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Dilmah’s Philosophy of Caring and Sharing

Merrill Fernando, Founder and chairperson, Dilmah

Dilmah’s Philosophy: A Conversation with Merrill Fernando on Caring and Sharing

Merrill Fernando is the founder and chairperson of Sri Lanka’s largest and most international tea manufacturer, Dilmah.

Early in his journey, he observed that Sri Lankan tea, a finished product which was handpicked, produced based on some conventional and artistic process in Sri Lanka, was treated as a raw material and delivered at minimal significance to Europe where value addition, packaging and branding happened. Because of this, manufacturers of Sri Lankan tea obtained a very small fraction of their profits from the sale of their tea, while big corporations profited.

Fernando has committed his career to addressing this inequity. His story is a remarkable one for it illustrates that the exploitation that often characterizes commodities and products which are dominated by large corporations.

Fernando’s love for tea directed him to innovate in very important places. He established the Dilmah brand in 1988 that became the first manufacturer owned tea manufacturer. Dilmah wasn’t just another brand of tea; but it was a brand that has been based on a passionate commitment to quality and credibility in tea. Dilmah was also part of a doctrine that went beyond trade in seeing business as an issue of human service. Fernando also pioneered the idea of single origin packaging and tea garden fresh, at source. These initiatives pitched Fernando directly against businesses several times the magnitude of his miniature and fledgling organization, and it also brought him into conflict with his peers and the Sri Lankan authorities who didn’t share his belief that tea could be picked and shipped direct from source by growers themselves.

In this discussion, Merrill Fernando will discuss his travel in the tea industry and discuss how he built a global brand.

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