Discussing Entrepreneurship Environments In Sri Lanka Business Essay


What is Entrepreneurship? Kuratko et al. In the book Entrepreneurship: Theory Process Practice strives to emphasise that entrepreneurship is not merely the works and inherent characteristics of one individual, but the correlation of 4 major dimensions, that of the Individual, Organization, Environment and the Process. (Kuratko et. Al, 2007)

Who is an Entrepreneur? Cantillon (1725) described the entrepreneur as a rational decision maker who assumed the risk and provided management for the firm.

This assignment attempts to outline the entrepreneurial works of Thusitha Ranasinghe, a Sri Lankan born businessman who is now the Managing Director of Maximus (Pvt.) Ltd. This individual has had measurable success in dealing with several ventures. And, has been consistent in taking the path of innovativeness in almost all his endeavours. His focus on social and environmental aspects has led to, awareness of issues plaguing Sri Lankan wildlife; creating job opportunities in rural Sri Lanka; and importantly, putting Sri Lanka on the map as a country of sustenance and entrepreneurial abundance.

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1.0 Introduction

In discussing Entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka, it is important to mention the greater Asian population's magnetism towards entrepreneurship.

"Hofstede is most well known for his work on four dimensions of cultural variability, commonly referred to as "Hofstede's Dimensions." These include: Uncertainty Avoidance, Power Distance, Masculinity-Femininity, Individualism-Collectivism, Confucian Dynamism. These dimensions were arrived in his 1980 publication, "Culture's consequences: International differences in work-related values." The study took existing survey data (sample size of 116,000) collected from a multinational corporation (IBM). The result was a score in each of the dimensions for 40 different countries. "

Derived from Hofstede's (1980) Cultural dimensions the following hold true to a great extent, when comparing cross cultural differences of Western and Asian countries' propensity towards entrepreneurship.

Fig 1

The diagram depicts low index for countries of Asian origin, such as Sri Lanka and a relatively higher index for Western countries, such as United States.

Tolerance for ambiguity: Asians take a risk averse stance to most business ventures and are less oriented towards experimentation of ideas, as compared to Western countries.

Individualism: ";;;;This refers to the strength of the ties people have to others within the community".(mindtools.com,2009)Asians take a more "collective" stance to that of Westerners, who are comparatively more individualistic in their decision making. This trait is existent due to the impact of family ties and traditions associated with Asian culture.

Masculinity-femininity: ;;;;"This refers to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles."

In most Asian countries, such as Sri Lanka, the roles of men and women are not clearly defined, in other words, men are allowed to be "sensitive" towards certain issues, and women given freedom of choice to enter into high powered positions. (good example being, the first woman Prime Minister in the world, being from Sri Lanka.)

Locus of control: Much of the control of ventures and business activities, lie outside the control of individuals from Asian origin, such as Sri Lanka. In other words, the operating environment tends to play a pivotal role in the success of the venture. This environment will include Government imposed sanctions, rules and regulations; a few strong business minded individuals dictating terms etc.

2.0 Entrepreneurship in a Sri Lankan context

Focusing more within the confines of Sri Lanka, the following has been derived from a study conducted on small scale entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The sample size has been limited to fifty from each respective country.

The tabular data above shows that a majority of individuals, take on the mantle of entrepreneurial activities at a rather "mature" level. They seem to believe in being "learned" and "experienced" before embarking on a "risky" adventure of starting or venturing-off in a "whole new" direction.

3.0 The Entrepreneur

We now turn our attention towards a "true" Sri Lankan entrepreneur, Thusitha Ranasinghe, the Managing Director of Maximus (Pvt.) Ltd.



