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Chandra: A cut above the rest


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Q: Going back to the early years, could you tell us about your childhood – where you grew up, about your siblings and parents and what life was like? A: I lived in Mt. Lavinia. I grew up born and bred in Mt. Lavinia virtually until I left school. I had six sisters and no brothers; my sisters were all much older than I was. Life was very enjoyable, those days in the ’30s – more play and less work, unlike today where you have tuition classes and everything. My mother died when I was three and my father died when I was 11. He taught at STC. My relatives looked after me; various relatives from time to time. My eldest brother-in-law was the one who really looked after me. Q: What about life at school? How would you describe that time? A: I studied at S. Thomas’ College. School was an enjoyable time – STC was one of the better schools. I was involved in sports in the latter part. I had a two-year break during the war when schools closed and I was not at STC but when I returned I took up a more active role in sports and I represented the school in several sports. Later on I represented the country in cricket and hockey. Q: Could you tell us about your wife and family? A: My wife was a relative, a cousin’s daughter. I have known her virtually from birth. I have four children. She was a good mother and lived in India for nearly 12 years bringing up the children and then in England for five or six years. She went only to bring up my family so that my children had a mother to look after them rather than be on their own. She made lots of sacrifices for the family. She was a strict mother but I think she was a good one. My four children are Prakash, Manjula, Ramesh and Dinesh and I have 13 grandchildren. My children studied only in India. I made them leave school at 14 and 15 and gave them private tuition to hurry them up. They did their professional exams in England and then came back to Sri Lanka and worked. They are all here now. Q: How did your entry into the insurance industry come about? Why did you choose insurance? A: I went to university for a year after school. I didn’t pass my exams so I left after a year. Then I looked for a job. For one year I looked around; I walked the streets of Colombo trying to get an executive job, but I didn’t. Finally there was a vacancy at Ceylon Insurance for an executive; I applied for that but I didn’t get it. Then my friend Dr. Vignarajah who sent me there said, “Why don’t you start as a clerk?” and so I started as a clerk on 15 May 1952. I’ve been in insurance ever since; I’ve never done anything else. Q: Can you single out a major milestone in your 60-year career? A: A personal milestone would be when I went into Manufacturers Life and when I was promoted as an executive after just two or three years as a clerk. That was a big leap forward. Another milestone was when I gave up my job at Carsons. I had a good salaried job; I was a very well paid executive and I had a wife and four children. I just gave it up to go and become an insurance agent. I took a big risk but it paid off. That was probably one of the biggest milestones in my life. Q: What legacy do you leave at Janashakthi and for the industry in general? A: I don’t know whether I have left a legacy in the field but I certainly feel that Janashakthi is different to other companies. I think we are more caring, both about our staff and our policyholders. We try to maintain our integrity and honesty in all our dealings with the public. We are fair where our claims are concerned although we are hard on fraudsters. We are very hard on fraudsters, but otherwise I think we are very generous with our claims. Q: What are the immediate challenges for the insurance industry and what is the key challenge in the medium-term? A: Well, there are several challenges for the insurance industry at the moment. It’s not growing and there is a proliferation of insurance companies. That is a serious challenge. There are major challenges in legislation, some of which in my view are ill-thought, like asking companies to split and to follow IFRS and RBC and all at the same time as going public as well. I think we will end up with a real hodgepodge. The medium-term challenge is to see growth in the economy, because if the economy doesn’t grow, then the business doesn’t grow. Q: Looking back, do you have any regrets? A: Not really. I have taken various steps in my insurance career and I think they have all paid off – I’ve never had any failures as such. Q: What inspires you? A: Maybe just faith in myself and the will to go forward and to keep improving all the time. Q: Could you describe a day in your life today? A: I get up at four in the morning and I work till about six; then I come in to work at about 8 a.m. and work till about one or two in the afternoon depending on the work I have. Then I go back home, have my lunch, work again till about 4:30 or 5 p.m. and then relax after that. I go to bed very early, by 9 p.m. My family lives around me so I see my grandchildren all the time; most of them are hardly 50 yards away. Q: Do you plan to retire any time soon? A: No! Why should I? Retirement is for old men. Q: What is your advice to those starting out in the insurance industry? A: They should have faith in themselves and their ability. They have to work hard. Success is not achieved overnight. Above all, I think they should follow the basic principles of insurance of good faith and honesty. This business thrives on that.

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