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A Tale Of Two Brothers…

A Tale Of The Two BrothersIt must be a unique experience for a writer to meet two eminent persons at the same interview and when it is two brothers it really must be special. Well, at least that was how I felt when I met Nihal Amerasinghe and his brother Franklyn who are both well known in Sri Lanka and abroad for their wealth of knowledge and experience in their different spheres of professionalism. Perhaps it was the privilege of being the elder brother that prompted Nihal to take first lease of the wicket (cricketing parlance comes easily into the conversation as both were cricketers in their own right). There was also this, when it came to Nihal, though his brothers were Annites first, the home town being Kurunegala, and Antonians thereafter, Nihal was the exception who was a Benedictine in the years after St. Anne’s. So first I let him explain this choice of a school different from the other family members and he says “our parents were quite open with us and gave us the choice and I selected St. Benedict’s as it was reputed to be good in science education at the time”.

Nihal has many firsts and 1st among these firsts is being the first Benedictine to graduate from the University of Ceylon’s Peradeniya Agriculture Faculty (as it  was called then) with a degree in Agricultural Science. He passed first in his batch and was awarded the coveted F.S.H. Perera Memorial Prize for Agriculture, a first for an Old Ben. He was also the first Ben to be appointed to the Faculty of Agriculture. The “firsts’ continue and he was the first Benedictine to win a Commonwealth Scholarship to UK to do a Masters Degree in Economics and Social Studies. He later went on to do his Ph.D. in Economics and MSc in Environment Management at the University of London.

Naturally all of these high academic achievements coupled with his experience he went on to become the first and only Sri Lankan to hold the post of Director General of a Department at the Asian Development Bank, which post he held for many years serving the Asia-Pacific Region. Nihal has pioneered ADB’s Agriculture and Rural Development operations in China, Mongolia and the Mekong countries – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Let’s go back to the more formative years of Nihal. Having studied in his early years at Kurunegala which as mentioned before, was his home town, he had joined St. Benedict’s and had immediately been absorbed into the Benedictine cricket team in 1958. In fact, at 15 years of age he had played in the Sara Trophy tournament representing Kurunegala S.C. and had played against giants like Sathi Coomaraswamy and Chandra Schafter of the Tamil Union in his first match at the Oval, he recalled.

Speaking of his days as a “Ben” and his cricketing days at school, he had been the best all rounder in the years 1960 and 1961 and recalled beating St. Peter’s for the first time in 1960 and being presented with a cricket bat the next Monday at the College Assembly by the then Director of St. Benedict’s, Rev. Bro. Athanatius for his haul of ten wickets in the match. He also recalled having taken ten wickets in the Jaffna Schools vs. Colombo Schools match in 1961 played in Jaffna. Nihal won his Cricket and Tennis colours and was the Tennis Captain in 1960.

Since he was boarded at St. Benedict’s Nihal says, the discipline of getting up at 5.30 in the morning and starting the day with prayers in the cathedral and studies thereafter formed their character. The spiritual upbringing was strong at St. Benedict’s said Nihal and added that the guiding principle that was drilled into them by the Rev. Brothers who ran the College, was “if anything was worth doing, do it well”. This, he said had stood him in good stead in later life. He also recalled the excellent Science teachers and reputation of the school for Science at that time. Last year he had been the Chief Guest at the Benedictine Prize Giving and while doing a walk about in his old school with the present Director, he had inquired if like in the old days the bell was rung every hour for prayers. He said he was happy to hear the Bro. Director say “yes”.

