Diplomacy is a combination of respect, knowledge, and application of ideas in a win-win scenario. Winning or losing is not a diplomatic way of doing things. Diplomatic way of doing things is beneficial for both or multiple parties.
This is how an ambassador with non-diplomatic background defines diplomacy. Having extensive experience in international business, he wants to apply his expertise in improving ties with Qatar.
Kithsiri Athulathmudali is the new Sri Lankan ambassador to Qatar. A seasoned businessman and philanthropist, he is enthusiastic about his first-ever appointment as an ambassador and that, too, in Qatar. In a recent interview with Community, the ambassador spoke at length about his experiences, expertise and eagerness to further enhance bilateral trade with Qatar.
Ambassador Kithsiri, who carries a university degree in electrical and mechanical engineering from the US, said: “I have never worked as an engineer. Lucky for me, I got involved in international business. I was hired by a multinational healthcare organisation in the US as a senior manager. I was headhunted by the international company Honeywell to start a global business unit — a healthcare business. I started and managed the business before I became managing director of Asia Pacific for Honeywell. I managed 35 countries out of Singapore.”
In 2002, Kithsiri left the company and started his own business in Singapore. “I still do the business that is managing complicated high rise buildings from mechanical, electrical and maintenance perspective. I learnt these business traits when I was with Honeywell. I won a big accolade in Singapore: I was awarded as ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2001 by the government. I went back to the US where I was hired by Johnson Controls. I had the global responsibility of managing a number of business units around the world.”
The acclaimed business manager had to give up his coveted career due to a personal tragedy. “I pursued the career for about 12 years. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I took couple of years off from my career and took care of my father. In the process, I learnt so much about the disease. I am the youngest of five siblings. I learnt about the disease not only from a psychological perspective, but also from medication perspective. After the death of my father when I went back to the US, I realised to do something for the disease. I started a hospital for Alzheimer’s disease patients in Dallas Texas. I coined a phrase — ‘compassionate care’. It became extremely successful and I went on to have five facilities that I later sold out.”
The compassionate care giver decided to take a break and spend time with his family — wife and three children. “My two daughters and a son are working in the US. I went back to Sri Lanka in 2015. I started getting involved in social work and consultancy. Earlier this year, I was asked by the president of Sri Lanka to serve the country abroad and I opted for Qatar.
“We have brotherly ties with Qatar and have about 135,000-140,000 Sri Lankans working here. There are huge opportunities for both countries to have mutual benefits. I feel that I can also contribute something significant.”
The new ambassador is a person who thinks that if he is not doing something productive, he is wasting his time. “I have lots of interests other than my business and work. I have passion for aviation. I got private pilot licence at the age of 50 in 2010. I have been flying private planes.”
Kithsiri also has an interest in teaching and he has already started teaching at the Sri Lankan school in Qatar. “Though, I do not have much free time, I have started taking a class once a week. I teach effective communication and active learning. Through learning, you can become a refined individual. I want to share my experience with the young students.”
The international business manager is confident that his expertise will help him in carrying out the job of being a diplomat. “A career diplomat definitely has his or her own expertise. People like me who come from industry have their own expertise. In order for you to do business across the world, you have to be a diplomat. You have to have diplomatic skills. It is all about diplomacy.
“I think diplomacy is a combination of respect, knowledge and application of ideas in a win-win scenario. Winning or losing is not a diplomatic way of doing things. Diplomatic way of doing things is beneficial for both and multiple parties.
“Qatar is a very fast developing country. It is a very progressive nation. You have all ingredients in one place here. You have progressive thinking and the funding to go with it. It is a futuristic country. In this environment, if you have expertise in international business and diplomacy, it is easy for you to see the opportunity. You apply your skills to benefit the country you represent and the host country.”
Being very new to the country, the ambassador has a thirst to learn more about the country. “I am extremely busy here. However, whatever time I find, I go to different restaurants with my family. So far, my exposure is very limited. I love going to Souq Waqif.”
Kithsiri has been an avid reader of management books. “I also like to read self-health books and business books. Anything to do with aviation, I also love to read.”
For the ambassador, it is interesting to know that the Sri Lankan expatriates have been working in different fields. “We have senior managers in banking sector. There are senior executives in construction industry. We have significant amount of people in the IT sector. A big number of people are with Qatar Airways. There are 300 to 400 Sri Lankans working in agriculture and farming sector. I visited a farm and got amazed to see that in the middle of the desert we are growing flowers.”
The ambassador’s idea of improving bilateral ties with any country is to create a win-win situation. “I think you have to look at the resources; you have to look at manpower; you have to look at the political structure; you have to look at the economic structure and then you have to come up with what opportunities you have that create a win-win situation for both countries. In case of Qatar, they do not have a forest and we in Sri Lanka have greenery everywhere. There is an opportunity for us to offer our expertise to Qatar in this field.”
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