JAT Holdings – Transforming Spaces

Sri Lankan JAT Holdings PLC, a diversified conglomerate with a strong foothold in South Asia and beyond, makes the world brighter with its coating solutions.

JAT Holdings was founded by Mr Aelian Gunawardene in 1993 with the primary objective of providing total timber coating solutions to the Sri Lankan furniture industry.

Over the years, the company has joined forces with major international players in the paint sector to become an undisputed leader in the wood coatings industry in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh, and a leading comprehensive solutions provider for all surface coatings such as decorative domestic and industrial emulsion and enamel paints, plasters, anticorrosive paints, floor paints, metal fillers, as well as furnishing in Sri Lanka.

For the last four years, the company has been under the management of CEO Nishal Ferdinando, an experienced leader with a background in the construction industry and an alumnus of the Harvard Business School. He has led the company through thick and thin, including the 2020 tragic Easter attacks in Sri Lanka and the recent Covid-19 pandemic, and has not only expanded the scope of business but introduced novel concepts which have substantially increased revenues.

His achievements include securing the rights to manufacture Harris Brushes – the leading brush brand in the UK – in Sri Lanka, launching the JAT CARE range of hand sanitisers and disinfectant surface cleaners, partnering with SIKA for concrete admixture and waterproofing chemical solutions.

Mr Ferdinando is also behind the introduction of an online selling platform and door-to-door delivery through the new ‘White by JAT’ range of brilliant white emulsion paints for both interior and exterior use, in a market where traditionally paints are sold mainly through hardware stores. “65% of decorative paint market is brilliant white in Sri Lanka. We offer a 40% discount to the end consumer along with door-to-door delivery and are pleased to see the range become so successful,” he affirms.

Under his management, the business has maintained a healthy market share of 55% in the wood coatings sector and the company launched a loyalty base scheme, which now has some 100,000 registered consumers. In addition, the company has established distribution in several countries in Africa.

Leader in the region

“JAT is predominantly a wood coatings company and is the partner for the Sherwin Williams company’s wood coating brand Sayerlack, for whom we have been recognised as the largest partner in the world. We have basically introduced water-based wood coatings to the south Asian market,” says Mr Ferdinando.

He explains that in addition to wood coatings, JAT operates within three verticals: the first one is the paint business in the local market, within which the company represents the UK No One paintbrush manufacturer L.G Harris & Co. and offers its own brush range and decorative paints and performance coating range to cater for the needs of the Sri Lankan market. Exporting the wood coatings segment to the region represents the second vertical.

The third vertical is furnishing. In this business line, the company represents prime European and American manufacturers in Sri Lanka, such as Hermann Miller, a specialist in seating and desking solutions; SEA Bauformat, the leading German kitchen supplier; Knauf Ceiling Solutions, the producer of acoustic walls and ceilings; as well as several other brands.

While the furnishings are imported, the paints and brushes are manufactured in the company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility for decorative paint and brushes.  “Our business scope is wide but 75% of our revenue comes from the wood coating and paint products,” says Mr Ferdinando.

Sailing through the changes

JAT has held about 55% of the wood coatings market share in the region for the last 15 years, and the management is looking at further growth, unshaken by the pandemic. Despite the new challenge related to the unfavourable exchange rate, resulting in increased prices, as well as a shortage of raw materials and disrupted supply chains, JAT Holdings reported an outstanding performance in the first quarter of the 2021/22 financial year.

“Since our inception, JAT has been at the forefront of revolutionising the local wood coating industry irrespective of what happens in the macro-environment. With a strong focus on employee wellbeing, we pivoted to a work from home model for our corporate staff and invested in ensuring the safest possible work environment for our manufacturing staff,” Mr Ferdinando affirms.

“I’m happy to say that we retained all our staff during the pandemic and while we did have some salary cuts, we reimbursed every single one after 6 months,” he points out, adding that during the lockdown, JAT also continued to support its biggest customer group – individual, self-employed painters, who found themselves without work but dependent on their daily income.

“With the Delta variant, we are not out of the woods yet and there are several risks to be considered to safeguard our staff – medical, economic and mental. The management is always ready to support the staff when addressing potential mental health issues, as our employees’ wellbeing is one of our priorities.”

The new future

In July 2021, JAT reached a major milestone when the the privately held company successfully completed an IPO and converted into a listed business. Mr Ferdinando explains that the IPO fund will be used purely for business expansion.

The company has defined four main projects for the future: the first is increased production capacity with a new manufacturing plant to be built in Bangladesh, planned to be operational by the fourth quarter of 2021/22. Secondly, JAT is planning to incorporate a state-of-the-art R&D facility in Sri Lanka, staffed by foreign scientists and chemists and employing the latest equipment in order to design new products, and develop tailor-made solutions.

The third project is to push the White by JAT range launched in December last year, to penetrate more forcefully the decorative industry, where the company is currently a relatively small player. Finally, a fourth, longer-term project – to commence in 2022/23 – is to open a manufacturing plant in Africa. “These are ambitious but well achievable plans. The company is in a strong position, ready to grow further,” insists Mr Ferdinando.

In concluding, he mentions a slightly different project, entirely focused on Sri Lanka. Two years ago, the company launched Petal Paint – a new paint that combines ancient traditions and cutting-edge manufacturing technology. The paints are made from the pigment of discarded temple flowers, to be used in the restoration of sacred temple murals.

“The initiative started very small but the concept has already won several international awards. Petal Paint is another area of the business which we would like to grow – paying homage to Sri Lanka’s rich heritage of temple art.”

More like this