A journey that started with just Rs. 6,500 in hand

By Yakuta Dawood

How many people do you think have started doing a job with the intention of supporting and providing for their families? Many, we can assume. This is because it is the easiest choice to make in order to spend on essential expenses and get by in life. However, this is also what makes an entrepreneur different, as they are known to be risk-takers who take up the challenge with a vision of success.

Develop It Yourself (DIY) this week had a chat with entrepreneur Jude Rodrigo who established Bopitiya Auto Enterprises with an aim of making more income whilst he was working as a machine operator in a lathe machine company based in Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Rodrigo said that in 1981, he chased his dreams of being an entrepreneur by working 18 hours a day at his thatched hut he had built with his own hands, with an initial investment of only Rs. 6,500.

Reminiscing about his entrepreneurial journey, Rodrigo revealed that the first aluminium kitchen utensils that were produced failed, and manufacturing cast boat spare parts through aluminium casting and manufacturing of brass water taps through brass casting also failed, as it could not capture the market at that time.

“With the emboldened experience and the strong leanings from the fallen stages, gathered with my backed determination, I ultimately kept my footprint to manufacture motor vehicle bronze bushes and machinery requirements which put the industry into the track,” he shared.

Fortunately for Rodrigo, the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) in 1982 decided to import Leyland Viking bushes from India, thereby creating a demand for the bushes due to poor road conditions in Sri Lanka, which resulted in a huge turning point in the entrepreneurial journey.

“Today, I could recall the past and reflect on the present with utter satisfaction and happiness,” Rodrigo expressed.

Company offerings

With industry experience of over 40 years, Bopitiya Auto Enterprises is known to be a Sri Lankan quality brand manufacturer, distributor, and exporter of automotive fastening and suspension components such as bronze bushes, rubber suspension components, mounts, U-bolts, spring pins, shackle brackets, automotive leaf springs, accessories, and light engineering components.

As of today, the company has a product range of over 500 products on auto components. However, according to Rodrigo, Bopitiya Auto Enterprises also customises and manufactures light engineering components according to customer specifications.

He also added that Bopitiya Auto Enterprises competes with international products at a competitive price and high-quality products whilst also ensuring that products are delivered within 48 hours to customers’ doorstep anywhere across the country.

“We consistently strive to deliver authentic, durable products that are well compatible with local road conditions and ensure that our strategies are prioritised around evolving customer satisfaction,” Rodrigo said.

Meanwhile, when inquired what the challenges are in exporting products to international countries such as India and the Maldives, he revealed that the main challenge is the cost factor with regard to quality products, along with current international market competition.

Explaining further, Rodrigo said that developed infrastructure facilities, tax benefits, industry supports, accessibility to tools, materials, and types of machinery in developed countries create a barrier to Third World countries like Sri Lanka to compete with the cost factor in mind.

“Quality and international price challenges are there for industrial engineering products like these despite the opportunities in traditional exporting items like tea, coconut, rubber, and garments. The main reason is that as an engineering component, we must add values and special features to the product. Despite the challenges, the company that makes a profit within the challenges wins in the market,” he elaborated.

He added that Bopitiya Auto Enterprises has always been confident in exploring new methods, diversifying the company’s portfolio, and also establishing it as a prime brand in the auto components market both locally and internationally.

What’s the current status?

Since its inception, Bopitiya Auto Enterprises has been awarded around 80 numerous national and international awards, including the Most Outstanding Exporter of the Year organised by the National Chamber of Exporters Sri Lanka, National Gold Awards for Business Excellence, and the Best Energy Efficient Enterprise and Best Productive Enterprise by the National Chamber of Commerce.

When asked how Bopitiya Auto Enterprises is unique in comparison to existing competitors in the market, Rodrigo highlighted that quality offering, durable products, and delivery strategy are the core concepts that entrust customers with loyalty.

Further, he noted that concepts such as 5S, Kaizen (improvement), total productive maintenance, just-in-time inventory control systems, and total quality management (TQM) are taken to improve productivity and strategic planning within the organisation.

“Applying these concepts, including green concept theories, we have identified that it can boost employee productivity that could give a cost-based competitive advantage along with a loyal customer base in comparison to our competitors,” Rodrigo noted.

Switching the conversation to employees, he mentioned that from starting a company by himself, the company right now has a workforce of more than 100 dedicated and fully experienced employees along with more than 200 machines that are utilised for production.

Explaining the company’s corporate culture, Rodrigo said that even though he is an industrial specialist, he is considered a people-oriented entrepreneur where employees are bonded in a family-like relationship, resulting in maintaining a good workforce to balance and improve productivity.

“I have an open-door policy to connect with every worker in the organisation; as a result, I maintain a close relationship with them. It is also an advantage to have two-way communication from top to bottom and vice-versa,” Rodrigo highlighted.

What the future holds

Expressing the long-term vision for the company, Rodrigo mentioned that the aim is to explore and expand into international markets and consider how the company’s current portfolio can be diversified to address the current challenges in the local and international trade sector.

“I’m always empowered with my skills and a definite vision to make Bopitiya Auto Enterprises a prime brand in the auto components market in both national and international markets,” he shared.

Adding to this, he said that Bopitiya Auto Enterprises makes its path to excellence in manufacturing fastening and suspension automotive components by producing innovative products according to the Sri Lankan road requirements, with an aim of making the industry successful by each passing day.

Sharing a piece of advice, Rodrigo emphasised that entrepreneurship could not be learned by means of books but is a talent that varies in each individual from birth. “Thinking power associated with physical ability does wonders, and continuous positive thinking and rejecting the negativity of ‘no’ or ‘can’t’ is the inner satisfaction of myself,” he concluded.