The story of Merrill J. Fernando is a remarkable one, for it illustrates the exploitation that often characterizes categories that are dominated by big corporations. It also demonstrates the power of fair and just trade in lifting less developed countries out of poverty. Born in 1930, in the village of Pallansena in South West-ern Sri Lanka, Merrill J. Fernando hails from a rural, middle class background. Following his early education at Maris Stella College, Negombo he moved to the capital Colombo, seeking better pros-pects. He wished to become a Tea Taster, then the domain of British expatriates who guarded their profession keenly. He was fortunate to be selected to join the first batch of Ceylonese (Sri Lanka was then called Ceylon) to be trained in tea at what was then the ‘Mecca’ of tea – Mincing Lane, London. His love for tea led him to innovate in three very important areas.
He launched the first producer owned tea brand in 1988, and in his desire to offer authenticity, he pioneered the concept of single origin tea and packing tea, garden fresh, at source. These initiatives were not easy, for his struggles pitched him against corporations many times the size of his tiny and fledgling business and it brought him into conflict with his peers and government, who did not share his belief that tea could be picked, packed and shipped direct from origin by growers themselves. The tiny upstart tea company that he formed in 1988 to change the exploitation of his country’s crop by big traders, has today grown to become one of the top 10 tea brands in the world. Merrill J. Fernando is joined in his passion for tea by his sons, Malik and Dilhan, whose names form the Dilmah brand. Together they pursue his vision of bringing quality back to tea, with tradition, ethics, and all the health benefits of fresh tea.
KEY ATTRIBUTES THAT MAKE HIM A LEADER
- His fair and just practices in running an organization has created an overall faithful aura around him in the market.
- His extensive knowledge of the business industry implicitly makes him a very effective leader.
- His hard-work is what has made Dilmah one of the most loved brands when it comes to spending a good evening with the family.
- His vision is borne deep in the roots of Dilmah and is being carried forward successfully by his next generation.
- Dilmah is the result of pure passion for bringing tea back to its quality and ethics brewed with old traditional values.