Kemal de Soysa has always had a curious and questioning mind that has supported him through career pivots. A Ph.D. in history of science at Cambridge was followed, somewhat unexpectedly, by his first role in finance at outsourced investment research and analytics support firm Amba Research (now Moody’s Analytics Knowledge Services).
De Soysa joined what was then a small firm when he returned to Sri Lanka in 2004 and worked there for almost a decade as it grew to 850 employees, becoming country head for Sri Lanka.In 2013 he left to join the family business International Distillers (IDL). Around the same time, he also co-founded LYNEAR Wealth Management, a boutique asset manager where he continues as director of legal and compliance.
“Arrack,a uniquely Sri Lankan product that can take its place on the world stage,” is a particular focus for IDL.
Having held various responsibilities at IDL since joining, in June 2019, de Soysa became chief executive. He continues to put his financial acumen to good use overseeing the investments under the family-run holding company. IDL is Sri Lanka’s second-largest importer and manufacturer of alcohol products with over 20 brands including Old Reserve Arrack, Ascot Gin and Calypso Rum.
De Soysa is working to raise the profiles of their brands, as well as driving engagement and international recognition to take the company into the future. The alcohol industry in Sri Lanka comes with cultural and regulatory complexities.
IDL is taking a brand-building approach in the face of these challenges. To do that in any FMCG is primarily a marketing exercise, requiring an understanding of the emotional world view of consumers and their needs to convince them to spend their money. Hopefully, they will grow to form an emotional bond with the brand.
De Soysa aims to build connections with IDL’s customers that go beyond the price and focus on quality and reliability. He hopes the common local perception of Sri Lankan products as inferior to imported ones will change. He would also like to see better quality control established, and people move away from basic liquor, which accounts for 30-50% of the market and can be very harmful.
Arrack, “a uniquely Sri Lankan product that can take its place on the world stage,” is a particular focus for IDL. Recently IDL launched a premium version of Old Reserve for export. Success for de Soysa will be when IDL brands are viewed as the best in their category world over, as well as their export brands being treated as equivalent to internationally produced options globally.