Three Quick Ones – Jehan Perinpanayagam

Jehan Perinpanayagam plays a central role in Sri Lankan business and in strengthening trade relations with the Nordic countries. He is the President of the Sri Lanka Nordic Business Council and the chairman of SLASSCOM (Sri Lanka Association for Software and Services Companies) which brings together a growing number of members. He has been with John Keells Group, Sri Lanka’s largest business conglomerate, for nearly 30 years. Since 2005 he is the CEO of its subsidiary Infomate.

Located just south of a market giant, how does Sri Lanka compete?

We don’t compete, we co-operate. We talk about India+1. The respective strengths of our offerings are different. India is ideally suited for very large projects, whereas for more niche projects Sri Lanka is better suited. Diversifying risk across multiple countries is becoming increasingly important in a geopolitically complex and turbulent world. Sri Lanka’s IT/BPM industry offers some of the best and most cost-effective talent. For example, Swedish software company IFS has 2,000 employees in Sri Lanka. There are several other companies in the IT / BPM space from Sweden, Norway and across Europe that have established delivery centers or partnerships in Sri Lanka. Many emphasize quality and innovation as key factors.

What are the main lessons learnt from the pandemic?

The pandemic was a challenge for all of us. In Sri Lanka, we have emerged with some valuable lessons which will strengthen us. Digitalization took big steps forward, both during the pandemic and afterwards. At the same time, risk thinking became more sophisticated with an increased focus on security. We also learnt to take advantage of the fact that we work in a different time zone from many of our clients and partners. Working from any geographical location became a matter of course and a new normal in the post pandemic world. People are more comfortable with working across borders and accessing talent globally.

How can trade relations between Sri Lanka and Sweden develop?

Sweden and the rest of the Nordic region, along with the US, UK, Australia and the Middle East, are key markets for Sri Lanka’s IT / BPM sector. We recognize that we have a job to do to raise awareness of what Sri Lanka can offer. Therefore, co-operation with the SSLBC is key, as well as with chambers of commerce at national and regional level. We would welcome online and in-person meetings including inward missions and matchmaking. Industry and financial analysts have a growing role in this work through their in-depth analyses that contribute to sophisticated knowledge dissemination. We welcome visits from analysts and journalists and those keen to understand firsthand Sri Lanka’s fast-growing IT/BPM sector, world class talent and partnership opportunities.

Three Quick Ones – Niklas Karlsson, Mobility Guard AB

MobilityGuard is a Swedish IT company that has been developing secure login solutions for companies and the public sector for over 20 years. The company is a member of SSLBC and works with Sri Lanka through business relationships and through a project for early identification of vision problems in school children. Niklas Karlsson is senior executive business developer and globally responsible for relations. He has previously worked within the Volvo Group and Volvo Cars in a role that involved working with company boards and management.

What does MobilityGuard do?

For more than 20 years, we have been developing solutions for secure login in various IT environments. Our login solution is clientless and it is therefore possible to log in from any computer. Our customers include companies, authorities and municipalities. All Swedes use our login solutions at Försäkringskassan (the Swedish Social Insurance Agency) and the Swedish Tax Agency.

Sweden is a world leader in digital identification and MobilityGuard’s goal is to become the global leader within five years. France, the UK and Germany are among our largest markets, but we also have an office in Bogota, Colombia. The ambition over time is to make Sri Lanka our Asian node.

What is the background to the engagement with Sri Lanka?

The answer has several parts. My mother is Sri Lankan and I have travelled to Sri Lanka every year since I was a baby. One year ago, MobilityGuard’s management team was introduced to the CEO of leading Sri Lankan IT company Oral IT at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Stockholm. We started a constructive dialogue and today we are close partners and the company uses our solutions in its systems.

In the long term, the ambition is to open an office in Colombo. Former Ambassador to Sweden Dharshana M. Perera has played a key role in the collaboration, including in the development of the children’s book that will contribute to the early identification of visual impairment in school children. For our founder and CEO Johan Sundström, it’s important to be able to contribute in this way too.