Amerasinghe family
Dr. Nihal Amerasinghe, Chevalier C.L.W. Perera, Clarence Amerasinghe, Dr. A.R.B. Amerasinghe

if anything was worth doing do it well

Recalling some of the cricketers from other Colleges, he mentioned Raja de Silva and Priya Perera of St. Joseph’s, Charlie Joseph of St. Anthony’s, Maurice Deckker and Adiel Anghie of St. Peter’s, Nanda and Lalith Senanayake, Harasha Samarajeewa, Michael Dias of Royal, Lareef Idroos and Buddy Reid of St Thomas’ and Mohanlal Fernando and Sarath Wimalaratne of Ananda. At the University he had played cricket in the University’s Sara Trophy team. He recalled that the University had the cream of cricketers from the leading schools at that time. In 1965 he had scored the first century in the All-India Inter University championships at the Chepawk Stadium in Madras. He recalled that in the tournament that year, Madras University was captained by S. Venketaragavan the Indian off-spinner who was a test umpire in later years and the University of Mysore by Chandrashekar, the legendary leg spinner. Nihal, having captained the Peradeniya team in 1965 had resigned to concentrate on his studies and that, he said, was the end of his cricketing days.

About his family life he said with a glint of mischief in his eye, that he married the day he graduated from the University. Had his wedding in the morning, went for the graduation and then went on the honeymoon in the evening. He has 3 daughters, the eldest an Intellectual Property lawyer in Sydney, the second is an Architect and Urban Planner, who is happy to be a home-maker in London and the third is the Global Economist for Standard Chartered Bank in London. Nihal has three grandsons who are all avid cricketers.

Now semi- retired but still continuing to teach as a Professor at the well known Asian Institute of Management, Asia’s first Management School. He says it is time for giving back and he teaches students from Asia and the Pacific which is very satisfying and fulfilling.

Nihal Amerasinghe

Upon returning to Sri Lanka from his post-graduate studies in the UK, he had taught at the University of Sri Lanka till 1977 and left for Australia to teach in the Australian National University. Two years later he had left to join the ADB in Manila which was originally thought to be a short stint but turned out to be the longest and with work being interesting and stimulating he had served the organisation for 23 years, during which period he had served 28 countries including Sri Lanka.

He has just published a book on “Design, Appraisal and Management of Sustainable Development Projects” which is a unique piece of work which will be valuable for development practitioners globally. This he had dedicated to his Alma Mater St.Benedict’s College and had presented it to the Director at a recent ceremony held there. He said his book on International Financial Institutions and Development in Asia published in 2011 was well received internationally.

Back row - (left to right) – Percy Perera, Sanath Jaywardene, Winston Dissanayake, Ranjit Perumal, Allan Gunasekera, Nihal Amerasinghe, Elmo Rodrigopulle (Captain), Cyrill Ernest, Nihal Fernandopulle, Chandra Ramanathan, Cecil Saverimuttu Front row - (left to right) – Nihal Sousa, Ranjit Fernando, Fred Silva, Gordon Dissanayake, Quintus Perera This team produced; three leading Medical Professionals Dr. Ramjit Perumal, Dr. Cyril Ernest and Dr. Cecil Saverimuttu. Two prominent Financial & Banking experts Nihal Fernandopulle advisor World Bank & IMF and Dr. Nihal Amerasinghe first Director General at Asian Development Bank, two Sri Lankan Cricketers Ranjit Fernando and Dr. Cyril Ernest.
St. Benedict’s College 1st XI Cricket 1960 Back row – (left to right) – Percy Perera, Sanath Jaywardene, Winston Dissanayake, Ranjit Perumal, Allan Gunasekera, Nihal Amerasinghe, Elmo Rodrigopulle (Captain), Cyrill Ernest, Nihal Fernandopulle, Chandra Ramanathan, Cecil Saverimuttu Front row – (left to right) – Nihal Sousa, Ranjit Fernando, Fred Silva, Gordon Dissanayake, Quintus Perera This team produced; three leading Medical Professionals Dr. Ranjit Perumal, Dr. Cyril Ernest and Dr. Cecil Saverimuttu. Two prominent Financial/Banking experts Nihal Fernandopulle advisor World Bank & IMF and Dr. Nihal Amerasinghe first Director General at Asian Development Bank, two Sri Lankan Cricketers Ranjit Fernando and Dr. Cyril Ernest.

