There’s an expectation that family-run businesses reaching control of the third generation will fizzle. The stigma is formed when a generation which is removed from the founders comes in to play. But Adil Mansoor isn’t from the third generation – he’s the fifth generation to take control of his family’s company, PromoLanka Holdings. And thanks to some tough decisions, his stewardship as chief executive has led to a transformation of his family business.
Mansoor graduated in the U.K. with a degree in economics and started his own consultancy company. His father convinced him to join the family’s trading business. Then, PromoLanka was supplying two product ranges in glassware and cutlery to hospitality and retail establishments.
Wanting to prove himself, Mansoor took on a separate project within the company. Instead of selling a product, he wanted to branch out to consultancy and expand the portfolio to operational supplies and equipment for commercial scale. It has a business, Eurokitchens Trading and Contracting, which specializes in commercial kitchens, laundry and cold rooms. From there, Mansoor started a venture to design and build hotel interiors, partnering with an Italian architect.
“You need to have a vision. Then you need to execute. It’s about building the right partnerships and teams. Trust me, I took risks and made many mistakes, but those were my biggest learnings.”
The firm, Peia Associati, is based in Milan with offices in Doha and Shanghai. It specializes in architecture, interior design and product design. The joint venture, Peia Lanka, recently completed its first project in the Maldives, a luxury resort operated by Westin.
From formerly being just a supplier of glassware and cutlery, PromoLanka is now forward-integrated to offer complete solutions for the hospitality industry. Mansoor’s philosophy is that no company should stay the same, and advocates for constant evolution.
He points out that to build scale, it’s important to understand what can be offered to existing clientele. He uses the transformation of his family business as an example. “We were already supplying the hospitality sector, so the challenge was to grow and bill the entire vertical,” says Mansoor. “Now if you consider a new hotel – if you take away the core construction – we take care of the architecture, interior design, project management, and continue to supply and maintain it.”
This approach scales and places the company at the centre of the supply chain and extends the partnership with each undertaken project. “We are deeply integrated one step backward. That way, I know my clients in ways my competitors don’t”.
Diversifying from a trading company to services, Mansoor is clear he is not trying to get his fingers into everything. “We want each business segment to create a niche for itself”.
The group has also expanded its trading business to the Maldives supplying complete table-top dining solutions consisting of premium quality glassware, crockery, cutlery, buffet solutions, kitchen & bar utensils, and other table-top accessories. The company keeps up-to-date with the global hospitality industry’s best practices and standards to ensure its portfolio contains premium brands used by the best hotels in the world.
Mansoor values his economics degree, but the most profound lessons came in the real world. “You need to have a vision. Then you need to execute. It’s about building the right partnerships and teams. Trust me, I took risks and made many mistakes, but those were my biggest learnings.” But in the hospitality industry, Mansoor recognises that there’s a need for change. With only 35,000 hotel rooms on the island, the ability for the nation to hold viable large-scale conferences or concerts is limited.
“Many Sri Lankans go to Singapore or Malaysia to see concerts,” reasons Mansoor. Such concerts are only viable if there are multitudes of ticket sales. “We can’t bring those performances here because we don’t have the infrastructure for attendees. It’s not just the hotels, but the venues, restaurants and so much more.”
He advocates for out-of-the-box thinking and points to the changes in what millennials want from the hospitality industry. There are trends such as Airbnb and growing gravitation towards health and wellness tourism as indicators of impending change. With some 25% of the world’s population in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and with 20% expected to come from Africa, Sri Lanka could position itself as middle-ground for conferences and regional offices.
But to get to that point, there needs to be greater cooperation within. “It could be in office politics, or it could be national politics: If someone’s trying to do something, we should be supportive. In short, we should all have a collective vision, and I think that’s where leadership is important.”
Since 2009, the family business has moved away from a single entity business to a group holding company. In ten years, revenue has grown 12 times and the staff strength increased five-fold. The group includes A&S Associates, an investment advisory and business strategy consulting firm, through which most new businesses the group undertakes filters through. Its clients include multinational and Fortune 500 companies, and high-net worth individuals. The group also has a joint venture partnership with MT&T, one of Asia’s largest aerial working platform companies.
In 2018, Mansoor was recognised for his innovative approach to building the family business when he was invited to join Lankan Angel Network (LAN), a group of business professionals, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists seeking to invest in early-stage, innovative and scalable startups. Some of the networks funded companies include Takas.lk, an e-commerce company and Omak, a cloud-based mobile restaurant point of sales system.