the matriarch of Sri Lankan politics had also antagonized the super powers, dubbing it as the " rapacious West" in one of her speeches in China! That also meant that there was no aid forthcoming. Sugar imports were also restricted. How the restricted sugar imports impacted CTC was that there was less tea drinking in kiosks, which also affected the sale of cigarettes.

CTC had a brainwave to counter that strategy. What it did was to procure a 200 acre block of land at Haldummulla to grow sugar cane to make jaggery, which was sold in small pieces in tea kiosks and boutiques countrywide, which kept the sale of its core product going!

Pioneers of CSR and Soya

It was to the credit of CTC that it pioneered the first project in the arena of Corporate Social Responsibility when it had 600 plus acres of rice cultivation in Mahiyangana. These farms produced the record breaking paddy harvests which yielded 125 bushels to the acre at that time, when the national averages were a mere 40! The farms were equipped with the most state of the art infrastructure, laced with cement lined concrete channels which pumped the water and also facilities for drip irrigation and sprinklers. CTC also renovated three irrigation tanks to ensure the uninterrupted supply of water to the paddy fields and the soya cultivation, which was done under his stewardship as Chairman

There was also a request from the Food and Agriculture Organisation ( FAO) and the Department of Agriculture for CTC to assist in the cultivation of Soya bean in the early 1970s at a time when there was a cultivation drive across the country. That marked the pioneering venture of soya cultivation in Sri Lanka. There was a five acre block of land at Mahiyangana readily available which was a part of 1000 acres which the company owned at that time. CTC provided the lead for soya cultivation in Sri Lanka and the nation is self sufficient in soya today.

Central Finance, AMW, ANCL and Tokyo Cement.

Stanley left both CTC and Sri Lanka to live in England and on his return, he was appointed to the Board of Central Finance under the stewardship of founding Chairman Chandra Wijenaike. He was promoted Chairman with the demise of Wijenaike (Senior) in 2006 and served till last year in that capacity. He had to resign with the Central Bank regulations which said that one could not serve as a Director of a Finance Company for more than nine years. He also served as a Director of the then listed Associated Motorways, Finance Director of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd under the Chairmanship of Ranapala Bodhinagoda and also Director of Tokyo Cement as well, the latter position which he even holds today.


A distinguished product of St. Anthony’s College, Katugastota where he excelled in studies, he obtained a First Division Pass at the London Matriculation under PBA Weerakoon who was the senior master in the Matriculation classes, who was on a record for having produced the best matriculation at that time of 12 students, 6 of whom emerged with first classes, and the other six came up with second divisions and who eventually became Minister of Education. A keen sportsman, he played cricket, rugby and soccer at the House and second team levels. However, his pet sport in school was mountaineering!

He also sat for the Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of London as a private student from Sri Lanka and passed it. His next ambition was to emerge as a Chartered Accountant, but there was no examination for Chartered Accountancy in Sri Lanka. Travelling to England was most arduous as foreign students were not accepted there at that time. Preference was given to people who were returning after World War II. It was also hard to establish as a student in England as it was very expensive.

He lived in Liverpool with his wife at the time he was a student and there were no "dark" students there at that time. A blessing in disguise for Stanley was that there was a ex Royal Ceylon Army military personality who had served in Sri Lanka under Lord Louis Mountbatten in World War II and who just returned to England.

Also, coincidentally at the same time that Stanley had arrived in England and who also coincidentally had a firm of Chartered Accountants. His name was Stanley Chaytor and his firm was Chaytor Steelle and Co. He took a liking to Stanley and offered him Articles in his company which led to his emerging as a Chartered Accountant.

Stanley had to serve only three of the four mandatory years as he received a one year exemption by virtue of his B.Com. Degree also from the University of London.

Stanley passed out his British Charter with flying colours and namesake Stanley Chaytor offered him a partnership in his firm of Chartered Accountants. That was also a rare occurrence where a partnership was offered in a British firm of Chartered Accountants to a non Britisher. But, ( late) wife Sumitra had just had their only son Gihan, then just a newborn, now a top rung Electronics Engineer cum IT Consultant in the UK, and she wanted to return to Sri Lanka.

It was also at the same time that monopoly cigarette manufacturer Ceylon Tobacco Co PLC was looking for Chartered Accountants for which there was a dearth. The local company paid first class passage for Stanley and the family to return by ship, even providing him pocket money on board!

Pic by Ravi Ladduwahetty

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