MAS Holdings Chairman Mahesh Amalean who will deliver the Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture shares his success story

It was 2008 going on 2009 when Sharad Amalean turned to his elder brother Mahesh Amalean and said, “This is going to unravel completely.” It wasn’t news to Mahesh, who as Chairman of MAS Holdings had watched as the company reeled under the economic downturn. As orders dropped, they had had to lay off people for the first time, releasing 3,000 employees and closing factories in Sri Lanka and India. “That was probably the toughest moment for me,” Mahesh says now.


2013-10-02aTheir existing businesses were not generating enough cash while newer investments were sucking up tremendous amounts of it. “It was that scary but we didn’t share that with anyone. We would walk out the door and say, ‘Let’s roll up our sleeves, put our shoulders to the wheel, get down to the floor, work with our people and bring it back’.” The brothers Amalean were not giving in without a fight.


In the years leading up to this point, MAS Holdings had built a reputation as manufacturers of fine lingerie and showed the growth to back it – as much as 20% – 30% a year. When Mahesh, Ajay and Sharad founded the company in 1986, they were the newest chapter in a family tradition that stretched back for longer than Mahesh can remember.


“I come from a community in Gujarat that have been in textiles and clothing for many generations. I have no count of how many generations,” says Mahesh. His grandfather, who landed on Sri Lankan shores in 1926, was an apparel trader who slowly built a textile manufacturing business from the ground up, eventually expanding to include elements such as lace. “That was a time when the economy was closed and there was a lot of incentive to manufacture things yourself.”


The eldest son, Mahesh was 15 when he and his siblings lost their father. As their large, extended family rallied around them, his grandfather remained its head and the man running their manufacturing business. Despite the powerful tug of tradition, as a young man Mahesh wanted nothing to do with textiles. Instead, when he went to Chennai it was to study engineering. (He would meet Shaila, the woman who would become his wife, there.) However, as the eldest grandson he could not say ‘no’ when, upon his return, he was asked again to be a part of the company. For seven years Mahesh worked with his family and he remembers those as tumultuous times.