Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Passing of Mr.A.Y.S.Gnanam

Businessman & Owner of Virakesari

When thugs robbed Gnanam house during the 1983 trouble, they chased him out of his house. As he was just with a sarong and vest (his norm), the thugs sympathized and offered him a trouser and a shirt. Gnanam told them - "Not to worry. I came like this from India and used to go from house to house buying old newspapers in this same attire. I am prepared to go with the same dress to the refugee camp."

A Y S Gnanam Mr. A.Y.S. Gnanam, 84, the head of Express Newspapers, Tokyo Cement, etc. died in Singapore on Tuesday after a brief illness and his funeral is today, Saturday, in Colombo.

Mr. Gnanam started his business career selling scrap iron and built the multi-billion rupee St. Anthony's Industries Group (Pvt.) Ltd.

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Comments on Mr. Gnanam by Rohan Fernando in The Sunday Observer, April 28, 2002:

The A.Y.S. Gnanam I knew

The well-known industrialist A.Y.S. Gnanam is considered to be the oldest living chief executive cum business tycoon in this country today.

He started life under a spell of severe hardships, having lost his father, thus his means of living and shelter, at a very tender age.

Young Gnanam had no alternative but to give up schooling and to look for a source of income, in order to keep the family fires burning. He started collecting scrap iron for resale on a small scale. With sheer determination with a tremendous amount of handwork and with an untiring effort, he made his tiny business grow into a massive empire within a relatively a short period.

The empire he built has provided employment to several thousands of people of this country for several decades.

He pioneered the manufacture of a large number of industrial and other consumer products locally, from whom several other manufacturers have taken the cue.

Mr. Gnanam is a living legend for true "Entrepreneurship", who provides several very valuable object lessons for up and coming small industrialists and young entrepreneurs. This article marks the 80th birthday of Mr. Gnanam, which falls on May 5, 2002, by a former employee of St. Anthony's Industries Group, which was one of Mr. Gnanam's pet projects.

Mr. A.Y.S. GnanamI vividly remember the first encounter with Mr. Gnanam on a Monday evening in December 1976. It was the final interview for the post of Group Finance Manager at St. Anthony's Group. Having gone into all the possible personal information about myself in detail in a very friendly atmosphere, he got on to describe the job.

The five years I spent at St. Anthony's were the most exciting period of my life, where I learnt not only the intricacies of financial management, but also the challenges of entrepreneurship of the highest order.

Soon I realised that my survival at the new job will depend solely on whether I deliver the goods or not. Mr. Gnanam is a man of deeds and not of words, for whom no excuse, whether looking good or otherwise, is acceptable.

He is not bothered about the amount of effort you put in to a job, but about the results it brings in. You cannot fudge anything to him, since he knows his job from A to Z in detail. He has a good knowledge of every field connected with industry and business.

Neither an employee nor any other person could easily take him for a ride. He has a clear vision of anything he is involved in and also a well defined goal. He knows the way to achieve it too. For him, it is only a matter of organising his team to work towards the goal. He wants everyone to think positively, no matter how difficult the task is. Anyone could criticise the plan within such a framework. He is prepared to listen and amend the plan. However, once a decision is reached, everyone alike should ensure that it is implemented to achieve the desired result.

He is a man who has walked with kings without losing the common touch. Several top notch civil servants, government officials, political leaders and even heads of states used to consult him regularly on the country's National economy and industrial policy. He was quite outspoken and had a clear vision about what is to be done to develop this country to greater heights.

He was well respected even by foreign business associates, with whom he had business dealings. I remember meeting the CEO of Sanyo Corporation of Japan when he visited Sri Lanka a few years back, who told me that Mr. Gnanam always receives VVIP treatment when he visits his office in Japan.

They were highly appreciative of his in-depth knowledge of industry and his integrity. Mr. Gnanam is a person who would not get excited by any calamity. He is a firm believer in God and in himself for whom failures are always pillars of success. Even when his entire industrial complex was destroyed in 1983, his enthusiasm did not suffer even an inch. He came back with sheer determination and rebuilt everything to a greater height.

Although he is known to be a great entrepreneur, there is another aspect. That is the super qualities he possess as a great human being. He is a gentleman in the real sense of the word. I know of several individuals who are being constantly helped by him, for the sole reason that they have helped him at some stage or other of his life. I left my job at St. Anthony's after a stint of five years to start something of my own. Although he was not happy when I first told him of my decision to leave the job, on second thoughts, he told me that I will do better in an industry of my own than in working for somebody and gave his blessings.

I was just building up my industry and he very keenly followed the progress I made. Once when I told him of my plans to get into a new field of business, he told me that he has some extra machinery which would be of interest to me. When I told him that I do not have the means to purchase them outright, but would arrange for a bank loan to purchase them, he not only asked me to take them and pay whenever I can, but also offered them at a very low price.

He was simply expressing his appreciation for something he got from me some years back. This must be just another one of the several thousands of such deeds he has performed in sheer humanity. The greatest thing about the man is not in the reflection of the deed itself, but in the fact that he could not even remember today that he has done a thing like that in the past.

Rohan B. Fernando,

Past President

SMI Foundation - Colombo District

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Three stories of Gnanam & the 1983 pogrom


1.) When thugs robbed Gnanam house during the 1983 trouble, they chased him out of his house. As he was just with a sarong and vest (his norm), the thugs sympathized and offered him a trouser and a shirt. Gnanam told them - "Not to worry. I came like this from India and used to go from house to house buying old newspapers in this same attire. I am prepared to go with the same dress to the refugee camp."

This is very much similar to what Lord Krishna said:

What have you lost that you Cry
What did you bring in this world that you have lost
What did you create that has been destroyed
Whatever you took was here and is given back to this world

2.) While he was at the refugee camp, Lalith visited the camp and was surprised to see Gnanam. So Lalith asked him- "How come you are here? Let me re-check my hit list." Lalith checked and even showed Gnanam the list to prove that he was there.

After long pause, Lalith told Gnanam  - "It could be that you are on Cyril
Mathew's hit list."

3.) AYS Gnanam told about his employees when they set fire to his factories in 1983, "You are only hitting at your own bread and butter."