Dr D.S. Bandarage – Father of Modern Management in Sri Lanka – Died 3 months ago to this day, 1 August 2009
Posted on September 30th, 2009

J M Kumarasinghe

It was very pleasing for me to attend a function where the Institute of Personnel Management in Sri Lanka (IPM) felicitated  it’s greatest son, Dr D S Bandarage, at a special ceremony held three years ago, in the auspices of Mr N Cabral, Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation and Governor of the Central Bank.  I was present at the ceremony.  Being a student of Dr Bandarage, it was a very happy moment for both me and many of the other distinguished audience to see that Dr Bandarage was still living amongst us after serving more than 50 years for the management development in Sri Lanka.  His health was in good shape and was in fine physical vigour.   I was personally very happy to talk to him as I was one of the many people that Dr Bandarage had helped to get into the management field. This was in the mid 1970s when Dr Bandarage was a Director at Upali Group.  He recruited me as a Management Trainee to Upali Group solely on merit, and today thanks to his guidance I have ended up being a senior Management Advisor to the ADB (Asian Development Bank) in Manila, the Philippines.

 Then, on 1 July 2009,  I was advised by a fellow former CAS officer, Mr Gamini Jayasena, working in Bangkok for the ADB, that Dr Bandarage had passed away. Even though he was old, this was still a shocking news to me. To us, his students, Dr Bandarage was seen immortal.

 When Devapriya Bandarage was born to his middle class parents, Baron Gunawardane Bandarage and Margaret Hewawasam Bandarage, they may never have thought that their eldest son was going to become such a gigantic figure in Sri Lanka’s management field.  But so he did.

 From very young age Devapriya showed remarkable talent for studies.  He became first in his class at his primary school, then became 1st in the southern province by winning the coveted Valencia Rupasinghe trophy for the most outstanding student from Southern Province and obtained admission to grade 2 at Ananda College, purely on merit.  

 At Ananda young Bandarge flourished with academic achievements plus extra curricular activities.  He excelled in studies.  Young Bandarage was instrumental in forming the “Bosath Lama Samajaya” under the patronage of the then Principals, L H Meththananda and P.De S. Kularatne.  The members of the Bosath Lama Samajaya included some later day luminaries as Ananda Tissa De Alwis (former Minister), Ranapala Bodhinagoda (former Chairman ANCL), Duncan De Silva (former Colombo GA), LBT Premarathna (former Solicitor General), P L Berty Silva (former Deputy Postmaster General), G B De Silva (former Colombo Fire Chief) and L D H Peiris (former Royal Principal). Dr Bandarage was the president of “Bosath Lama Samajaya”, and I have seen photos of the group hung on  the wall of his home.

 Bandarage was unfortunate to have lost his father, who was a school principal, at young age.  While growing up as a teenager and until his early 20s he lived in the posh residences in Colombo 7 of his uncle, the legendary, Mr Ponnamperuma, then Commissioner of State Languages.

 After an illustrious studenthood at Ananda young Bandarage went on to do an oriental studies degree at Vidyodaya University, and later completed degrees in Management Studies from reputed universities in the UK (Cambridge) and also Australia.  In early 70s he was awarded the Doctorate of Human Resources Management (PhD) by a US university.

 Bandarge had a remarkable interest and an inborn skill in Management Studies, and entered Air Ceylon as a Graduate Cadet. This was in mid 1940s.  He quickly rose the ladder of Air Ceylon and became the Welfare Manager.  Among his compatriots was late Sam Silva, who later became the Chairman of Air Ceylon and Mr Ganapragasam who was later a senior general manager of several Sri Lankan private companies and the late legendary A Ariyawaradane of Piliyandala, who served as Mr Bandarage’s assistant at Air Ceylon. 

 During this time (late 1940s) Mr Kenneth Bing (PhD) the then Managing of Director of Shell Company of Ceylon (one of the four multinational companies operating in Sri Lanka at the time), who had an unabiding love for Ceylon, was keen on opening up one or two management positions to well educated and brilliant local lads of Ceylon.  After a long search Bing picked young Bandarge as the Personal Officer of Shell Company.  After a few months he promoted Dr Bandarage as  the Personnel Manager of Shell. 

 This appointment as Personnel Manger at Shell Company was a major watershed in the Sri Lankan management field because this was the first time that a separate department for Personnel Management was set up in a Sri Lankan company.  It was also the first time that a native Ceylonese was appointed to such a high position in a leading multinational company in Sri Lanka. Dr Bandarage had an enormous task ahead.  He knew that not only he must succeed himself but also prove to his white masters that they made the right decision.  Bandarge knew that if he failed the doors in Ceylonese Corporate world will be closed for Ceylonese for many more years.

