Abans Group: Building a diversified conglomerate
- Never backing down in the face of adversity, Abans Group Chairperson Aban Pestonjee shares her wealth of experience on building a business empire in Sri Lanka
Fifty years have passed since I started the business, and as with any journey there have been many ups and downs. While all rejoice and make noise around the ups, one must never ignore the lessons learnt during the downs.
When I initially embarked on my small business of providing housewives with basic used home appliances in the 1960s, the business landscape was very different. It was an era of the closed economy. Banks were not as liberal with their lending to entrepreneurs who wanted to start a new business, especially a woman in a male-dominated field, as they are today.
Today, banks and financial institutions are more flexible in supporting entrepreneurs who can satisfy them with viable projects. The digital revolution has opened up more knowledge and easier communication channels with the community, which has enabled small businesses to grow. That is why more young people have realised the potential of becoming entrepreneurs rather than being employed.
While more people clamour to become entrepreneurs, they should be aware that starting a business may be easy but sustaining it is a different matter. To grow the top line and bottom line, while building a business image which continues to reflect trust and quality, is no easy feat.
When the economy opened in the ’70s, the business faced a huge setback as secondhand appliances were no longer relevant to the market. Seeing this as an obstacle that needed to be overcome, I set about learning what new market opportunities would come about in the market. I decided to restructure my small business of selling reconditioned used appliances into an agency, importing international brands of home appliances. This was a giant leap for a small business run by a young housewife and a staff of just three people. The biggest obstacle in my path was breaking into a market led by large multinational companies which had already secured agencies for leading international brands.
To be successful in any enterprise you have to possess courage to take risks and the perseverance to dauntlessly pursue your dreams and conquer any obstacles in your path. I persisted with my correspondence with manufacturers of internationally recognised brands and invited them to come and visit our operation in Sri Lanka. Hard work and determination always have their rewards. Electrolux of Sweden, impressed with our perseverance and passion, decided to give Abans a chance. It was the first international brand which offered its agency to Abans. This was the start of a phenomenal growth journey for Abans, with many international brands such as LG and Hoover soon following suit.
Following the success of the Home Appliance retail business, with the help of my children Saroshi, Tito and Rusi, Abans started to expand and diversify as a business. Understanding the daily stresses people are going through, the Abans Group seeks to find a suitable solution and enhance their lives. This has been an underlining foundation of our business. When people spend their hard-earned money on a home appliance, they look for solid warrantees and good after-sales service. Abans’ after-sale service arm was set up to cater to this requirement. Abans’ environmental solutions provide a range of services such as waste management, pest control and facility management. The latest group venture of the Colombo City Centre (CCC) saw the group embarking on a joint venture with the Next Group to redefine and enhance urban city living in Sri Lanka.
One should not become complacent once you have conquered your obstacles and success follows success. The important thing to remember is that it takes a lot of hard work and toil to build an image but just one mistake to instantly shatter it. Always ensure that the quality of your products meets the highest international standards and strongest business ethics.
The business has stayed true to the simple vision to keep enhancing tomorrow for every Sri Lankan, and has continued to do so for the past 50 years. Whether it is through the vast product ranges and services offered, to employment opportunities and CSR initiatives, Abans has been committed to empowering people to be more than they were before. I perceive mistakes as lessons learnt. It is difficult to do business without making mistakes.
Through our long journey, many mistakes were made, but lessons were learnt and the business moved forward. Recessions came and went, wars took place, political turmoil continued, making the business environment very challenging. But getting the right people on board, with a clear vision and relentless drive for growth, made the journey rewarding.
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