Dinuk Hettiarachchi is Chairman of 3DH International, a group of companies in power & energy, insurance, international trade, tech & business process outsourcing, property, and aviation. He co-founded the group five years ago with three friends who’ve been close since first grade.
Hettiarachchi’s vision is to make each of the group’s businesses among Sri Lanka’s top three in each of their industries. Hettiarachchi is a chartered accountant by profession and managing partner at his father’s firm Nihal Hettiarachchi & Company Chartered Accountants, where he introduced computer technology to the practice. “I would import computer parts from Singapore and assemble the machines myself. This was before tech was mainstream.” he says.
“We can’t grow the business by ourselves. I have a passion for starting new ventures. I set things in motion and then let others grow it so I can move on to the next challenge.”
Soon, some of the firm’s clients noticing the tech upgrade at the firm asked him to supply computers for them too, and Hettiarachchi imported the parts, assembled, and sold machines under the brand name Alpha Systems. He would set up the computers at clients’ offices himself. When this business scaled, he approached his three buddies with an idea to spin it off with the four of them as co-founders.
Since then, 3DH has diversified into several other groups with offices in Dubai, Singapore and Australia. The group has an oil and gas unit supplying petrochemicals to Sri Lanka and the Maldives and is looking to expand its reach to Bangladesh and the west coast of India. It hopes to diversify into coal and crude oil supply. This business is its biggest revenue generator.
Other companies in the group include a tech company and a BPO business providing software development, tech consultancy, graphic design, finance & accounting, and call centre facilities. It has an international trading company in spices, seafood and mechanical equipment; an insurance brokerage; and an energy company specialising in solar panels. Another company provides consultancy and turnkey solutions for aircraft operators and airports. It also has a venture in real estate, providing consultancy and property development services. The group operates a hotel in Kalpitiya and an online boutique travel destination business.
Hettiarachchi continues to play a role in his father’s accounting firm. “It’s a mature business with solid processes and sound second-tier management, so I can devote time to grow 3DH,” he says. The firm specialises in audit and assurance, advisory and tax services. The accounting firm also offers BPO and human resource development to billing clients.
The four friends didn’t spend time deliberating the founding of the 3DH group. “It just happened and took a life of its own.” Each of them continues to lead their own verticals at 3DH but meet at least once a week for a board meeting and make it a point to have a drink each week.
For Hettiarachchi, finding the right people to run the businesses of the group is critical.
“We can’t grow the business by ourselves. I have a passion for starting new ventures. I set things in motion and then let others grow it so I can move on to the next challenge,” he says. His professional training as a chartered accountant helps him quickly grasp the nuances of different industries, deep-dive, into the details when formulating strategy and set robust oversight to ensure everyone is aligned to the shared values and achieve topline and profitability goals. But to grow the group, Hettiarachchi realises managers and team leaders need freedom and the authority to make decisions and run the business.
“This makes a huge difference when you give people the responsibility and authority”. Failure is not discouraged if thoughtfully laid down decision-making processes are followed diligently. “The decision can be wrong—but if the right processes have been followed like due diligence, then I back them up whatever the outcome,” he says.
He devotes a lot of time motivating managers with one-on-one formal to informal after-office chats. Hettiarachchi often comes across talented people who don’t realise their capabilities. He senses a hesitancy about them. “We need to grow organically, and people play a huge role. I invest a lot of time with them hoping they’d be the ones catching the next wave”.
The chartered accountant in him makes Hettiarachchi circumspect. Diversification decisions were based on the growth potential and finding the right people to run the businesses. Credibility and public trust are paramount for sustainable growth. “Our goal is to grow the businesses to be among the top three in each of their sectors. Importantly, we want to build a group that’s recognised as a respectable corporate where people like to work”.