 Fortunately Bing liked Bandarage and that relationship progressed very well.  He gave every encouragement for young Bandarge to succeed and so he did.  Bandarge showed to British and the Europeans  his incredible talent and managerial skills. Dr Bandarage’s English was better than that of his white masters.  The Europeans realised that the dark skinned Ceylonese could do the jobs as Managers better than them.  The success of Bandarage led many other top level companies to establish personnel departments.  Noteworthy among them were the Lever Brothers (Unilever), rated as the best multinational company to work in the then Ceylon.

 In early 50s the Shell Company was in some form of strife with the Government and its top managers left the company.  Bandarage was quickly absorbed into Lever Brothers by its legendary Chairman, J D Mould and its Scottish Managing Director, L Baberlomax. 

 Bandarage spent nearly 18 years at Levers which time he revolutionised the personnel management and management systems not only within Levers but entire Sri Lanka.

 At Levers Bandarage was determined to unlock the doors of executive positions to Sri Lankan born lads, especially those from rural backgrounds. He was looking for young people who had a brilliant academic record and who could speak English. 

 At Levers he was looking for young Sri Lankan talent for management positions of the company.  Fortunately he had the full support of J D Mould, the then Levers Chairman.  Bandarage went and recruited a number of managers for Levers some of them became luminaries in Sri Lanka’s corporate world.  Some of Bandarage’s recruits include such management luminaries of contemporary Sri Lanka (considered as Sri Lankan management legends) as Stanley Jayawardana (later became the Chairman of Levers), Gilbert Jayasuriya (later Director of Levers),  Sam Jayasuriya, Clement Ranasuriya, Dr Seevali Rathwatte, Ariyapala Pathirana (now Management Consultant), Upali Wijewardene (late billionaire tycoon), Upali Wickramasekera,  S De La Mott, J Ariyanathan, Anura Weeraratne (now in Australia) etc. etc.`

 Dr Bandarage’s main ambition was to screen and employ the cream of Sri Lankan talent into the top positions of the Sri Lankan private companies.  He knew that Sri Lanka as a young nation, which had just obtained independence, vehemently required a team of talented mangers for its emerging mercantile sector.

 In the fifties and sixties Dr Bandarage had emerged as a giant in Sri Lanka’s Management field.  Along with Sir Cyril De Zoysa (then Chairman of Associated Motorways group), he established the Institute of Personnel Management (Inc).  This was way back in 1959.  In the formative years of the institute, for a  number of years Sir Cyril was the President and Dr Bandarage was the secretary of the institute. Later, Dr Bandarage became the President of the Institute and held this position for a very long time.  He is the first Fellow of the Institute of Personnel Management in Sri Lanka. 

 With such management luminaries as Mallory Wijesinghe, Ananda Tissa De Alwis, Brigadier Cecil Caldera, Gilbert Jayasuriya, Mansour Ghouse etc., Dr Bandarage was involved in the establishment of the Institute of Management of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).  He was a founder member of the Institute with Mallory Wijesinghe being the first President. In 1976 Dr Bandarage became the President of the Institute. Dr Bandarage served as a visiting lecturer of Management Studies at the Universities of Colombo and Sri Jayawardanapura.  In fact it was only few years ago he finished his sojourn with these universities.  Dr Bandarage was a long standing panel member in the recruitment to the Ceylon Civil Service (now Sri Lanka Administrative Services). 

 Thanks to Dr Bandarage’s teaching hundreds of educated youth from rural Sri Lankan villages ended becoming senior public servants, including Government Agents and departmental permanent secretaries. 

 During the Prime Minsitership of Dudley Seneanyake Dr Bandarage was assigned to study and report to the government re. the formulation of the Five (5) Day week.  Dr Bandarage did substantive studies both locally and overseas and recommended the then government (the Ministry was held by J R Jayawardana) that Sri Lanka should implement a 5 day working week (until then Sri Lanka had a 5 ½ day week).  In 1966 or so Dr Bandarage compiled the “Handbook of Personnel Management for Ceylon” which book is even today regarded by the Sri Lanka’s management fraternity as the “ƒ”¹…”Bible’ of Sri Lankan Management Studies. 

 Dr Bandarage has written several books in Management both in English and Sinhalese.  It was only two years ago that he published the books “Case Methods” and Administrative  Management.  These are considered land mark text book in the Management Studies of Sri Lanka .

