Deshabandu Ayur Dr. Victor Hettigoda

Chairman

Hettigoda Group of Companies

By Palitha Gallage [2007-09 MBA/G1]

 
 


Family Background

Dr, Victor Hettigoda was born in 1937 at Kananke , Matara to a family of forth generation Aryurvedic Physicians  as the 5th child.  His father was a famous Aryurvedic Doctor.
 


 

Childhood and School Life

Victor lost his mother at the age of nine and  he had to undergone numerous difficulties at the early stage of his life as a result. Most of the time he had to manage himself as there was no body to look after him. Because of this he became so independent in his decision making and did things at his discretion, which is still a dominant characteristic of him.

His school life was a somewhat turbulent one.  Victor Hettigoda attended to twelve schools before he received his education at Rahula Vidyalaya, Matara finally
 

 

Business Experience

He started his first job as a clerk in a wholesale establishment  in Talawakele in the hill country and then at the National Transport Board office in Galle also as a clerk.
Later he was employed as an  accounts clerk at Vidyodaya University at that time  which was renamed as University of Sri Jayawardanepura later,  and as a sales representative  at  M. D. Gunasena and Company  and finally as a sub editor of the “Davasa” newspaper founded and edited by one   of   the   most   admired    journalists in Sri Lanka, the late      Mr. D. B. Dhanapala.
In his first job as a clerk in a wholesale establishment in Talawakelle he learnt the way of handling money, keeping accounts, cutting costs and earning profits. He learnt business the hard way, as he went along. Each and every  job that he did,  he picked up the tricks of the trade  to improve  his business skills. “I read a lot and watch out for new ideas in advertising, labeling or marketing.  I learn as I work,”
Dr. Victor Hettigoda holds neither degrees nor diplomas nor MBAs but equipped with his down-to-earth, hands-on, spot-on managerial skills and business strategies. “I’m not educated in the formal way, but I’m well read. When I was working as a clerk in the university library, I had the opportunity of reading the life stories of great industrialists; I became a voracious reader and I thought it was a great opportunity. I read, read and read almost everything I wanted to read,” he added.
He started his career as an entrepreneur by   venturing into the commercial production of an Ayurvedic balm. The production of the balm was based on an ancient recipe handed down to him by his father who had been taught the method by a traditional Hindu Doctor in India.
When Victor Hettigoda first tried to market his balm he realized the importance of a brand name.  So he named his balm as “Siddhalepa”, meaning a “good rub”. Siddhalepa gradually has become as a household name in Sri Lanka. The popular marketing slogan “Siddhalepa is the Vedamahatmaya (physician) that should be in every home” lead the way to such a market penetration.  It is hard to find a home in Sri Lanka that does not have a bottle of Siddhalepa . It is a part of every Sri Lankan household.

Dr. Hettigoda began his business with a working capital of a mere Rs. 2,500 borrowed from a sympathetic relative. With the perseverance and determination that was part of his inborn strength, he himself made the balm, washed the bottles, pasted labels on them by night and early next morning set out carrying his “product”  by bus or on foot to boutiques and retail outlets everywhere.
 

 

Early Experience as an Entrepreneur

During  early days he couldn’t afford to even pay a bus fare, sometimes he had to sleep on pavements and shop verandahs for the night after  distributing his bottles of Siddhalepa balm for sale among boutique owners and shop keepers. During those days  the amount  he earned  was   not more than Rs. 25. per day in some occasions  –“not enough for food or bus fare,” as he confessed.
During the early days he had to compete with plethora of imported balms with various brand names  in the market  and without  his commitment and untiring efforts  he would not have been succeeded.
He articulated his success story : “I am a thinker. That is one of my favourite pastimes. I think and whatever that comes into my mind, I note it down in a small book.  When I found out that selling my product was a problem, I spent several days doing nothing but smoking and thinking. Thinking and thinking about  new ways of marketing my precious product.”

“Finally I formulated my plan. I decided to go out the city limits. The funds to finance my trip came as  loans. I planned everything in detail. I noted them down in my notebook, even down to how and where I would eat and sleep. I decided to take with me only two trousers and two shirts.”
 


 

Psychology and Ethics

His personal and business philosophy is deeply influenced by the great teachings of Lord Buddha. He has read widely on Buddhism and its great philosophy under the guidance of his paternal uncle, the renowned Buddhist scholar Venerable Professor Walpola Rahula.
He as an Asian business leader with a unique approach to entrepreneurship, with his mind firmly fixed on the guidance of the Dhamma.
Humility and empathy are his hallmarks. He gives employment in his ventures to the poor and disabled, provides a free breakfast to all his employees and meals at subsidized rates in reminiscence of the difficulties he underwent.
Dr. Hettigoda’s work ethic gives the highest priority to strenuous effort. The formula that took him to the top is, in his words, “It is hard work.”
Total consumer satisfaction is part of Dr. Hettigoda’s marketing ethic. “If any customer feels that my medicine has not lived up its promise, he can return it and his money will be refunded. I do not want the money of people who are not satisfied with my products,” he asserted.
As a man of the people, he keeps the prices of his ayurvedic preparations low to keep them within the reach of the masses. The competition he faces from low priced, import duty free, poor quality preparations that flood the local market is a challenge but he will not budge from his commitment to making his goods available to the community at affordable prices. As a fourth generation Ayurveda practitioner he will not compromise his dedication to a 5000-year-old Ayurvedic tradition.

“In my will, I have specified that the process cannot change by a decree of the board of directors. A special independent committee must decide that the increase is warranted, and that the product is still within the reach of the masses,” he declared.
 

 

Major Achievements

Lifetime Achievement in Entrepreneurship Award 2006 conferred on him by the Grid India Foundation, Mumbai, was preceded by such prestigious tokens of recognition as the following:
Deshabandu Class 1 1990 awarded by His Excellency R. Premadasa, President of Sri Lanka, for services to business and especially to Ayurveda.
Vishva Prasadini 1996 conferred by the Honorable Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, for contributions to the industrial sector.
Mahaweli Randiyawara 1998 conferred by the Association of United Engineers of the Mahaweli Authority for services to the nation.
Visvakeerthi Manawa Hithawadi Deshamanya 2000 conferred by Sri Jayewardenepura Guna Samaru Foundation for national, religious, social cultural and educational upliftment.
Sarvodaya National Award 2000 conferred by the Sarvodaya Trust Fund for services to society.
Sri Lanka Entrepreneur of the Year 2000 Bronze Medal awarded by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka for best procedures adopted for performance enhancement in the industrial sector.
Prestigious magazines have featured Dr. Hettigoda in cover page stories. The Asia Week, December 1997, crowned him “Balm King of Sri Lanka”, LMD, February 1998, selected him as “One of the 50 Greatest Sri Lankans since Independence” and also named him “King of the Masses” in its June 1998 issue. The Asia Business Magazine, July 200, named him “The Barefoot Doctor”.

Successive governments recognized Dr. Hettigoda’s merits and appointed him to a variety of responsible posts. From 1989 to 1994 he was a Director of the People’s Bank, one of the largest state-owned banks in the country. From 1990 to 1991 he was a Consultant to the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, the national television channel.
 

 
 



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