What does the membership of the Sweden-Sri Lanka Business Council mean?

It means a lot. We get access to a superior network and country and subject specific expertise. Most recently, I participated in a networking event in Gothenburg that provided new knowledge, insights and ideas. It is clear that those working in SSLBC are passionate about what they do.

Three Quick Ones -Daniel Hörnqvist CEO Frank Dandy

3 quick questions to Frank Dandy about moving production to Sri Lanka

Since 2017, Daniel Hörnqvist has been the CEO of the Swedish fashion brand Frank Dandy. When he took over, he brought with him extensive experience from e-commerce and the outdoor market. This included responsibility for the launch of the e-commerce brand Bikester in the Nordic region in 2013. In 2015 he took on a position as board member at Frank Dandy before moving on to an executive role. One of the most important decisions in recent years for Frank Dandy has been to move manufacturing to Sri Lanka.

What is Frank Dandy’s market position?

We address a clearly defined target group between 20 and 30 years of age outside the metropolitan areas. The target group has a desire to achieve high personal goals and we provide secret superpowers to enable that. This promise permeates all our communication, not at least the visual. We are mainly present in the Nordic region and work with the same brand position in all geographical markets. A solid sustainability practice is also extremely important to us, especially from an employer brand perspective. Frank Dandy is affiliated with the initiative Better cotton and we only use recycled polyester in our swimwear. I would also like to mention our ownership program for our employees.

Why did you move manufacturing to Sri Lanka?

The decision to move manufacturing from China was made with the experience of the pandemic and in light of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We needed to increase our geopolitical preparedness. I had met lot of positive mentioning about manufacturing in Sri Lanka and as well had my own personal experience from a surf trip a few years earlier. Since the move to Sri Lanka, our experience has been consistently positive. The Sri Lankan manufacturing industry is technically advanced, and we can follow the manufacturing of our products in real time from Sweden. The Sri Lankan manufacturing industry’s sustainability ambitions are high, both in terms of renewable electricity use and in the development of sustainable wastewater systems from production. The country is buzzing with growth and the high level of education is evident in everything.

What has the membership of the Sweden-Sri Lanka Business Council meant?

The membership was an incredible door opener when we were in the process of evaluating whether to move manufacturing to Sri Lanka. It helped us build relationships that I don’t think would have been possible otherwise. To spread our risks, we moved our manufacturing gradually and without the support of the SSLBC it would have been much more complicated.

3 questions for Dharshana M. Perera, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the Nordic and Baltic countries

3 questions for Dharshana M. Perera, who in March 2024 will take on a new post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo, ending three intense years as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the Nordic and Baltic countries. Dharshana M. Perera has a long diplomatic career and prior to his career in diplomacy had worked as an academic and in the international Sri Lankan business community.

What do you take away from your three years as Ambassador to the New Nordics?

Among the important features I observed, were the values Sri Lanka shares with the region we refer to as the New Nordics which is covered by the Embassy in Stockholm. It includes Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Shared values of democracy, open economic orientation as well as the climate & environment are so critical to our societies to nurture. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest democracies in Asia and we share this heritage with this region. We are also open, export-oriented economies.  We share similar views on climate and environment – deeply committed to reaching climate goals.  This is a solid foundation for generating business with Sri Lanka and I am pleased to see that this area has particularly strengthened in recent years.

Foreign Minister, Hon. Ali Sabry, discussion in May 2023, significantly elevated the Bilateral engagement with Sweden with good outcomes from his meetings with Speaker, H.E.  Andreas Norlén, and Swedish Foreign Minister H.E. Tobias Billström.

The Indo-Pacific EU Ministerial Meeting hosted by Sweden at the time was a significant opportunity for Sri Lanka’s engagement with the EU,  placing Sri Lanka in the heart of the EU-Indo Pacific dialogue. His meetings with the SSLBC, top-level business executives in Stockholm and the business community as well as the Sri Lankan community added to the depth and breadth of our engagement.

Several Swedish companies have operations in Sri Lanka. How can relations be further developed?