 After an exceptional career Dr Bandarage left Levers in the late 1960s and set himself up as a Management Consultant.  Dr Bandarage is unarguably Sri Lanka’s first Management Consultant.  During his sejour as a leading Management Consultant he had been instrumental in helping many large and medium scale companies in Sri Lanka on streamlining their businesses.  Dr Bandarage was associated with the late Upali Wijewardene and helped him to become one of the most successful business entrepreneurs in Asia.  Mr Upali Wijewardene, unarguably the richest man of Sri Lanka ever, considered Dr Bandarage as his right and left hand man (personal friend and adviser).  Dr Bandarage was very saddened by the untimely loss of life of the Great Sri Lankan son, Upali Wijewardene, which occurred in the early 1980s.  Dr Bandarage served as a Director of Upali Group.

 In 1970 Dr Bandarage was invited by the late Mrs Sirima Banadarnaike, Prime Minister, to reform and improve Sri Lanka’s ailing textile industry.  She appointed him as Chairman of the National Textile Corporation that had 3 big textile factories “”…” Thulhiriya, Veyangoda and Pugoda.  This appointment was seen as a non-political appointment of the then United Front Government, trying to stick to the principal of “ƒ”¹…”giving best positions of the government to the best qualified people, solely on merit’.  Dr Bandarage realised that working in the public sector was very difficult, and something not for him, as he encountered numerous “ƒ”¹…”non-corporate’ requests from politicians.  He became disgusted with the unethical elements of Sri Lanka’s political culture and, despite repeated requests from various heads of the Sri Lankan state at various times, he never went back to public service.  In late 1970s and early 1980 Dr Bandarage served as a UN adviser in Africa.  The Kenyan Government, including the then Prime Minister of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi, felicitated Dr Bandarage’s efforts to rehabilitate and streamline Kenya’s ailing management and administrative system.

 In the last two or three decades prior to his death Dr Bandarage had been involved with management development activities of Sri Lanka, but had also been extremely involved in the propagation of Buddhism.  Being a great Buddhist and a philanthropist himself, in the recent past Dr Bandarage had lavishly donated monies to charities and Buddhist institutions, especially towards the propagation of Sinhala Buddhist values in rural and urban Sri Lanka.  Dr Bandarage had been a long standing active member of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and the YMBA. 

 Until his death the doors of Dr Bandarage’s residence at 7 Ohlums Place in Colombo 8 were open to the down trodden to come and relate their unfortunate plight.  Dr Bandarage helped them with words and deeds.  On every Sunday until shortly before his death he conducted classes to disadvantaged university graduates numbering about 20 who were studying for the administrative exam (former Civil Service exam where he was an examiner and interviewer).  These classes were conducted free of charge at his home.

 

Dr Bandarage was a remarkable man with so much wisdom, distinction and persona.  Anyone who had met him will never ever forget the meeting of the Great Man. He had the most distinguished personality “”…” the aura that spread from all around him was an unforgettable experience. To me, Dr Bandarage is the kindest and warmest man I have ever met. To him the whole world was like his family. He truly believed and practised in the concept that the “ƒ”¹…”man’s most noblest duty is to help the fellow man’.

 We must not forget it is such distinguished personalities that Dr Bandarage who first started fighting for the motherland against the Tamil Extremist elements. Along with such people as Gamini Keerthichandra, Dr Ediriweera Sarathchandra, Gamini Iriyagolla, Dr MP Soysa, he formed such patriotic associations to save the mother land from the extremist eliments (this was in the early 1980s).

 Thanks to Dr Bandarage’s contributory efforts Sri Lanka today is well abundant with a huge reservoir management talent.  The management fraternity of Sri Lanka today must thank Dr Bandarage for working tirelessly in the 1940s 50s and 60s to unlock doors for them to enter into the private sector with opportunities and traineeship, at that time dominated by the British or English only speaking Sri Lankans.

 A postage stamp for this living legend of Sri Lanka’s corporate world is most appropriate.

 Dr Bandarage is the father of 6 distinguished children  among whom are the distinguished professor of Harvard/MIT, Professor Asoka Bandarage, UN Peace Keeping Operations Head, Wasantha,  and the prominent Sri Lankan barrister practising in Australia, Chanaka Bandarage. Dr Bandarage’s wife, Thilaka, is currently living in Dr Bandarage’s house with the son, Chandana.

 May Dr D S Bandarage attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

 J M Kumarasinghe

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