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dilith jayaweera

Being ‘’unconventional‘’ and thinking out of the box – Dilith Jayaweera

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When it comes to the advertising sector, ‘’Triad’’ tends to be an iconic name. Needless to say, the name which rings a bell next is TV Derana, which has a remarkable audience due to its creative concepts and variety. Thus from Advertising, Triad has expanded itself to the print media as well, and as a result, recently launched its latest print edition, ‘’Sunday Morning’’ and it’s Sinhala version ‘’Sathi Aga Aruna’’  which hit the  newspaper stands  overnight. Today, the company has been highly diversified consisting of 20 subsidiaries, including TV Derana, gaining a strong hold not only in advertising and media, but also in travel, leisure and property development, Pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. The story behind Triad tells us of teamwork, hard work and dedication, of how a company which started with three campus batch mates became one of the advertising giants in Sri Lanka. Triad has many international and local awards under its belt.

Behind every success story there’s an excellent mentor, a good leader and a strong will to succeed, and the unmistakable name behind it is, Dilith Jayaweera. Blessed with an impeccable wit and ‘’thinking out of the box‘’ attitude, Dilith Jayaweera is a well-known cooperate leader and a prominent figure in the country’s advertising industry. He set up Traid Advertising (Pvt) Ltd in 1993 in partnership with Varuni Amunugama Fernando, whom he met at the faculty of Law, University of Colombo. As a prominent investor, His investment arm ‘’Divasa Equity‘’ is a majority shareholder in public listed companies such as Citrus Leisure PLC, Colombo Land and Development PLC, and in October 2011, he assumed duties as chairman of the highly established George Stuart Group. In same year, he was named by the LMD as one of the ten ‘’Business People of the year’’.  A proud product of St. Alosyius College Galle, Dilith always believed in himself and had the ‘’can do‘’ attitude, which took him to greater heights at the end. The most amazing aspect is his friendly, down to earth personality, yet sophisticated.  He believes in being simple and down to earth. Being a free thinker, he’s ready to travel by bus or even to walk, buy groceries from a simple grocery store.

Talk to different people, from the street vendor to the CEO of a company. His story will indeed be an inspiration for youngsters who want to succeed and reach for the stars, by hard work and commitment. Despite his busy schedule, Dilith mused his thoughts on how he reached for the stars, his versatile career, and advice for young advertisers.

What inspired you to change directions as to quit law and select advertising instead?

I have answered that question for years!!  Well, answering that question, I never intended to do law. I had to do law to please my parents. I did not have the passion for it. I always wanted to do something diverse. But since my parents wanted me to be a lawyer, I did law.

How did the idea of starting an advertising agency come up? Was it a new field at that time?

Well I just had a knack for it. Anyway I was inclined to do some kind of business. Analyzing what others do, analyzing other businesses, etc. So this happened to be one such idea which was available. Apart from that I had a creative side too. While in the university also, I was more concentrating on different businesses, small businesses etc, so that was the background of my entrepreneur career.

What were the challenges you had to face when you started Triad? Were you financially secured?

We started one business which you don’t need much of a capital to start. You actually sell ideas. So we were selling ideas and we didn’t have to invest capital. We started operating the agency from a very simple level.

What was the advertising field like, at that time?

It was a very popular field even at that time. What we did was to differentiate and   coordinate with other companies, and we wanted to stay local, strategically, concentrating on promoting local brands. So that also   highlighted our way of thinking.

How would you see the advertising sector then and now?

Actually it was a very vibrant industry at that time, but now in the Sri Lankan context, that ‘’vibrancy ‘’ is gone. Now Agencies are becoming more mundane, more ‘’not so vibrant’’, not so aggressive.  It’s like; this is not what I entered, some years ago. It is slowly dying. Of course it’s connected with the country’s economy, social and cultural aspects. However, today I consider it is not as vibrant as before. In fact, for me it’s not innovative. I believe in innovation. For an economy to boom, you need innovation and creativity. The advertising industry is not that aggressive, which means you get less ideas, looking down to the entrepreneurs, businesses, you know, and mercantile sector. It means we‘re not developing new brands, not developing new products. That should be the concern in this regard.

Even with technical development?

Yes. In fact, this technical development I think is responsible for the death of this industry. Advertising is all about production, you know. Doing art work, designing, etc… It’s a congregation of ideas and strategies. So people need to come up with a generation of ideas, crafting pieces of work.

What makes “Triad” so unique and successful   in the advertising industry?

We seriously believe in the congregation of ideas.  We believe in the formation of ideas. We believe that cutting edge ideas can shape the economy of this country .Be it in developing products; social advertising or CSR based advertising, whatever we do. We try to make this happen, and we try to make it the life line of the agency. Trying to create ideas, and come up with ideas. So that is actually the success we have achieved, since we haven’t lost the power of idea generation. That’s what makes us different.

