Honoring the Past, Making the Most of the Present and Planning for the Future – Gamini & Hasanga Jayaratne

From humble beginnings as a flower shop in 1952, the Jayaratne Group of Companies has blossomed over the years into one of Sri Lanka’s leading private conglomerates. A family-owned business, Jayaratne’s boasts a proud legacy, which has been passed down from generation to generation since the time of its founder, K. G. A. Jayaratne.

Speaking of the legacy of his predecessor and the process of building upon it, Gamini Jayaratne, the current family patriarch said,

“Jayaratne Funeral Directors has been the foremost organization of its kind, since the company’s inception in 1952 by my late father, the eponymous K. G. A. Jayaratne. The family-owned profession was in fact once a thriving floral business, however, after achieving substantial success in the field and at the requests of many, the organization diversified into a funeral home and other related services.  Over the years much investment was made in the brand to bring it to the level it is at today.”

Hasanga Jayaratne, the Group Director and son of Gamini, who joined the family business after successfully completing both his BEng and Masters at the University of Warwick in the UK, stated that,

“Over the past 5 decades, my parents have been fortunate to have an excellent team of employees who have been instrumental in helping the companies grow. Endowed with knowledge and experience, the Jayaratne legacy has been passed down through the generations and thus, we are able to offer a range of unmatched funeral solutions that encompass every aspect of funeral proceedings. Furthermore, understanding that our success comes from a competent workforce with a special set of skills, and regularly educating and training our employees have been instrumental in our success. Multiple intelligent and timely innovations along the way have helped us remain the pioneer of the industry. A main challenge I face personally, is to ensure that throughout my tenure we maintain innovation as one of our top most priorities.”

Describing what it’s like to be part of a family business, Gamini disclosed, “The company, which was first known as Jayaratne Florists, was established in 1952, in a humble sales outlet fashioned to vend flora in Colombo 7. The founder, my late father K. G. A. Jayaratne, then initiated the Funeral Service Company in 1967, under the name of Jayaratne Florists and Funeral Undertakers, which was converted into a limited liability company in 1987, as Jayaratne Funeral Directors (Pvt) Ltd. A family venture that began in 1967, Jayaratne Funeral Directors is the premier organization at the forefront of the industry today, expanding the frontiers of death care in the island nation. Today, the Jayaratne Group of Companies is still very much a family owned business, now with the third generation of the family represented by my son, Hasanga as the Group Director at the helm, overlooking the operations alongside me.” 

“Being a part of a family business brings with it a huge sense of pride and exhilaration. Knowing that I am in the midst of a company that is the epitome of its industry as a result of the sheer dedication and hard work of my late grandfather and my parents, who have worked tirelessly to spearhead the group to its present position. The key to successfully maintaining a family business requires the right mindset, excellent communication along the chain of command, and ensuring that the right people are assigned the right tasks and everything is executed well. With family businesses it’s important to address caution when implementing change in the business, especially if it weighs towards the traditional way of business. When bringing in change to align with the current standards, it’s vital to exercise caution”, Hasanga added, expressing his opinion on the key aspects of maintaining a successful family business.

When questioned about the group’s greatest strengths, Gamini responded, “Our staff who work tirelessly on behalf of the group, including those who were there at the inception stage. As this is a unique industry, our employees possess unique skill sets and they are an integral part of the group of companies. Another strength is our loyal customer base, which has grown over the past decades, who continue to patronize our services without fail, and place their trust in us every time there is a need for a service of the highest standards as well as an exclusive and heartfelt final goodbye for their loved ones.”

Hasanga however, presented a different perspective. “I believe that my father, with the unwavering support of my mother, has been the greatest strength to the group since taking over the reins from his father. His sheer driving force and strong work ethic when it comes to building a successful business have been paramount in bringing the Jayaratne Group of Companies to its present status.”

On the topic of the companies that make up the Jayaratne Group, Hasanga explained, “Our core business is Jayaratne Funeral Directors, with a rich history spanning over 5 decades. Currently with our headquarters in Borella, we have a branch network across centric locations including, Kalubowila, Rathnapura, Kurunegala and Kandy. Plans are underway to open new branches in the cities of Negombo and Marawila before the end of this year. Our other ventures include Jayaratne Stud and Agricultural Farms, a project initiated in 2010 in Dambulla, on a land spanning over 15 acres where we carry out a horse breeding operation as well as a few agricultural and floricultural projects.”