Thusitha Ranasinghe


Maximus (Pvt.) Ltd


Managing Director

School attended

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Royal College, Colombo

Tertiary Education

Member - ;;;;Institute of Chattered Institute of Management Accountants - UK

MBA - ;;;;University of Wales - UK


Printing - the family trade for 3 generations

The Beginning

The idea was conceived from hearing of a Kenyan game ranger, who wanted to make paper using Elephant dung

Prevalent environment

Elephants have no natural enemies, due to their gargantuan size. Humans fare their only threat. Threat is posed not due tusk-poaching, meat or hide, but rather for being "crop-destroyers". The main source of livelihood is agriculture in most rural Sri Lanka. Elephants, due to their voracious appetite, consume huge amounts of vegetation. Farmers are disgruntled by this and inhumanely react by killing elephants. Almost 4000 elephants may have died as a direct result of the human-elephant conflict since 1950. (Vagamondi.com, 2009)

The Organization

The venture, Maximus Pvt. Ltd, a limited liability company, was started in the year 1997. There were only 7 employees at the time. The company was set up to recycle waste printing paper. The company now operates from the new head office on Dam Street, Colombo.;;;;The company has four productions centres' operating at Kegalle, Seegiriya Kadalama and Dambulla. It currently employees over 200 personnel and has a product catalogue of over 50 unique creations. (sri lankan leaders.com, 2009)

Turning point - Eureka!

The operation was based near the Millennium Elephant Foundation, in Kegalle. Soon after commencement of operations, they realised that more and more waste material, such as rice paddy straw and banana bark could be used in adding flavour and colour to the mix. Not long after, hearing of a Kenyan game ranger attempting to produce paper from elephant dung, research was carried out to use elephant dung as the main source for producing recycled paper. "Elephant dung paper" was initially produced by using waste from the six resident elephants. (Vagamondi.com, 2009)

Patents acquired

No. 11440 (For the manufacture of elephant dung paper)

No. 13016 (For the manufacture of elephant dung paper)

Awards won

Winner of The World Challenge for Entrepreneurship and contribution to sustainable development at the grass root level (2006) organized by the BBC, Newsweek Magazine and the Shell Company, The Hague, Netherlands.

Sri Lanka Presidential Gold Award for Entrepreneurship in the Small Industry Category (2004)

Excellence in Social Responsibility (ESR) Award (2005) presented by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), Florida, USA

First Place Award for Best New Kid's Product (2005) presented by the National Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA), Chicago, IL, USA

Named by the Newsweek Magazine (Japanese Edition) as one of hundred Social Entrepreneurs affecting change in the world - June 2007.

Presidential Export Award of Sri Lanka in the Other Category section awarded by the Export Development Board for the year 2006 awarded in September 2007. (sri lankan leaders.com, 2009)

4.0 Multi-dimensional approach to entrepreneurship

Given that brief description into the life of Thusitha Ranasinghe and Maximus Pvt. Ltd, we now focus towards the entrepreneurial process;

As referred to earlier, Entrepreneurship is the correlation of 4 dimensions, that together, provide the framework for unravelling this complex process. Namely the Individual, Environment, Organisation and the Process. We will consider each in turn, in gaining an understanding of the entrepreneurial efforts of Thusitha Ranasinghe and his organisation, Maximus Pvt. Ltd.

Fig 2 - A conceptual framework for describing new venture creation (Gartner, 1985)

4.1 The Individual

Whether the individual is a hard nosed businessman, "hell-bent" on achieving his set goals (McClelland, 1961); an avid risk taker (Palmer, 1971) or a "rapacious risk avoider" (Webster, 1976); a person who metamorphoses into a whole new person under varying circumstances (Danhoff, 1949), researchers have come to the conclusion that the individuals' background and personality play a key role in determining their entrepreneurial intensity and ability.

In considering the individual in question, Thusitha Ranasinghe; education has provided him the necessary tools to manage a business, coupled with a background in the printing industry, and supportive parents. He started the business with his sister and another friend as business partners.

Need for achievement: "The Presidential award, the first award in his business life is one of important incidents which changed his life. The recognition he received as an entrepreneur being in the small industry category has encouraged him to dedicate his full capacity to the success of the business"

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Locus of control and risk taking propensity: Ranasinghe always felt he had control over his actions and his business' future. He once stated that "Almost everyone thought I was crazy to leave the accountancy profession for printing industry". But he did, and not blindly either, he always took risk into hand to achieve what he thought was best for the company, the environment and the society.

Job satisfaction: He has taken great satisfaction in producing many varied products, using raw waste material, and especially enjoys the innovative process of combining these materials to churn out so many creations. " Mr. Ranasinghe always believes that giving opportunity to bring up "crazy ideas" is the best way to be innovative which is the competitive advantage of his business". His creativity was enhanced by his ability to recognise relationships between the varied raw material that could be used.