There are young people with new ideas and concepts. Is there a possibility for them to join this field?

Of course we’re recruiting, and we’re looking for young blood, youth with ideas. More than with the ideas, people who have the capacity to come up with ideas. It’s something related with talent. We need people with that talent to create and generate ideas. But of course, when a country’s economy is not being very well, one such industry which gets affected is the advertising industry. So we can see the results of that. The processing power of the industry goes down. So you don’t have the capacity to keep them. Because other industries, they can pay better. So they look for greener pastures. That’s the problem.

How would you see Derana TV’s success of entering Print & electronic media field, especially with the inception of the ‘’Sunday Morning‘’?

Well they’re two different stories altogether!! Derana is one story. In fact, I never planned to start a TV channel. I was   actually pushed in to starting this channel. But why Derana became successful, was, two things. First, we were able to differentiate the fact that we have to move along with the locally oriented programming and culture, plus the technology. Of course we crafted a product again, very carefully, and our proposition was very indigenous, and people saw the difference, and of course the trust on the brand, consistent proposition, we continued to deliver. But at the same time, like any other organization within the group, we created a belonging culture than a hierarchical one. So that helped us to generate new ideas. That was also due to the generation of ideas, and making it consistent. Another thing was our current affairs, news content , which set an example to the rest, giving the full freedom to the team, and taking responsibility , trying to make it as unbiased as possible.

Do you believe in starting small?

Yes, I think that is the whole idea. In any business, you should start small. The more you’re trying to acquire big businesses, you lose that ownership. When you start small, from the very first employee or the team member, to the biggest CEO of the company, the ownership is there. So when you start small, you can go with that kind of passion. When there is no passion, there is no business. All what we say is in any business you do, passion is important. If you go behind profit, you can’t ever get your business successful, because you’re going behind the wrong objective. Personally I’m a simple person and don’t believe in material success. The happiness and passion you can’t get by getting up every morning and thinking you’re going to make more money. But if you get up in the morning with some new ideas, brand new products or services that makes you energetic .The youth start a business not with the idea of passionately thinking, not with the idea of taking it to the next level, but what they see is money. They see material success. You cannot do that. That’s the universal truth. All the successful brands around the world are being built by people who are rather eccentric!  They mostly reject the material successes. But of course, when you passionately do business, or develop brands, money comes automatically.

In the concept of happiness, I have found out, being inspired by Buddha, happiness is all about, simply living this moment only. Tomorrow, I don’t know, yesterday, I have no control, when I’m talking to you I’m passionately thinking that it’s my last conversation I’m going to have as a human being. So I have energy. While talking to you, if I think of what I’m going to do tomorrow or the next hour, I won’t be focused and then I’ll be an unhappy man. Then you’ll also think I’m an unhappy man!!!

As the chairman of George Stuarts, Derana and other noted companies, you seem to be having your hands full. How do you manage all this?

See, my passion is in innovation and creativity. Rather than being in the conventional management, I like to get involved in the creativity, innovation and ideas. Going through the balance sheet everyday is not my expertise. So in managing these companies, my way of contribution does not come in the way of conventional management structure. Though I’m designated as a chairman, my role is not a chairman in the conventional sense. I don’t even have a secretary, and not like a conventional chairman ordering people around, that’s not my style. I’m on the streets, I travel by bus, I talk to people, from the street vendor to those at the supermarket to the CEO of a company, etc… So   there is no stress for me. Of course there are people to manage, there are CEO’s of all the companies, so I’m a very happy man in that way. Nothing stresses me.

Finally, what will be your advice to upcoming advertising professionals?

What I say is, I cater to those who believe in ideas. Because   we believe in ideas. At present, those who enter the industry don’t talk about ideas. They will say ‘’I’m good in Photoshop’’ or ‘’I’m good in illustrator‘’ I’m good in this and that, but very rarely will somebody come and say that ‘’I have this urge‘’. You know that so many ideas are bubbling in me, and I want to put my ideas out. But now you sit behind a computer, and you download, Google, check Wikipedia, and you have no idea of creating something on your own. You have no image of your own. Your image is being downloaded. I will always think of this from my consumer’s point of view.  If I create a commercial, what kind of imagery should I create?  You should be able to entice the consumer to be a fan of your brand. It’s all about imagery. It’s a kind of science. Even when you’re walking on the streets you get ideas. Be it going by train, railway station, go to the Pettah market, or the ‘’Delkanda Pola’’ meet people, talk to people. When you interact with people, you can get enough ideas!!! Not like sitting in front of a computer and downloading images. What advertising professionals do nowadays is, they go and search images, get copies, already done advertisements, commercials. So then you can’t think new. People like to see new things. Thinking in the same way is not going to excite people. Even you know that.  This is what I believe in, so if you want to be successful, you should ‘’unlearn’’ things. The more you ‘’unlearn’’, more creative you’re going to be.

By Sureshni Pilapitiya


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