 

Nihal has been recognized internationally for his work and was awarded the World Congress of Arts, Sciences and Communications Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and the International Biographical Centre of Cambridge Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He was inducted as one of the Top 100 Educators by the International Biographical Centre of Cambridge in 2013.

Book written by Dr. Nihal Amerasinghe
Book written by Dr. Nihal Amerasinghe

And then it was Franklyn’s turn….. 

As mentioned in the opening paragraphs, Franklyn had followed the Amerasinghe tradition of being Anthonians, unlike his second brother Nihal.

The eldest, the late Justice Dr. Ranjit Amerasinghe, was a Judge of the Supreme Court and was a pre-eminent legal scholar, who had set the trend for the younger siblings of application to academic pursuits and excellence in whatever they put their hands to. We found that their father Clarence had been Crown Proctor in Kurunegala, a prestigious position at the time and a former President of the St. Anthony’s College Kandy Old Boys Association (or SACKOBA for short), Parent Body. The maternal grandfather Chevalier, C L W Perera had been an outstanding criminal lawyer, author, philanthropist and Church leader. He had donated a complete science laboratory to St. Anne’s College, donated several buildings to schools and churches for which the Holy Father conferred a Knighthood on him.

Having laid the foundation for his cricket at St. Anne’s
he was a natural choice for the Anthonian under 14
cricket team. He had justified his selection by scoring a century in his first match that had been against Dharmarajah College and at 15 he had been playing in the 1st XI team.

Having laid the foundation for his cricket at St. Anne’s he was a natural choice for the Anthonian under 14 cricket team. He had justified his selection by scoring a century in his first match that had been against Dharmarajah College and at 15 he had been playing in the 1st XI team. Having played first as an off spinner and was thereafter promoted to the one down slot. In the 3rd year, Franklyn had been an opener and the change had not been successful, bearing in mind that as a sixteen year old he had scored 77 against Kingswood and 58 in the big match and had been quite consistent in his performances. However his cricket did not end there as he played Division III cricket and captained Kurunegala and also Mutwal later. He also played Division 111 cricket for the SSC after he moved to the Employers Federation. He had also played competitive Tennis for Kurunegala and the SSC.

Franklyn Amerasinghe

Having joined the St. Anthony’s College in 1959 at 13 he was a boarder in the famous Antonian boarding. Franklyn led the Debating Team and at the time of his appointment as a Prefect was the youngest ever. Asked if there was anything that was different then, he said that the boarders were from all the known racial groups and religions in the country and there was harmony and great understanding. The Antonian boarding was arguably the best boarding in the country and produced generations of disciplined and outstanding citizens. On finishing his school career early, he quit the Science stream in the A level class whilst still under eighteen to join the Law College as his father who had not been in good health had requested that he completes his legal education early and joins him in practice. Join him, Franklyn did and he said that at the time it turned out to be somewhat of a unique occurrence with his grandfather, grand uncle, five uncles, father and himself in practice in the Kurunegala Bar at the same time. However Franklyn’s heart was not in the practice of law and after his father’s death he looked for a career which could be more meaningful. He had also in the meantime sat for an external Law degree by self-study. He joined the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) where he remained for 27 years of which 10 years were as the CEO. Initially he was the Secretary General but when the EFC was restructured he became the first Director General. During his tenure as CEO he saw the organization grow by more than 100% and for the first time represented the key plantation sector as well.

Upon taking retirement at 55 years he had joined the ILO (stationed at Bangkok and covering the East Asian countries) but had resigned after 2 years, sacrificing a pension which was available, as he found the job unrewarding in terms of job satisfaction. Franklyn devoted his time in the ILO to research in the areas of conflict management and social dialogue. The training material that he had produced there is still being used, he said with justifiable pride.

