“Formal education has helped me sharpen my commercial skills; but the values and life skills I gained growing up amidst hardship have also been invaluable lessons.”
Wegapitiya Kattadiyalage Hemachandra Wegapitiya (W.K.H. Wegapitiya), 55, heads LAUGFS Holdings Limited, one of the largest diversified business conglomerates and a trusted name in Sri Lanka. Founded in 1995, LAUGFS today has expanded across more than 20 industries, both local and overseas, establishing a strong presence as a leader and pioneer in the power and energy, retail, industrial, services, leisure, logistics and real estate sectors. With over 4,000 employees and an annual turnover exceeding Rs.28 billion, LAUGFS continues to expand and empower millions as a trusted Sri Lankan brand.
The Sri Lankan Founder Chairman of LAUGFS Holdings is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, in-demand conference speaker and business leader who is noted for his strong business acumen, work ethics, unyielding courage and resilience, as well as his remarkable entrepreneurial spirit.
LAUGFS Holdings has made a name for itself as a pioneer and leader with a strong ability to capture emerging market opportunities. This is reflected throughout its journey, from pioneering the auto gas industry in Sri Lanka in 1995 with Lanka Auto Gas, and setting up the country’s first Vehicle Emission Testing centre in 2008, to commissioning Sri Lanka’s largest solar power project in 2017 and building one of the largest LPG import and export terminals in South Asia.
With multiple stakeholders in Sri Lanka and across the globe due to the diversified nature of its businesses within the Group, the corporation’s vision is to be the most preferred and trusted Sri Lankan conglomerate that touches the day-to-day lives of people in Sri Lanka and beyond, through a diverse range of businesses that extends across transnational borders.
Its relentless focus on leading market segments it operates in, adding value to its customers using innovation and technology, inculcating a ‘Safety’ culture encompassing people, products and processes, ensuring fair returns to all its stakeholders, and the strong family culture, have all enabled it to build a trusted brand with a true global presence.
W.K.H. Wegapitiya holds a BSc in Business Administration from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management in Sri Lanka. He has also studied Energy Management at Oxford University, and is currently reading his PhD at the Postgraduate Institute of Management in Sri Lanka. Of his impeccable formal education, Wegapitiya says, “Formal education has helped me sharpen my commercial skills, laying a strong academic foundation for my entrepreneurial journey. However, the strong set of values and life skills I have gained while growing up amidst many hardships, as well as the many challenges we have had to encounter in setting up LAUGFS and expanding it into a diversified conglomerate with regional presence today, have been invaluable lessons. These have helped shape my character with strong qualities that I value; such as resilience, persistence, courage and passion.”
With his leadership LAUGFS Holdings has grown from strength to strength over the past two decades. Having become the first Sri Lankan LPG downstream distributor in Sri Lanka competing in a duopoly market with a multinational in 2001, LAUGFS Gas PLC was listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange in 2010, drawing an unprecedented response to its IPO. Soon after, LAUGFS Maritime marked the Group’s entry into the LPG logistics industry in 2014, with the acquisition of its first LPG vessel – MT Gas Challenger – to provide ocean freight services and related logistics to the LPG Downstream Industry in the South Asian and South-East Asian regions. In 2015, LAUGFS became the first Sri Lankan energy brand to become a multinational with the acquisition of Petredec Elpiji Ltd, one of the largest LPG downstream players in Bangladesh.
“At LAUGFS, we have a fantastic team led by our Group Managing Director, Thilak De Silva, who has been on this journey together with me for the past two decades. As a home-grown company, our growth journey over 22 years has been full of challenges at many levels. For example, when we entered the LPG downstream industry in 2001, we had to compete in the market with a multinational giant. These experiences have truly tested our tenacity and courage, and have helped me personally to master resilience and persistence to go after a strong single-minded vision with a lot of passion,” Wegapitiya recounts.
The Chairman is also a big believer in thinking big. “I believe that thinking small is a crime. I like to innovate and think beyond the ordinary. This has helped us to build pioneering businesses that could transform industries. It is with this determination that we started LAUGFS with the pioneering auto gas vehicle conversion businesses two decades ago. Today, we are setting up one of the largest LPG import and export terminals in South Asia. We have also inculcated this internally in our organisation with a strong ‘intrapreneurial culture’, where our colleagues are encouraged to think big, innovate and transcend the ordinary.”
Wegapitiya’s early challenges have shaped the way he runs his empire. “My parents have always been my role models. I grew up in a rural village with a lot of hardships, and they have taught me many values including the importance of hard work, sharing with those around us, harnessing limited resources and the importance of education. I also learned to live in harmony with nature at a very young age,” muses the forward-thinking entrepreneur.
It is no surprise therefore that LAUGFS Holdings’ employees view the company as an extended family. “We have a strong family culture, which we call the ‘LAUGFS family’. We make it a priority to engage with our colleagues and to foster a close and personal-level relationship. This has helped us to win their trust and respect as an organisation.
“It is also very important that we share our success and give back to our communities and our nation. This is one of my guiding philosophies in business. This wider impact on our communities is difficult to measure and quantify a lot of the time. But it allows us to leave a lasting legacy for many generations to come,” believes Wegapitiya, who views social responsibility as part and parcel of doing well financially.
Though Wegapitiya is now considered one of Sri Lanka’s foremost business leaders, he continues to admire entrepreneurs who have built home-grown enterprises into successful businesses. “A lot of the time these entrepreneurs have faced many challenges without the economic and political advantages that some share. Overcoming all these requires a lot of determination and strength of character, and a deep passion to pursue their goals,” he says. As to what he believes makes someone a good entrepreneur, the visionary leader says, “An entrepreneur needs to have a strong vision, a lot of resilience and courage, and also be able to quickly seize opportunities. They will also need to be able to rally people around them to steer them towards achieving that vision.”
This is why he counsels young people wanting to start their own business to think big and be passionate about achieving their dreams. “Always ensure that you think beyond the ordinary to help your business stand out from the rest. Invest in education to enhance your knowledge and skills, as well as to expand your thinking. Once you become successful, giving back to those around you is also very important,” he stresses.
Despite the rigours of his job, Wegapitiya makes it a point to carve out a little free time to be with nature. “I have a garden patch where I have grown vegetables and fruits in my back yard. I enjoy spending time there, looking after the plants and nurturing them. I also enjoy painting and music.” And while it is clear that he is still riding the crest of the wave of his success, the corporate leader says that in ten years’ time he hopes to retire and “Spend time sharing my entrepreneurial knowledge with others. I also want to write a book to share my experiences.”
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