Sweden has been and is an important partner to Sri Lanka. We established formal diplomatic relations 75 years ago, just a little over a year after Sri Lanka regained independence. The Kotmale hydroelectric dam symbolizes the excellent partnership in development cooperation.  The dam was built by the international Swedish construction company Skanska financed by SIDA. It continues to provide electricity- a clean form of energy – and contributes to important irrigation solutions for agriculture and livelihoods. We are committed to ensure that by 2030, 70 % of Sri Lanka’s energy needs are renewable. But, this requires different partnerships, both in terms of investment financing and construction. Solar, wind and green hydrogen are where I see several openings for Swedish companies. Additionally, there is a valuable opportunity in the IT-sector. Several Swedish IT companies have long had important parts of their operations located in Sri Lanka.  As Swedish IT company, IFS, has described Sri Lanka is ”the backbone of its global operations” and “the jewel in the IFS crown”. Other IT companies include Cambio, SoftOne, Ascentic, e-Builder and several others. Sri Lanka can be a catalyst in raising competitiveness of Swedish businesses by meeting the IT and tech needs which are in short supply, especially in AI and other sectors. The multifaceted, diverse, compact, all-year-round destination is another area for a stronger partnership with the New Nordic Region. Sri Lanka’s tourism product really does encapsulate Asia in one Island. Apart from the Embassy, Sweden Sri Lanka businesses including the Sweden-Sri Lanka Business Council (SSLBC) have an important role to play and be a strong voice for business and to raise awareness of the business opportunities in several sectors. Sri Lanka and I personally are grateful for the very productive collaboration we have with the President at the SSLBC, Jan Campbell, and his team of the SSLBC.

Can business relations with Sri Lanka also be strengthened in Sweden?

The past year has been particularly successful in the business pillar. Firstly, in partnership with Innovation Lab, Copenhagen, the Export Development Board and SLASSCOM, the Embassy at the Consulate in Gothenburg in May/June 2023 organized the IT Nordic Mission in the respective cities. Following the release of the IT Eco System IT Industry Report in Copenhagen and the engagement with the business partners in the three major cities, several IT and technology partnerships were established.  This builds upon the excellent Sweden-Sri Lanka IT-related business enterprise we have.

Secondly, the Embassy was part of the team which conceptualized and facilitated the multi-tiered initiative on CleanTech transport, Clean Energy systems, e-mobility and IT which led to the establishment of a ground breaking partnership between one of Sri Lanka’s most diversified IT conglomerates – OREL IT – and Gothenburg’s ANODOX. The agreements were signed in October 2023.  This was followed by a soft launch in Gothenburg. It will link the country into the EV battery global supply network.   This project, amongst others, symbolizes the untapped potential for business which exists between the two countries and the region, bringing together synergies with Sri Lanka. We had excellent support from facilitators such as MobilityGuard, Gothenburg. The Mayor of Partille Municipality and Business Region Gothenburg support the partnership.  

In summary, Sri Lanka can be an excellent partner with the region to sharpen the competitiveness and to diversify supply networks in a range of business pillars. The well-educated, highly skilled, English speaking talent pool with good business practice makes this engagement robust for  long term mutually beneficial business partnerships.

Naturally, we and our partners are enthused about celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations in 2024 – the anniversary which falls on 19th November this year.

Three Quick Ones – Linda Lundberg-Nilsson

3 quick questions for Linda Lundberg-Nilsson, CEO of the Norrbottens Handelskammare, Sweden’s northernmost and second oldest, founded in 1904. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs and has extensive experience in export trade but also in working at multinationals. Six years ago, Linda became CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, which is highly involved in the green reindustrialization that is transforming Swedish business and society. In this role, she has also hosted trade delegations from Sri Lanka.

1. What are the main tasks of the Norrbotten Chamber of Commerce?
Given our geographical location, infrastructure issues are top priority. We work intensively on advocacy to shorten distances to our members’ main markets on the continent. A concrete example is the extension of the Scanmed corridor from Sicily and Stockholm to Luleå and the ice-free harbor in Narvik, Norway. This issue has become even more important in recent years for geopolitical reasons. The next area is skills development. We will receive 100,000 global talents in northern Sweden the coming years. Facilitating migration from third countries is crucial to our success. The third area is international trade. Through our global network of 12,000 international chambers of commerce, we help companies expand their business by internationalizing and reaching new markets.