4.2 The Environment

Initial start up venture funding was provided by the savings of the three founding partners. After much research and experimentation, skills were acquired into producing recycled paper from waste material. Supplies were abundant and found in the same vicinity as where the plant was situated. "Presently Maximus employs around 210 people in four manufacturing/ retailing locations scattered around the country. Each of these manufacturing plants, finishing centres and outlets have become well respected sources of employment in the locality in which Maximus operates in. A majority of the youth employed by Maximus are youth from families belonging to low income brackets and minimum levels of training in any field of employment."

The organisation operates 4 producing centres in key areas, where there is abundance of raw material. Namely in Kandalama, Seegiriya, Dambulla and their original locale, Kegalle. The head office operates from the heart of Colombo, and ideally situated to deal with the wholesale market in Pettah. The Industrial Rural Development Program, provided much needed asistance in providing financial facilities for project expansion purposes, at low interest rates. Local banks were also financially supportive in assisting to implement eco friendly products.

4.3 The Organisation

The company is of limited liability nature, which is ideal in the context of Maximus Pvt. Ltd. "The business partners located overseas carry out market research for new ventures and has perceived the opportunity of manufacturing "printing tags" for garment manufacturers."

"The handmade paper is not an utility product and it has a niche market. The market of this product is expanding and also it is more expensive than imported paper. In a situation like this, Maximus has been able to attract both the international and local market." His strategic viewpoint has always been to create a sustainable competitive advantage, by taking on a socially conscious mind set towards the production of his innovative creations. He has successfully managed to differentiate his product through its manufacturing process and by high standards of innovation.

He goes onto describe his strategic focus to:

Address economic needs through rural empowerment

Add economic value to elephants in their own habitat

To make people receptive to conservation by introducing more economic solutions.

4.5 The Process

The initial move from the accounting profession to the family business of printing, led Ranasinghe to explore opportunities, hitherto untapped by other printing companies. Having a social conscience led to the backward integration of producing the paper itself from waste material.

The process has primarily involved, "following the elephants path", plants have been set up strategically, where elephants roam in abundance, since the dung is the key resource. Resources of raw material that go into developing the recycled paper and the personnel are hired from that respective vicinity, thereby ensuring sustenance for that community and importantly awareness regarding the protection of the elephant.

Maximus has "built" the organisation, by not limiting its production line to just paper, rather it now manufactures a diversified range of products and services, "thus enabling the company to cater to a wide range of requirements in a variety of fields such as disposable placemats for the hotel industry, Printing and publishing on recyclable dung paper for environmental organizations, greeting/wedding cards/photo albums etc using a combination of natural ingredients."

The patent rights have immensely aided in establishing Maximus as a major player in the market and have helped develop and expand the handmade paper industry in Sri Lanka. Using the dignity of this right in the world market is one of the strategy which company capitalise in branding its products in the global context.

"The four dimensional conceptual framework can be seen as a kaleidoscope, as an instrument through which to view the enormously varying patterns of new venture creation." (Gartner, 1985)

5.0 Conclusion

In concluding, we can confidently state, that we have been successful in emphasising;

the historical background and environmental needs and concerns that led to the emergence of Maximus Pvt. Ltd

Given an outline of the approach, attitude and behaviour of the individual and community towards the innovation


stated the strategies that were employed, and of which, the ones that contributed to the success of the innovation

Ranasinghe took on an opportunity to make a creative change, by developing a product portfolio that clearly interacted with its environment. He has effectively used external networking with the local and international communities. He was successful in addressing the risk and uncertainty of his venture.

He took on the responsibility of building an organisation over time, with innovative and creative distinction. His ability to acquire and manage the various resources, have enabled him not only to win national and international accolades, but also the hearts of the community at large. His "never tiring" efforts to end the man-elephant conflict is commendable.

"Ranasinghe was confident that the business Maximus, can play a more meaningful role in contributing positively towards a burning national issue which is the human - elephant conflict. With this insight the concept of "Project Peace Paper" was developed in which direction the business is moving."