Odiris – Sri Lanka’s pioneer entrepreneur passes away

By Natasha Gunaratne

Odiris Perera widely regarded as one of Sri Lanka’s best known entrepreneurs in the post independence era passed away this week at the age of 94. Odiris (as he was popularly known and to many as Odiris Silva) was responsible for bringing products such as gas stoves, kerosene lamps and coconut scrapers to the Sri Lankan market and his products are still held in great admiration. Former Secretary of the Ministry of Plan Implementation, Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria told The Sunday Times FT that Perera should be regarded as the entrepreneur of the country in the pre-liberalised era.

According to Weerasooria, former President J.R. Jayewardena and former Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa were both very fond of Perera because he was the ‘nation’s entrepreneur.’ Weerasooria explained that after the liberalization of the economy, various Chinese and foreign products flooded the market but in the closed economy, prior to 1978 or 1979, Perera’s products were very well known and maintained under his name.

However, in the post liberalization era, Sri Lankan products were unable to withstand the onslaught from competitive products from overseas, mainly due to a lack of technology to manufacture and perfect them and the inability to mass produce. Weerasooria said the former President personally asked him to give every possible assistance to Perera to withstand the liberalization policies.

President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) Nawaz Rajabdeen described Perera as a great thinker and a great entrepreneur as well as a humble man who achieved all he wanted in a small way.”Odiris Perera was a person from down south and they are great thinkers and business people,” Rajabdeen said.

“If you look at the number of people who migrated from the south to Colombo, all of them are entrepreneurs who started their life from zero.” Unlike now, there were no funding facilities so they managed to create something out of nothing. “That is a real entrepreneur. Odiris is a great man and this is a lesson that people must learn.”

Former FCCISL President Patrick Amarasinghe said Perera took the older version of the coconut scraper, improved it and made if efficient.”The most outstanding thing was that in that era, Perera was one of the greatest pioneers and developed a great product that had quality in the market.” Amarasinghe added that despite the expansion programs that came with liberalization of the Sri Lankan economy, the coconut scraping machine is still popular in the market and has been able to survive.”He should be honoured as one of the most enterprising pioneers.”