Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)
A rolling stone that gathered a lot of moss
Kusal Warusavitharana who died in June, a few weeks short of his 74th birthday, was the quintessential example of the fact that rolling stones do sometimes gather moss. In a career that spanned over 40 years, he did more than ten jobs, always making upward movements in terms of what he did and what he earned.
Most of his jobs, ranging from Shipping Manager/Buyer, and Brand Manager/Export Manager at Lever Brothers to Director Sales and Marketing at the Lanka Oberoi (now Cinnamon Grand) were at Senior Manager/ Executive Director level in the private sector. But he also had a stint at the Central Freight Bureau which was a joint venture between the Government and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce where he learned the ropes and acquired many skills that were to help him in his future career.
Whether he consciously or subconsciously believed that many executives entrenched in the same job for long very quickly become managers of routine, I do not know. Taking on new employment, generally on an upward trajectory, confronts one with new challenges and learning opportunities; it keeps you on your toes and sharpens competence, ability and much more.
Kusal was born to privilege. His mother, Mrs. Daya de Silva, was a direct descendent of Mrs. Jeremias Dias (Selestina Rodrigo) of Panadura who founded Visakha Vidyalaya. His engineer father, W.A. de Silva, who retired early as one of the country’s then four Deputy Directors of Irrigation took his MSc. Degree from the London University in the 1920s. He died prematurely leaving a wife and five sons whom he named Warusavitharana (they all spell it differently!) derived from his ‘ ge’ name as was a trend in pre-Independent Ceylon when nationalist tendencies took root. Going to school at Royal Primary and Royal College, he lived within easy walking distance of school. Completing his secondary education at Royal, he did not aspire to university or a profession (as his father particularly would have wished) and began his rolling stone adventure once sailing as a cadet deck officer on a Greek merchant ship.
When the Central Freight Bureau (CFB) was set up in the early ’70s, as a strategy devised by the late P.B. Karandawela, then Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping and Tourism, to ensure full bottoms for Ceylon Shipping Lines vessels, with exporters compelled to allocate their cargo 50-50 between national and foreign flagged vessels, Kusal was hired as Operations Manager under Harold Speldewinde, a well-known private sector shipping personality. He had an excellent training in this Government-Private joint venture experiment.
He worked for a plethora of organizations, including Shaw Wallace and Hedges where he was an executive director, Lanka Ceramics, CASA (Ceylon Association of Ships’ Agents) and J. Walter Thompson who headhunted him from Levers. He eventually ended up as an entrepreneur in an organic tea producing and manufacturing company with an estate in Haputale. But this, hit by a collapse in tea prices, was not a success with the estate being sold.
As a young man Kusal was very keen on the Jaycees, attracted by its social and service orientation and was President of the Colombo Jaycees in 1977-78. It was a natural progression from there to Rotary, serving as President of the Colombo West Rotary Club in 2007/8.
Above all, as one of his friends said soon after his death, he was “a good fellow” devoted to his mother and his brothers. He married twice, first to a stewardess flying for Emirates, and most recently to Yasmin whom he met and married in Australia. The cancer that struck him down did not permit him to enjoy the love and companionship of that union for long. Tragically, the COVID country situation did not allow her to travel from Australia to join him in his last few weeks. He had no children but enjoyed the abundant love of his brothers and their children.