Rohan Nanayakkara Forging ahead through hard work and determination

Published : 12:01 am  November 17, 2018 | No comments so far |  | 


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05Rohan Nanayakkara – Honorary Consul for Hungary to Sri Lanka and Chairman of R-Group – always strived to find success on his own terms, outside of the shadow of his famous father, Charles Nanayakkara. But making a name for himself and achieving considerable success was certainly inspired by his hardworking father. “My father hailed from down south” Nanayakkara reminisced. “He started Ceylon Carriers under a tree next to the Beira Lake. He started work very early and stayed on until it was very late”. A visionary, Charles Nanayakkara sent his son to England to pursue his studies back when “English was not very well recognised. He sent me abroad even though we had very limited finances. I was Life-2-1allowed only 10 British pounds to go to England which was not enough”.

Rohan initially stayed with a cousin once in England, studying during the day and baking bread at Wonder Loaf in the evenings. “It was the first time I had seen sliced bread” Nanayakkara explained. “So I sent a slice by registered post to my mother. It was like magic for me, but I learnt a lot from the experience”. When it was time for holidays, Rohan’s father suggested that he travel to Europe whenever he could. “With the limited finances I had saved up, I used to travel to other European countries. Hungary is where I felt a little bit at home because they call their father ‘appa’, and call school ‘iskool’. They had many Pali and Sanskrit words in their language and they are the only country in Europe that eats spices – paprika”. A love for the country, later evolved into a fruitful relationship once an opportunity presented itself to him. “Today, I have been honorary consul to Hungary for over 25 years”. Nanayakkara is also a Founder member of The Institute of Automobile Engineers and Founder President of the Association of Container Transporters, having introduced containers transportation in the country.

Business acumen runs in the family, a trait that Rohan has masterfully used to his advantage. Over the years, he has continued to balance his diplomatic responsibilities with his business prowess. Unsurprisingly, he was recently invited to address the passing out graduates at Corvinus University in Hungary, where he highlighted the importance of the same. The University has produced a host of Hungarian ministers as well as diplomats; with a student body comprising many international students. “I was asked to share with the students how business and diplomacy can go together. There is a myth that if you are a diplomat, you’re just a diplomat. If you are a businessman, then you’re just a businessman. The world has changed, and diplomats alone aren’t enough for a country. 

They must be a little business minded also and be able to build the trade from between and within countries. I believe that you must think out of the box. And that was what I spoke about. Because today the world’s embassies won’t survive alone. Trade between countries plays a vital role”. He also stressed on being proactive in ensuring your own success, without leaning on others, something he has experienced himself, being the son of a prominent business personality.

“In England, I worked for British Leyland. Then I graduated from the Institute of Road Transport Engineers”. Having completed the stint at British Leyland, Nanayakkara returned to 
Sri Lanka to create a name for himself, but soon found himself with a plethora of opportunities he felt were presented to him solely because he was Charles Nanayakkara’s son. “So I left for Canada. In Canada I got very close to the then Prime Minister Mr. Pierre Trudeau and most of the ministers. And today’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is someone I knew from his childhood. During my stay in Canada I came to know many people like Mohammed Ali and developed friendships with many famous people. These relationships helped me in business”. 

Fresh off support and many new ideas, Nanayakkara returned to Sri Lanka to kick start a new venture. “I always want to do something novel, so I returned to Sri Lanka and began building the world’s first floating hotel. Unfortunately, around the same time, the war started. The engineers told me that the slightest blast can crack the bottom hull and the hotel will sink. So therefore, I gave up the idea. Now the hotel is in Vietnam, so I always make it an annual pilgrimage to go to Vietnam”. The setback, although disappointing, did not faze Nanayakkara who had his eyes set on his next venture. Years later, Nanayakkara would be spearheading his most ambitious endeavor – RonanAir – a privately owned airline based in Hungary that will fly to a host of European destinations, before expanding to Asia and North America in subsequent phases. “I’m very grateful to the Hungarian government, the Honorable Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary Kover Laszlo, and other ministers for their encouragement throughout”.

Although Nanayakkara’s projects are based both in Sri Lanka and Hungary, he states his disappointment in his homeland for not achieving its full potential. “I feel sorry that we have a lovely country – the best I’ve seen and experienced in the world – but we can’t get the show going. To make that happen, it is the politicians who must make changes”. He cites his own life as an example. “My parents sent me abroad without money, and therefore, I was forced to study and earn at the same time. The good thing is that in England, they allow students to work 20 hours minimum and the government controls employment so that students aren’t underpaid.  It was enough money to pay for school, accommodation and food. It wasn’t enough to fund any vices like drugs. In this way, the government made sure the students don’t become a burden on the country. There’s nothing free in life. Everything you must earn. In this way, you have more value for your education and don’t have time to go on unnecessary demonstrations. We need to build a disciplined society that doesn’t learn to expect things for free and for things to come easy”. He believes systems here are designed to make people have no value for things, resulting in a misfit that doesn’t benefit anyone. “In Sri Lanka we have a lot of square pegs with round holes; it will never fit. The political system must change leaps and bounds here. If you look at the recent demonstrations, they have no value or benefit. 

The unions are trying to run the country when it should be the other way around”. 

He is especially critical of the fact that the education system in the country fails our youth, limiting their scope for success. After all, our youth are our future, and they will need to put their best foot forward in order to achieve success. “Our youth lack confidence because of their poor English. The world converses in English. If you can’t speak English, it stifles your future. English is very important because the world is a global village. This is the only island that Sinhala is spoken, so there is no way we can progress and keep up with the rest of the world if we don’t know basic English. Along with this, our youth are not taught proper manners. Nobody says ‘I’m sorry’ when they bump into you or say thank you. Our education system must put English into high standards including IT. We must keep up with the rest of the world”.


My parents sent me abroad without money, and therefore, I was forced to study and earn at the same time. The good thing is that in England, they allow students to work 20 hours minimum and the government controls employment so that students aren’t underpaid"