Being cross-industry isn’t for everyone, but being a Swiss army knife of trades can reap its rewards. Presantha Jayamaha has chosen to navigate across industries. He has founded or co-founded four companies, in software, hotels, real estate and construction.
With a track record for scaling, his software company, Pyxle, achieved significant investment from the U.S.-based Fortune 500 listed company Tavistock Group. He also grew his construction business through a joint venture with MTD Walkers to become the country’s largest aggregate mining company.
With similar aspirations for the hospitality industry, Jayamaha was instrumental in the entry of the world’s fourth-largest hotel chain, Best Western, to Sri Lanka. Founded in 1946, there are over 4,000 Best Western branded Hotels in nearly 100 countries. Being one of the first new international hotels to enter a post-war Sri Lanka, he relates how it wasn’t easy to convince the global player to enter the market. “I was persistent,” recalls Jayamaha. “They said no three times before. On the fourth attempt, they relented. I was promised 15 minutes with the U.S. chief executive – on condition that I wouldn’t call them again.”
“What separates people, more than skill, is the will to succeed.”
His fifteen minutes worked and was given a second meeting to discuss numbers. Jayamaha’s Elyon Hotels established a Best Western branded hotel in Colombo. He has now expanded the footprint in Sri Lanka with an Elyon-branded business hotel at Orion Towers. He plans to expand to other areas of the island too.
Becoming a hotelier is not an obvious next step for an IT entrepreneur, especially as, by his own admission, he struggles to fry an egg. But Jayamaha says this industry-hopping helped him look at things from a fresh perspective. “What separates people, more than skill, is the will to succeed,” says Jayamaha. “If you have the will you have what it takes to get it done. Some people discount their ability by saying ‘I don’t have the background or the money or the education.’ But honestly, if that willingness is there, you’re 90% of the way. With the attitude, aptitude will come.” The idea to bring a chain of recognized, mid-tier business hotels to Sri Lanka came from Jayamaha’s travels when in the IT field and it’s a way in which he chose to bring innovation to his diversified interests.
Rather than approach the situation from the traditional standpoint, Jayamahas set out to solve a business problem as opposed to an accommodation one. The scenario he paints is of an small or midsized company inviting a foreign client to the island: “No one wants a potential investor who’s looking to inject $500,000 into a company ending up with food poisoning, or having to deal with cockroaches in his room. Because the risk is not the $200 spent on his accommodation; it’s that $500,000 deal.”
His background in tech has instilled in him the importance of continually innovating. “Coming from a software background makes it a lot easier. In the tech industry, if you’re not innovating, you’re dead. I spent 15 years in that sort of business. You’re constantly figuring out what technologies are changing tomorrow because if you’re not in those technologies, your revenues will take a hit.”
Jayamaha founded Pyxle in 2003. With 100 employees, the company provides services in software development, consulting big data and business intelligence, tech operations and robotic process automation. Pyxle counts Fortune 100 companies in its client portfolio.
It has built solutions to track energy performance contracts for property managers, manage agricultural assets across vast areas and created seamless enterprise management solutions for companies with complex business structures. Jayamaha was a founder-chief executive for ten years and now has a seat on the board. Innovation is something he applies to all aspects of his business dealings, saying that “if you’re not leading, you’re following. And if you’re following, it’s only a matter of time before your revenue starts dropping, and you’re playing catch-up,” says Jayamaha.
Moving across industries has its benefits. “When you move across sectors, you begin to see the world differently. That’s a good thing. You can bring to the table a perspective that’s not obvious to anyone else. He recalls having a day and a half appointment to meet with Best Western executives. They ended up spending three days because Jayamaha kept them hooked with fresh ideas and perspectives to improve their business with data and digital tech. He is currently the president of the American Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka and sees potential in promoting commerce, investments and joint ventures between the two countries. “We have the opportunity to bring in some big investments,” he says.