Though short, how accomplished his stint at ILO was and what his superiors’ thoughts of him, not only makes interesting reading but also makes you feel proud to be a Sri Lankan and is a lesson to most. Let me quote just a few excerpts of his superior’s assessment of Franklyn from his appraisal form at the ILO:

“Mr. Amerasinghe has accomplished all of the assignments with signal diligence and efficiency. He has been particularly helpful in rallying employers’ support (or sometimes containing their resistance) to various technical and policy initiatives and has functioned as a fully integrated member of the team. His political advice has been consistently sound”. 

it turned out to be somewhat of a unique occurrence with his grandfather, grand uncle, five uncles, father and himself in practice in the Kurunegala Bar at the same time

“This official has extensive experience not only in the area of relations with employers’ organisations but also in technical fields such as labour market information, vocational training, management andvarious other. He is a most helpful and productive colleague, a good team player and an original thinker”. 

“This is an official not only of great intelligence but also of integrity, sincerity and intellectual honesty. 

HRD should take the time and make the effort to inquire and analyse why he has concluded that he does not wish to work for the ILO”. 

Don’t you wish this was your assessment by your superior?

Franklyn had joined the Board of Directors of John Keells Holdings (JKH) as its first independent director in 1999 and has continued ever since, currently being the Senior Independent Director. This position had been created because the company has one Chairman and CEO which according to rules of good governance should be avoided. He had in fact served on a dozen Boards at various times but continues now only on the JKH Board and one other unquoted Board. Frankly Amerasinghe recalled his home town of Kurunegala with nostalgia and believed that those formative years spent there had helped him, his brothers and sister to be concerned about the less fortunate and to live and work with people of any social standing. He said at Kurunegala he had attended school with children who had no shoes and recalled that his parents sponsored many a child through school and helped many sportsmen financially.

Franklyn Amerasinghe with his late brother Dr.A.R.B Amerasinghe

This had also been helpful in bringing to bear empathy with workers when he negotiated and was involved in dispute settlement. Franklyn has observed vast changes in employment relations, especially in the human resource management, during the last forty years. Explaining this he said that at the time he joined the EFC there had been employers who used corporal punishment to manage their workers but happily this was no longer the case and there was a friendlier atmosphere at workplaces.

The two brothers Nihal and Frankly Amerasinghe are two shining examples of how one could mix sports and studies and do brilliantly in life but still remain simple and down to earth.

He recalled an occasion when going in to the office of a well known trade unionist in the estate sector he found that members of the union were not offered seats and were seated on the floor, whereas when the workers came to the EFC they were invited to sit at the same table with the employer. Another practice which had happily changed was that estate superintendents who in days past spoke through a small window to workers congregated outside now permitted them into his room for discussions. This, he is happy has changed and believes he has also contributed towards this change in the culture of human resource management.

Franklyn Amerasinghe’s name is synonymous with Industrial Relations in Sri Lanka and airing his views further he said that he has seen a vast change in the IR culture in Sri Lanka over the past few decades. Whereas time had been when the Unions had called for strikes ignoring the consequences for businesses which in turn affected their members, they now acted in a more responsible manner as they appreciate that if businesses are affected it was their members who would suffer.

Asked if there was any Trade Unionist/s who could be singled out, he picked Bala Tampoe who strode the trade union arena of Sri Lanka like a giant. Franklyn recalled that unlike with most others, when going in for a discussion with Bala Tampoe, he had to plan how to get his message through knowing that Bala when he gets started attempts to dominate a meeting. He also singled out the late Sayumamoorthy Thondaman as an astute leader.

A relaxed Franklyn speaking about his family mentioned that he has two daughters one a teacher at St. Bridget’s Convent and the other the Head of HR at “Accenture”. He had lost his wife many years ago.

IMG_4175

 

Though he had many books published in the IR and HR management sphere, he said that he had one book which remains unpublished due to the lack of a sponsor but he believes he might eventually decide to publish it on his own. This book he has titled “Me and My Life” he believes would help all school children as it deals with how to face adult life and he’s hopeful could help instill a sense of discipline through better understanding of the challenges confronting them in their future lives.

The two brothers Nihal and Frankly Amerasinghe are two shining examples of how one could mix sports and studies and do brilliantly in life but still remain simple and down to earth.

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