In 1963, the economy in Sri Lanka was closed to the outside world. The import of all luxury goods - such as washing machines and refrigerators - was banned by the government. At the same time, embassy personnel rotating out of the country had goods and appliances they wanted to sell. Recognizing an opportunity and in need of supplementing the family income, Mrs. Aban Pestonjee moved quickly. Borrowing the equivalent of $100.00 U.S. from her father, Mrs. Pestonjee and her husband, Peston Nadirshah Pestonjee, began purchasing items (mostly household appliances) at embassy auctions and reselling them - repaired and repainted. They were the first company to offer customers a reasonable guarantee on their merchandise, and the business took off.
Today, The ABANS Group is a household name. The privately owned family business is comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Pestonjee, their three children and five executive directors handling the operations of twenty-one individual companies. Saroshi Dubash, the daughter, serves as an administrative director; Behman Pestonjee (Tito), one of two sons, directs marketing and sales; and Rusi Pestonjee, the other son, directs finance and personnel. Under this leadership, ABANS has diversified into trading, manufacturing, services, infrastructure and real estate development.
The Group employs over 12,000 people in over three hundred outlets. And as it becomes more globally aligned, the company is also becoming more socially responsible. As an example, ABANS has an outlet in Dubai and an ongoing web-based initiative focused on ex-patriate Sri Lankans who want a product delivered to relatives in Sri Lanka. They are also contributing to the environment by the marketing of environmentally-friendly products.
Later, when the government was ousted, the new administration abruptly closed the duty free zone. Shop owners perceived to be supporters of the ousted government had to dispose of a great deal of inventory and incur very high duty rates. Needless to say, supplies were sold at great loss. Again, ABANS met the challenge with characteristic speed: they quickly disposed of the inventory on hand and helped minimize the loss; overseas principals continued to supply the company with new products like assembly and component level imports that had a more favorable duty structure - all on a deferred payment basis.
By the time Sri Lanka's economy reopened in 1977, The ABANS Group was firmly established as the best repair and service workshop on the island. Once again the family reacted fast, and with their outstanding reputation for hard work, dedication, and commitment, secured accounts with some of the world's leading brands.
If location is everything, ABANS certainly benefited in 1983 when they were allocated a shop in the duty free zone, which enabled it to maximize its alliances with brands such as Electrolux and Belling.
Community involvement runs deep in the Pestonjee family. In 2000, Mrs. Pestonjee created The ABANS Millennium Children's Fund. One rupee from every sale at all ABANS showrooms is collected and distributed among charities and organizations that benefit handicapped children.
"My mother was awarded the Leading Women Entrepreneur of the World of 2006 and the Women Entrepreneur - large business category - in Sri Lanka," says Saroshi Dubash.
Saroshi represents the Women's Chamber of Commerce on the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Committee Board; is part of the Women Back to Business Program and is a member of Zonta International, a club which promotes the empowerment of women.
Saroshi explains that, "My father was the principal sponsor and coordinated sponsorship efforts for purchasing expensive MRI equipment for [area] hospitals. The ABANS Group also supports the Maharagama Cancer Hospital, the SOS Children's Village and Homes for Elders."
From 2002 to the present, ABANS has grown its outlets at the rate of nearly fifty a year. The company has also brought products like mobile phones, PABX systems and a wide-range of office equipment - including computers - into its product portfolio.
As the third generation of the family is poised to enter the business, Saroshi explains that while the second generation had no choice about coming into the family business, the third generation does. Understanding that, the company now integrates more planning into the succession process, an approach that will ensure that the guiding principles at ABANS of "hard work, dedication, commitment and prioritization of the family unit" will remain in good hands.
"Over the years we have become more customer-driven and are now changing the focus from operations to becoming more strategy driven," Saroshi says.
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