Thursday, February 18, 2010

Opportunity Never Knocks Twice - A session by Nahil Wijesuriya

It was a pleasure listening to Nahil Wijesuriya, a Sri Lankan business magnate who could be classified both renegade and unorthodox at the 30th LBR LBO CEO forum this evening.

I've heard a bit about this businessman but what was dished out was never expected. He was both candid and blunt with his views.

I walked in to the room when he was explaining how he used legal framework to create never seen opportunities by many. For example long years ago when government owned Petroleum corporation had a monopoly over oil bunkering in the country, he went ahead with his own bunkering operation from a barge in the sea. His rationale was that according to the law the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka for bunkering purposes was confined to 11KM from the shores of the country. Thus he started operating his business with a barge anchored (according to him in 3KM deep sea you cannot anchor a barge )11.5 KM from the shores of the country!!!!

In another example he was explaining his appetite towards taking on the big guns in the business world and giving a good fight for them. He detailed out how he took the fight to the largest corporate organization in Sri lanka on two different business issues. One was regarding a oil bunkering business and the other was a condominium issue for which he took the lead. When the interviewer asked the inevitable question of as to why he loves to pick a fight with the biggest, his answer was he just liked it.......(Later on as a another friend mentioned, reminds her of Branson type of Psyche)

Another key aspect which dawned upon me was that all businessman of this caliber tends to size up situations very quickly and just go ahead with some of the deals (as oppose to countless number of evaluations performed by regular corporates) seemingly with their gut. He explained a formation of a freight forwarding and clearing business where one of the employees of a supplier who approached him wanted him to start up a business in this particular line. Instead of him starting on his own he suggested to the guy to come on board as a shareholder of the company. When the guy said he only had small amount of cash (Rs. 16,000 (approx 97 USD) , he told the guy to throw in that money and that he would contribute the same while inviting another 3rd party to contribute a similar amount. Apparently he organised a deal for the the guy on the same day which gave them a profit which was several times over the equity of the firm. So he says the business began to blossom. This reminded me of Robert Kiyosaki where he says "Tie up the deal first and then we'll work out the money" (in his book "Before You Quit Your Job")

According to him he does not carry any emotional attachments to any of his businesses. He would get in to a business if he likes it and he sells when he gets bored with the day to day activities of it and if the price is right. This guy has done this many times over!!!!!!

According to him many pass over business opportunities because they are afraid of the seemingly difficult and complex laws surrounding them. But according to him that is where the opportunity lies for the true entrepreneur. He says one needs to scrutinise the relevant laws very carefully before giving up on a particular opportunity. "More often than not you find a loophole or a work around to suit your requirement", he opined.

When asked about his family life he said you belong to one of the extremes, which is either you are an extremely family oriented man or as in his case you are a business junkie!

When the interviewer asked about the failures in his business life, he could only recall one instance where one of his companies had to be liquidated by him. Not a bad track record for a guy who keeps taking on new business challenges.

Reflecting upon the discussion it dawns upon me that he is very much the local version of Donald Trump or a Richard Branson! Out spoken, renegade types who thrive on money and other things in life! (Trust you know what I mean)

Having said all that it was an hour's business master class no doubt.

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