“The world has plenty of dreamers. And, while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing.”
Venerable Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Council Members, first, it is beyond a pleasure and an honor to be here to celebrate the University of Colombo post graduates of 2023. Let me start, of course, by thanking Vice Chancellor Karunarathne for inviting me to be your guest speaker. Let me at the outset, congratulate all of you who are graduating today. Needless to say, this is a moment of great joy and satisfaction in your life. Your academic efforts have come to fruition. You all have worked so hard and come so far to reach this milestone, so I know this is a big day for you and your families, and for everyone at this university who supported you on this journey. This marks the completion of one stage in your life, and another is about to begin. I want to now tell you a few things about myself. My career. And, share with you a few things that life has taught me. I am an engineering graduate. I graduated with an honors degree from the University of Loughborough in the UK at a fairly early age. I was 20 years. Then I thought what next? My father’s side of my family are all graduates, doctors and engineers and they value education a lot. So they said to me why not do a PhD? So I did, and graduated once more at 24 years and worked as an engineer in the UK for a few more years. But I had not discovered what I wanted to do most. I then pursued a marketing degree whilst working which was better than engineering but again not what I wanted to spend my life pursuing.
I came back to Sri Lanka in 1993 after spending 10 years in the UK. The capital arkets in the country including the Colombo Stock Exchange had just opened up to foreign investors, and the markets were booming. And, that’s when I got my first major break – I was offered a job as an investment analyst which I took to like fish to water. That’s the first piece of advice I would like to give you.
“Find what your passion in life is and dive deep in.”
Steve Jobs, the founder and former CEO of Apple said in a 2005 speech at Stanford University, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way you know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose”. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier. “Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – they fall away in the face of death, leaving only what’s truly important. Jobs said that this mindset will make you understand the importance of your work. “And, the only way to do great work is to love what you do,” he said. “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Settling means giving into someone else’s vision of your life – a temptation Jobs warned against. “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. I became an entrepreneur much later in life when I was approached and asked whether I would like to invest, be a shareholder and the CFO of a new IT firm at the time. This firm, Millennium IT, 10 years later became one of the most successful IT firms this country has produced and was later sold to the London Stock Exchange. Working for a start-up firm had its ups and downs. At times, we were over the moon with what we could achieve and at times down in the dumps when things went wrong. But we boxed on, believing in ourselves, backing ourselves, busy doing what we enjoyed doing. That’s the second lesson I would like to part with today. The world has plenty of dreamers. And, while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, engaged, powerful people, are busy doing. “Ditch the dream and be a doer, not a dreamer. The truth is, it does not matter. You don’t have to know. You just have to keep moving forward. You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new. It doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life. Perfect is boring and dreams may not be real”.
Investing in BPPL Holdings and really starting to make a difference to climate change through the recycling of plastics is something I enjoy doing at present. We all know the tremendous harm plastics can cause if not properly recycled. Today, BPPL has set-up a network of close to 500 PET bottle collectors across Sri Lanka and operate through 16 de-centralised collection centers where bottle waste is collected, sorted and transported to our own recycling facilities. But what truly sets us apart is what we do next with this plastic. We extrude brush filaments and polyester yarn from the bottles and sell them to the brush and apparel industries the world over. Income is all in hard currency, in US Dollars and the levels of value addition to something that’s otherwise discarded is truly remarkable. So as you leave this room this morning, don’t forget to ask yourselves what you can give back to society. How you can make this world a better place, in spite of your circumstances”. There is an abundance of creative spirit in each of you. Use it. Don’t waste it away. Do something with it both for the benefit of not only yourself, but the society you live in. John F. Kennedy in a speech in 1963 said, “our problems are manmade – therefore, they can be solved by man. And, man can be as big as he wants.” In around the year 2000 whilst at Millennium, we also commenced another start-up. E-Channelling PLC which I’m sure most of you use now to channel doctors. At the time, to book an appointment with a specialist, people had to travel to Colombo from all parts of the country. Appointments were given first thing in the morning so most patients had to come down the previous day or at the crack of dawn. They would then have to spend the entire day hanging around until the specialist saw them that evening, and then find their way back again to their home towns. E-Channelling put a stop to all that. You can make your appointments today through your phone, computer, at the nearest pharmacy or bank branch. This is another great initiative we did to give something back to society. Finally, remember the importance of humility and kindness. People generally regret, especially later on in life in failing to be kind. Those moments when another human being was there, nearby, suffering and they responded sensibly, reservedly, mildly. Kindness is hard. In part because it comes with age. We grow less selfish as we grow older. So don’t wait. Speed it along. Start right now. Ultimately, I want you all to go out there. Be great. Build great lives for yourselves.
“Pursue your own version of happiness. Be kind and humble, and, please, always, do your part to help others do the same.”
Thank you all very much. Good luck on the road ahead.