2. What are the region of Norrbotten’s main assets?
We are very well positioned for the radical transformation of Swedish society and industry that we are about to undertake. We have great resources of ore and minerals, raw materials that are necessary for the electrification of society’s transport system but also in constructions such as wind turbines. Norrbotten is an export intense region with a resource-based economy and a large primary industry sector such as timber, mining and minerals. Norrbotten has also been the backbone of Swedish hydropower for more than 100 years. We further have world-leading research and companies in wood construction, green steel, IT and tourism.

3. How can trade with Sri Lanka increase?
We have already received the first trade delegations from Sri Lanka and we welcome more, not least from the Sri Lankan IT sector. We want to contribute to concrete business but there is work to be done before we meet. Business leaders must have done their homework and understand that there are many opportunities in Norrbotten, but that the competition is global. This requires clear decisions to invest strategically – it is costly to make mistakes. The requirements specification also needs to be clear. Do you want to establish a subsidiary, an agent, or a retailer? This systematic approach applies regardless of whether it is about importing to Norrbotten or exporting to Sri Lanka. And finally, we would like to see many of the global talents that we will welcome in the coming years come from Sri Lanka.

Three Quick Ones -Mattias Martinsson

3 quick questions for Mattias Martinsson, Chief Investment Officer of Stockholm-based Tundra Fonder AB, a company he co-founded in 2011. The company now offers trading via a global fund which specialize in low-income and lower-middle-income countries. Since the mid-1990s, Mattias has worked with investments in emerging markets, first focusing on Russia and then on Asian emerging countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam.

How do you work in practice with analysis of each market?
We have an investor team with six members. Three are based in Stockholm and three are based in Asia. We invest exclusively in listed companies and we implement a very long-term perspective when we go in. We have three key pillars that need to be in place for us to invest:reliable and trustworthy owners with high-quality management, that the company is involved in a sector subject to structural growth (will grow its share of the local economy), and we want there to be clear societal benefits of the company growing (to reduce risk of state interference). The final pillar is also at the core of our sustainability philosophy . A typical sector we like is healthcare, where private alternatives reduce the burden on the public healthcare system.

What makes Sri Lanka stand out from an investment perspective?
Sri Lanka has great potential in the service sector such as tourism, trade, IT and logistics. The literacy rate is very high and the education system is of good quality. The quality/price ratio is favorable and it is probably the one of our markets where quality of life is high enough also for spoiled foreign investors. We try to find the best listed Sri Lankan companies and enter with decades long investment horizon. Despite the crisis, these companies have remained strong. The stock market in Sri Lanka is still underdeveloped, which means there are many companies few foreigners have invested in. This creates an opportunity for us and means it is worth the effort to do in-depth analysis on each portfolio company.

How has the development in recent years affected Tundra Funds?
These have been challenging years for everyone living in or working with Sri Lanka. The pandemic hit several industrial sectors hard, not the least tourism. The capital controls introduced in mid-2021 were devastating and then the political and economic turmoil in 2022 followed. Our perspective is howeverlong-term and we concluded that the total market capitalization in Colombo fell by 50 percent while our portfolio companies’ profits fell by only 10 percent. Now the trend has reversed and we took the opportunity to marginally increase our investments in Sri Lanka.  It is encouraging to see that the performance over the past year has been very positive. I am very happy for Sri Lanka’s turnaround. For me personally, it is particularly gratifying as it is my favorite destination to which me and my family return repeatedly.

THREE QUICK QUESTIONS – HÅKAN JEVRELL, STATE SECRETARY.

3 quick questions for State Secretary Håkan Jevrell at the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. His responsibility is foreign trade and promotion. He has previously been Ambassador to Singapore and Brunei and Sweden’s representative in Taiwan. Håkan Jevrell believes that Sri Lanka’s strategic location and skilled workforce are strong assets for the country. His personal favorite in Sri Lanka is Mirissa on the south coast of the island.

