Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairperson steps down after record-breaking year for Ceylon Tea

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Janaki Kuruppu has stepped down as Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tea Board recently after serving little over three years with the final year being a record breaker. The past three years from 2011-2014 saw a renaissance in Ceylon Tea with the year 2013 breaking all records and the 2014 figures just released surpassing even that of 2013, recording the highest ever export earnings of Rs. 213.31 billion ($ 1.65 billion) which is a 6.6% growth over 2013 and a FOB price of Rs. 649.44 per kg, which is a 4.1% growth over 2013 which were all records for the 147 year old history of the Sri Lankan tea industry. The record breaking streak did not end with just these statistics; the industry also recorded the highest proportion of value added tea recording 65.2% of the total exports which is the highest for any tea exporting country. With these high volumes and values of exports, Sri Lankan tea exports reached the number 2 rank among global tea exporters by mid-2014 surpassing China. These commendable results were achieved through a joint effort of the industry and all other stakeholder institutions in the tea industry spearheaded by the Sri Lanka Tea Board as the apex body of the industry. Janaki Kuruppu took over the helm of the apex body for the regulation of the tea industry as its first female Chairperson in December 2011. Under her leadership, the Sri Lanka Tea Board went through a revolutionary change in structure, facilities, employee training and motivation and the overall approach to its role as the regulator and facilitator of the tea industry. One of the first things undertaken by her was to improve the operating systems in the institution with respect to human resources and IT. The institution was stuck in terms of lack of sufficient cadre and due to the lack of computer hardware and software systems that could perform the functions of the board efficiently and accurately. The board was finally able to fill most of its cadre which was earlier suspended by a court order and now the staff is given opportunities for regular training and subject to performance evaluations. For the first time in the history of the board, an outbound training camp was held for the junior and senior management staff in order to improve leadership skills and team building. On the development front, the B-Leaf 60 program was launched with much momentum and has attracted many factories to push the implementation of the program at their own initiative after seeing the positive impact on tea leaf quality and the prices obtained. One of the main problems she faced when she took over the leadership of the board was the numerous complaints on the quality of tea. Hence, in order to address this issue, all tea blending and packing warehouses over 250 in number, were inspected and rated as per their standards. The warehouses that were not up to the minimum standards were given ultimatums to upgrade before the renewal of registrations for next year. The same operation is under way for factories operating below standards as well. Further, new regulations were approved by cabinet for the regulation of the refuse tea issue in the industry. The tea board laboratory which the previous managements have thought need to be closed down was reinforced with additional staff and equipment and is now internationally accredited and is equipped to handle voluntary tests for the industry in addition to the increased number of mandatory tests carried out by the tea board. Sri Lanka Tea Board made history in the promotional activities as well during this period. An international Tea Producer Forum was set up at the initiation of Sri Lanka in January 2013 with seven tea producing countries as its founder members. This was achieved after 30 years of failed attempts to set up such a forum by these tea producing countries. Another historical first was when Sri Lanka Tea Board became the international sponsor of Sri Lanka cricket for three years thus bringing together two world renowned unmatchable brands belonging to Sri Lanka. This could be called the first major initiative of the global campaign for Ceylon Tea and was done with the objective of linking the country Sri Lanka to Ceylon Tea and to obtain maximum mileage on the awareness for the brand on international television channels especially targeting new and lapsed markets for Ceylon Tea. Besides the above, Ceylon Tea became a platinum sponsor during CHOGM 2013 business forum and used the opportunity to promote Ceylon Tea to the thousands of foreign business people that visited the country. Sri Lanka Tea Board also made history when the first ever Ceylon Tea lounge owned by the Tea Board was opened at the race course in 2014, under the brand name ‘Ceylon Tea Moments’, with the objective of building the tea culture in Sri Lanka. The concept aims to uplift the image of Ceylon Tea which is positioned as a premium tea in the world and to give an opportunity to the tourists and affluent Sri Lankans to see and experience the wide plethora of pure Ceylon Tea brands in one place and to encourage the large private sector brands to follow with opening of more tea houses in the country. As another first, a ‘Ceylon Tea Ceremony’ based on the Sri Lankan culture was also launched during CHOGM 2013. She was also instrumental in doing all the ground work to launch the long awaited global campaign for Ceylon Tea which was handed over for cabinet approval after a lengthy tender procedure that took two years to complete. While awaiting cabinet approval for this tender for agency selection, the Sri Lanka Tea Board went ahead implementing components of the three year strategic marketing communication plan that was also developed during this period covering 25 target markets. Some of the promotional activities conducted are already showing results especially with new markets such as China and USA. A true professional with over 26 years of experience in the private sector and public sector, Janaki Kuruppu fearlessly introduced systems to ensure good governance and a culture to reduce corruption in the industry, was always a strong supporter of honesty and transparency, cared for the public funds and the future of all the public institutions that she headed. She has resigned from the post of Chairperson Sri Lanka Tea Board in order to adhere to a written request made by the new Minister of Plantation Industries Lakshman Kiriella who wants to change all heads of institutions coming under his purview.