Married and with three children at the time, the 25-year old Aban Pestonjee in the late 1970s decided to travel a path less taken. “The ’70s were tough years,” she said, sitting down for a chat down memory lane with the Business Times. She said these were the best of and the worst of times. [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Persistence pays – Aban Pestonjee’s journey


Married and with three children at the time, the 25-year old Aban Pestonjee in the late 1970s decided to travel a path less taken.

“The ’70s were tough years,” she said, sitting down for a chat down memory lane with the Business Times. She said these were the best of and the worst of times. “There weren’t any imports at the time. Washing machines, polishers, etc were considered luxury times.” She said that as a result, all the housewives had to do their own washing, polishing the floors, etc. “She (housewife) hardly had any time for herself. I wanted to make it easy for them,” she reminisced.

This was when she got an idea to purchase white (consumer) goods from the British, American and Australian embassies at their annual auction and then re-sell them. “I bought 11 machines each year, sold 10 and retained one for spare parts,” she said.

Ms. Pestonjee had one employee – only herself in the company. With three children and a husband to manage, she also had her eyes firmly set on the business. “My husband wasn’t exactly happy; he was not sure whether I was going to neglect the household. But as time went by he was convinced,” she smiled.

Aban Pestonjee

Ms. Pestonjee was doing her small business and in 1978, the country’s economy opened up. “Then I had a problem. My company was small. I needed to expand, as the demand became high. But I didn’t have enough funds, so I had to go to banks, but at the time, as it was a small business they weren’t excited to grant loan facilities to my business,” she explained. “The principal suppliers (many were British) of white goods weren’t keen to supply to me as I was small. But I kept on writing to them – I am a persistent person,” she asserted. Then the first supplier to visit her was ‘Electrolux’.

“They saw how I serviced the customers. My service centre was my garage. They were more than happy,” she remembered, noting that this was how she managed to secure her first agency, Electrolux. “Then I managed to get all the other agencies.”

She also remembered that despite the size of the other larger firms, they had ‘lost’ touch of what products the customers had wanted, what the local consumer had wanted. “The agents saw that I had the pulse of the local consumers better than the ‘big firms’,” she said.

Ms. Pestonjee started her business at her home in Bambalapitiya, but with the expansion she bought a small land in Colpetty. “Here we built one floor office with small funding,” she said, adding that now the building has six floors.

By 1978, her daughter – she’s the eldest – had completed the studies and joined her in the business. “Between 1978 to 1988, the other two children joined. This really helped,” she smiled. Since then Abans has managed to branch out to many areas such as Abans Tours, Abans Janitorials, etc.

She said that starting the McDonald’s fast food chain also had happened due to persistence – this time it was her son Russy. “Since he was 18, Rusy was writing to McDonald’s. He has this persistent trait – inherited from me, I guess,” she smiled. Then finally McDonald’s too was brought to Sri Lanka.

Today, Abans comprises 21 individually operating businesses with over a Rs. 11 billion (US $100 million) turnover.

Companies under the Abans Group belong to one of the five strategic business units which includes retail, services, manufacturing, logistics, real estate and infrastructure development and with this they are beginning to expand island-wide and in the overseas market as well.

Of the challenges she’s facing currently, Ms. Pestonjee says that the rupee devaluation and high interest rates have dropped consumer purchasing power. How Abans’ has managed to negate this somewhat is by introducing the hire purchase system, which is also popular in the rural areas. Abans now has 350 outlets all around the country.

Abans eyes exports to India, Pakistan; upbeat on leisure

Abans Pvt Ltd has plans to export air conditioners and refrigerators to India and Pakistan, and is also buoyant on the leisure sector, officials said.

“We’re trying to export air conditioners, refrigerators, etc, to India and Pakistan, once we set up our manufacturing base properly,” Aban Pestonjee, Chairperson/Managing Director Abans told the Business Times. She said that currently Abans is part manufacturing white goods such as refrigerators and washing machines at its facility at Ratmalana. “We may expand our Ratmalana facility, but we’re also keen to set up a new factory at Hambantota or Trincomalee,” she said.

She added that setting this new facility will help them consolidate their manufacturing base which will see them starting on their exports.

Ms. Pestonjee said that they are bullish on leisure and will be looking to set up a gamut of leisure sector entities in places wherever they own land.

“A hotel, an apartment complex and malls are on the cards at the land we own in Colpetty,” she said, adding that hotels are planned at lands they own at Nuwara Eliya and Seeduwa. She noted that Abans will be joining with foreign partners to build these poperties and has already found a partner for their Colpetty land.

Last week the Business Times reported plans by Abans to set up a luxury hotel on the former Colombo Commercial property, next to Nawaloka Hospitals.

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