How can Swedish companies benefit from Sri Lanka’s strategic location?
Sri Lanka has proven itself over time and is today an important part of strategic, global value chains, not least the country’s growing IT sector with a highly skilled workforce. The country is a hub in many ways. There are several opportunities here for Swedish companies. First, the obvious, to let Sri Lanka be a bridgehead for further establishment in other, nearby markets. Becoming part of the country’s extensive logistics expansion is another way, not least for sea-borne goods. A third way is by moving physical production to Sri Lanka, where the country has a high standard in several industrial sectors.

Sri Lanka is now transforming its energy system in a sustainable direction. What does this mean for Swedish export companies?
The transition of Sri Lanka’s energy system is being carried out with high ambitions, not least in wind power. Sweden and Sri Lanka also have historical ties through previous joint hydropower projects on the island. Then Swedish companies could approach a similar situation as ”teachers”. Now a different approach is needed, one of humility and partnership. Swedish companies can offer competitive solutions, but Sweden is of course not alone. Running fast enough is therefore of crucial importance.

Sweden currently has no Embassy in Colombo. What does this mean for trade relations and how does the Ministry for Foreign Affairs work in this situation?
First, Sweden has an Embassy in Delhi. The work there is led by an Ambassador with extensive experience and knowledge of Sri Lanka. That said, an Embassy is important, but Sweden and Swedish interests are working at many levels to develop and strengthen relations between our two countries. Team Sweden has an important role here. It is a network of authorities and companies that work together to promote Swedish exports and investments in Sweden. We also see that there are good opportunities for Sri Lankan companies to develop relationships in Sweden and for Swedish companies to contribute to the development and make a difference in Sri Lanka.

THREE QUICK ONES – AMBASSADOR JAN THESLEFF

3 quick questions for Jan Thesleff, Sweden’s ambassador to India, the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. He has worked as a diplomat for 36 years and has previously served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt among other countries. Jan Thesleff describes Sri Lanka as innovative and green. The pace of innovation is high in the country’s IT sector and the country’s energy system is now being converted to renewable energy.

1. What are Sri Lanka’s main assets as a trading partner?
The biggest asset is human capital, a highly educated workforce, especially in the IT sector where many global IT companies have strategic establishments in the country. Another way to describe the role of human capital is Sri Lanka’s third place behind China and India in terms of the number of student visas to Swedish universities. Sri Lanka is also geographically very well placed with proximity to larger neighboring countries and can therefore serve as a springboard for establishments in the Asian market.

2. How can trade between Sri Lanka and Sweden be developed?
Next year, Sri Lanka and Sweden will celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations. We look forward to further strengthening the relationship over the next 25 years and beyond. Based on the manufacturing industry, the assessment is that Sri Lanka’s IT sector will play an increasingly important role in trade in the future. The sector has experienced rapid growth in a short period of time and it is therefore reasonable to speak of a Sri Lankan IT wonder. The tourism sector also has great potential as part of trade in services. Sri Lanka has gone through a steel bath and can now offer a very high quality and updated tourism product to discerning Swedish visitors.

3. The SSLBC member survey identified business visas to Sweden as a problem area. How does the Embassy work with this?
The ability to travel is fundamental to doing business across national borders and for maintaining existing business relationships. The Embassy is aware of the current situation and is working to facilitate business travel to Sweden. In this context, it is also important to point out that the issue is not specific to Sri Lanka. At the same time, it is valuable for the Embassy to receive feedback from the SSLBC members through the member survey. It is also important to mention that there is a new honorary consul in Colombo who has an important role in promoting our bilateral exchange in trade and visits.

THREE QUICK ONES – MAGNUS LOODBERG

3 quick questions to Tailor Store’s CEO Magnus Loodberg about tailor-made garments developed and sewn in Sri Lanka. Magnus founded Tailor Store when he was 23 years old after an IT internship in Sri Lanka. He had no background in clothing but understood the potential of offering made-to-measure garments online. The biggest markets today are the US, Switzerland, Germany, France, UK, Australia and the Nordics.

