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Investing in bad time paid for Laugfs



Chairman, Lanka Auto Gas Fuel Systems (LAUGFS) W. K. H Wegapitiya

A young marketing graduate from the Sri Jayawardhanapura University set up Sri Lanka’s first auto gas converting plant in 1995. Today it is on course to taking his local brand name global.

“I want to make Laugfs a world renowned name similar to 3M and Caltex long time ago,” Chairman, Lanka Auto Gas Fuel Systems (LAUGFS) W. K. H Wegapitiya said.

For a person hailing from a remote hamlet in Balangoda it was an impossible dream even to think that he could take his business overseas within a short span of eight years after starting a business.

“Its determination that drives entrepreneurship. If you think you can do something focus on it and then any thing can be made a reality,” he said.

For companies like 3M and Caltex it took them longer period to make an international impact. It was stated that the President of 3M had to wait almost 12 years to provide decent salaries to their employees.

However for Laugfs they have already reached the global mark in a shorter time and they boast of diversified companies in the Auto gas, LPG, Lubricants, super market, tyres, real estate, apartments, and leisure with a turn over running into a couple of billion rupees.

This he has achieved by purchasing a lubricant company in Melbourne Australia and then getting in to the auto gas conversions market in Australia.

Q: Looking back what was behind your success?

I think things started to click as I invested during bad times and I took risks. My first business venture was to convert motor vehicles to Auto Gas. Though it was a new business, I was confident that it would be successful and invested on it.

However I had to start from scratch as both the customers and authorities did not know about this new product educating officials and obtaining licence was a very tough task.

I must also thank DFCC Bank for providing with financial assistance during the time with Rs. 20 million.

Q: What were your next initiatives?

Customers next wanted filling stations for their converted vehicles. This is how I got in to the filling station businesses. Then I felt that vehicle owners needed lubricants and other services for the auto industry. This was how a complete auto package came about from Laugfs.

I also saw that while drivers were attending to their auto care needs there was time for families as well as drivers to do household purchases and this was how the super market concept was born.

Q: What made you go overseas?

I think Sri Lankan entrepreneurs have talent and skills to capture the world market and they can compete with internationally known figures.

I also saw that the Australian Government was providing subsidies for auto gas converters and then decided to engage in operations in Perth Australia. It was very successful with the Australian public in Perth believing in a Sri Lankan as my Auto Gas business is fast gaining a good market share in Perth and we would be soon moving to other areas.

I am personally happy while I am doing a successful business I have the opportunity to provide employment for local workers.

Q: What next from here?

With the lubricant plant I bought in Melbourne I have entered the Australian lubricant market and would soon export to Europe as well.

I am next hoping to enter the supermarket business in the Maldives and now waiting to clear the bottlenecks there.

Q: You are a major promoter of the ‘Buy Sri Lankan’ concept?

Sri Lankan entrepreneurs have international talent and by purchasing their products customers can promote these entrepreneurs to reach international standards.

In contrast the multi-nationals are promoting international products and they say to take powdered milk instead of fresh milk. They say to consume bread instead of rice.

Q:Do you think Sri Lankans have many ways for entertainment?

What the people are forced to enjoy for leisure is far below potential. What is shown in media and television is only violence.

There was a television channel, which repeatedly telecast a footage where a man was burning as a result of the Nugegoda Bomb explosion.

Over 2,000 people died at the 9 -11 explosion in USA and did the Western media show a single body. No. This is the discipline and responsibility the Western media showed. I do know when the local media would mature to this standard.

Q: What do you think of the ethnic conflict?

I believe that 95 per cent of Sri Lanka’s problems including the ethnic conflict were created by the colonial era. These were cancers left behind by our colonial rulers.

Since 1905 to 1948 all the foreign rulers preferred to divide communities and rule since it was so easy to govern when communities do not have unity.

I am sorry to note that this mentality still remains and people should move away from this ‘divide and rule concept’ if the country needs to prosper.

However the petty politics and divide and rule Mindset is creating problems to the country and is hampering development.

“ I am sad to say despite everything Sri Lanka is still using the railway and the up country network the foreigners built and we are yet debating as to how the Colombo-Katunayake expressway is being built.

This is because there is no political unity among communities.

Q: Where would you like to spend your perfect holiday?

I like to be in Kandy and prefer Australia if I am looking for an overseas holiday.

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