Gamini contributed saying, “With an increasing number of funerals came the proportional requirement for flowers. Flowers are the most fitting tribute at a funeral and make the event less sombre. The demand further increased for bespoke flower arrangements by our VIP Customers. This demand led to the initiation of Jayaratne Agrotech and Nurseries, which is our highly successful floriculture operation in Keppetipola. This includes the growing of a few varieties of flora, which are used in conjunction for our own Funeral services, as flowers and funeral services go hand in hand. We also supply these flowers to the wholesale market. Many of our flowers also make their way into five-star hotels in Colombo. J Orchids is the group’s dedicated flower shop, and has been in business for many years.”

“‘The Restpect’, which was launched in 2017 has become an iconic landmark in Colombo and an innovative novelty in the country. This venue has been tagged as a “Funeral Home Away from Home” to provide attendees with a homely atmosphere. It boasts a multitude of facilities to provide clients with a high level of service, which are meticulously planned and perfected. Each of the two halls are equipped with their own private executive lounges for the family of the dearly departed to rest, and savor the hot snacks and tea, which are provided. Jayaratne Stables is the family’s venture into the sport of horse racing in Sri Lanka. This began in 1999, and has been a huge success for us. We have also expanded our racing operations into India in the cities of Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Mysore, as well as a brief stint in Malaysia. A new venture that is in the pipeline along the sport of Horse Racing, includes a thoroughbred horse-riding centre in Dambulla, called the Forest Park Riding Centre, catering to tourists and locals alike in the hotspot that is the cultural triangle. Plans to build a holiday villa are also underway, making it our first entry into the tourism sector”, said Hasanga of the new ventures by the Jayaratne Group.

As a conglomerate that is rich in history, the Jayaratne Group of Companies commemorates the past while also adapting to the changing needs and evolving trends of the present and future. According to Gamini, “The group has taken serious measures to continuously evaluate and upgrade our brand and all aspects of our business. This has created the need to innovate and disrupt the market, and looking back we have done just that. I made the bold move of introducing the ‘VIP Service’ in late 2003, to offer facilities that were never before available in the country. This service gave Sri Lankans the ability to have a bespoke funeral, tastefully tailored to their specific needs. With a dedicated team ensuring that every aspect of laying a loved one to rest is taken care of in a manner that is somber yet sophisticated, dignified and meticulously undertaken from start to finish. Special limousines and a fleet of vehicles were imported from England. A two-horse procession was added to this service, making it a truly unique funeral procession.”

Hasanga added that, “When it comes to adapting to the latest trends, the group has continuously updated its fleet of luxury hearses. In 2016, after visiting the National Funeral Exhibition in the UK, we purchased the Mercedes Pilato Toska Limousine hearse and launched it in the Sri Lankan market later that year. It was the first of its kind in the Sri Lankan market as well as the entire South Asian region. A marvelous achievement for our company. Another new exciting addition to our group will be showcased in the latter part of 2020. The group has also sought the regular consultation services of world-renowned international embalmer Philippe Dubresson. This was done to ensure that we are on par with stringent quality standards and that our team of specialist embalmers have access to the latest methods in the field of embalming. The input from Mr. Dubresson has helped our team educate themselves on advanced embalming techniques that ensure that the final appearance of the deceased is world class. We have also gained exclusive access to his state-of-the-art embalming fluid, which is manufactured in Australia. All these efforts combined, have set us miles apart from the competition. Mr. Dubresson is a recurring fixture at the Jayaratne Group of Companies.”

“We have also rolled out an updated pre-paid plan for our most respected senior citizens. With Jayaratne Prepaid Funeral Plans, you can be assured that your funeral arrangements will be taken care of with the same level of reliability and trustworthiness, giving you the satisfaction of preventing your loved ones from struggling with rising funeral costs. The group and its team have set the goal in assisting our most respected senior citizens to ease the said burden on their family and loved ones by guiding them through the process of planning arrangements ahead of their funeral day in a more relaxed and preferable manner. The Funeral Plans enable the client to experience affordable and flexible payment options that allow him or her to pay the full costs at once or to make the payment in 3 monthly instalments, according to the client’s preference. This ensures that the client is at the discretion of choosing the best funeral plan at Jayaratne Funeral Directors, with the comfort and convenience of choosing a flexible payment plan that best suits their requirements.

The launch of ‘The Restpect’ funeral home, a first in this country and perhaps in the Asian region, has been one of our most impressive innovations. It is an elegant, fully equipped and central yet peacefully located, in order to carry out the last rites of a family member and loved one. This is especially relevant in a time of high rise living or in urban situations, where space and accessibility are at a premium”, the Jayaratne patriarch concluded.