Why Sri Lanka?
During my internship, I had made friends on the island that I trusted. They introduced me to more people. I was always treated very well. Everyone was engaged and wanted to learn. 20 years later, we have 500 employees in Sri Lanka and two factories in a subsidiary.

How do you work on the management of the business?
We have an all-Lankan management team. Loyalty and the desire to contribute to a better country permeate the management culture. We have weekly meetings and travel regularly to Sri Lanka. The production process has evolved a lot since the beginning but always based on the basic idea of offering a perfect individual fit at a reasonable price. Today, the production process is highly automated. Every member of the production team has a tablet at their working station with information about the individual garment to be sewn.

What advice would you give to anyone planning a manufacturing operation in Sri Lanka?
Sri Lankans are friendly and accommodating. Therefore, initially find a reliable person who speaks the language. This person can act as your sounding board. At the same time, establishment takes time. Therefore, be patient but make demands and work with deadlines. We did everything from scratch. First, we bought land and then we built the two factories. It proved to work very well mainly due to that we found the right person from the start.

THREE QUICK ONES – KERSTIN THULIN

3 quick ones to Kerstin Thulin new board member of SSLBC. She has a long international career in leading positions within IT, telecom, and shipping. Kerstin has worked in Sri Lanka, Oman, India, and several African countries.  

What is your relationship with Sri Lanka?

I first came to Sri Lanka in 1983 when I had the opportunity to adopt one of my daughters. It was an overwhelming experience during the burning civil war. In 1996, I was asked to help set up the telecom company Suntel in Sri Lanka with responsibility for HR, organization and culture. It was an intense two years where I got to meet a competent and language-savvy workforce. Many years later, I was asked to sit on the board of the Sri Lankan Children’s Association (SLBV), supporting vulnerable children and young people to make a difference in their lives and futures.

What are your driving forces?

Basically, I am a curious and stubborn entrepreneur. I have a curiosity for people and cultures – not only corporate culture. I want to help build value-driven organizations, which has been a common thread throughout my career. When I started my career, the HR function was relatively obscure, reporting to the Chief Financial Officer. A lot has happened since then. I have sat on several management teams of international telecom companies with responsibility for HR and Organization. Modern organizations need to value culture and organizational issues as business critical. There is no alternative.

What do you want to contribute to the work of the board?

I hope to contribute with my many years of experience within IT and telecom. Sri Lanka has a growing high-end IT sector. Too few in the Swedish business community are aware of this. I want to help raise awareness, both of the sector specifically and of Sri Lanka in general. I also hope to share my experience of developing corporate cultures and value-driven organizations with our members in various ways.

What is your relationship with Sri Lanka?

I first came to Sri Lanka in 1983 when I had the opportunity to adopt one of my daughters. It was an overwhelming experience during the burning civil war. In 1996, I was asked to help set up the telecom company Suntel in Sri Lanka with responsibility for HR, organization and culture. It was an intense two years where I got to meet a competent and language-savvy workforce. Many years later, I was asked to sit on the board of the Sri Lankan Children’s Association (SLBV), supporting vulnerable children and young people to make a difference in their lives and futures.

What are your driving forces?

Basically, I am a curious and stubborn entrepreneur. I have a curiosity for people and cultures – not only corporate culture. I want to help build value-driven organizations, which has been a common thread throughout my career. When I started my career, the HR function was relatively obscure, reporting to the Chief Financial Officer. A lot has happened since then. I have sat on several management teams of international telecom companies with responsibility for HR and Organization. Modern organizations need to value culture and organizational issues as business critical. There is no alternative.

What do you want to contribute to the work of the board?

I hope to contribute with my many years of experience within IT and telecom. Sri Lanka has a growing high-end IT sector. Too few in the Swedish business community are aware of this. I want to help raise awareness, both of the sector specifically and of Sri Lanka in general. I also hope to share my experience of developing corporate cultures and value-driven organizations with our members in various ways.