Leading by example

Thursday, 23 February 2012 00:43 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Popularly known as the father of insurance in Sri Lanka, Chandra Schaffter is a multi-dimensional person with disarming humility and an outspoken view of life. His 60-odd years in the profession has defined the entire industry and the outspoken risk-taking dynamism of Schaffter in many ways epitomises the home grown entrepreneurial spirit.  

He describes himself as a risk taker and even a cursory glance at his career shows the strong determination that went hand in hand to build the most impressive career in the insurance industry.  

Known to many as the founder of several key insurance companies in Sri Lanka, including Eagle Insurance and Janashakthi Insurance PLC which posted an impressive Rs. 7 billion in combined gross written premiums for 2011, Schaffter is sought after not only for his vast experience but also his honest and no-nonsense perspective on life.

He is respected as much for his integrity as his achievements and remains a pillar of the industry.

Schaffter started Janashakthi Insurance 40 years after he received his first job in the industry as a clerk. Having schooled at St. Thomas’ College, he left behind a distinguished record as a student with impressive sporting skills and the position of head prefect.

He was captain of the cricket team in 1950 and has won College Colours in cricket, hockey and soccer.

He is a double international in cricket and hockey and only a very few in this country have this honour.

“The main reason I went to St. Thomas’ College was because my father was a teacher there for 25 years, which meant that tuition fees were very reasonable for me,” smiles Schaffter adding that among his most memorable times was when the school was closed for two years during World War II and taken over by the British army.

“I went to a school in Kotte and then to St. Paul’s Milagiriya. We had to share the school with the girls and the classes were in the afternoon. I used to travel from Mt. Lavinia and walk from Wellawatta station and once school was over we would walk back in the dark. The trains were badly lit as the lights were shaded because of the blackouts and we would get home at seven or eight in the night.”     

After completing school Schaffter entered university but “did not last very long,” yet in this case what was lost to the medical profession was gained by insurance when Schaffter joined Ceylon Insurance in 1952, then after a stint in “Manufacturers Life” a Canadian Company Schaffter moved to Carson Cumberbatch where he consolidated his career for 14 years.

The risk-taking part of his career began at this point when he decided to leave his stable position at Carson Cumberbatch, and out as an insurance agent.

Married and with four children by this time, Schaffter had the challenging task of supporting his family while starting from scratch. “Being an insurance agent meant that I returned to the bottom of the ladder.”

“After a year or so I decided to educate my children in India and work in Chennai. During those days because of foreign exchange regulations we could not take a penny with us to India. So when I decided to take my family with me there was a huge risk involved.”

Nonetheless the risk paid off and Schaffter’s decision to go solo paid rich dividends over the next decade when he shuttled between his family and his career in India and as an insurance consultant in Sri Lanka.

The next step came when he accepted the position of Principal Agent for the National Insurance Corporation (NIC) and played a significant role in the organisation, which eventually became privatised in 1987.

Privatisation opened up more opportunities in the industry and Schaffter became a pivotal part of CTC Eagle before eventually starting his own company in the form of Janashakthi Insurance in 1994.  In an interesting twist of fate, Janashakthi took over NIC in 2001.

“This was another risk in my life. We started a company with no money, but it became a success. At the moment we are number three in non-life insurance and number five in life insurance. I was confident that with our innovative products and services we will continue to grow.”

So what are the key qualities that an entrepreneur should embody? “Have a lot of confidence in your ability, be honest in what you do and do it well.”

Schaffter insists that integrity in business is essential and the genuine intention to do good to society is of paramount importance.

“Corporate Social Responsibility, good governance, transparency… these are all just buzz words for me. If a company has integrity then all these aspects are automatically achieved.”

Despite his long and illustrious record Schaffter has no intention of retiring but he does take time off to spend with his grandchildren.

“I have 13 of them, all between the ages of 21 years to 16 months and I truly enjoy spending time with them. We spend a lot time at my farm in Kandy and a couple of years ago we went to Russia together.”

A picture of him holding one granddaughter sits in his office and is likely to be the first thing visitors see as they enter.  Having added doting grandfather to his multi-faceted character, Chandra Schaffter continues to lead by example.