Old friends building a cutting factory together
We met Nilanthi in 2008 while doing business at the Sri Lankan lapidary Beehive industries.
She had worked her way from being a quality controller to supervising over 1000 cutters and handling the factory’s im- and export. That meant she was handling our orders for Wennick–Lefèvre.
We got to know her as a resourceful and responsible person who was a joy to work with every time. Over the years we had built mutual respect with one another and when Beehive Industries unfortunately had to close its doors in 2019 we decided to offer her a partnership with Wennick–Lefèvre to build a new cutting factory together.
From working with her for over a decade we knew we shared similar values and that we had laid the foundation for a great potential partnership.
What made our partnership possible was that both Nilanthi and us had a willingness and a desire to listen and understand each other’s needs.
We understood that only by supporting your partner so that they’re able to flourish, does your own business also grow.
Our similarities became apparent when we sat down to discuss how we saw our partnership and how we could morph our individual values into a shared vision for our future partnership.
Respect and equality is essential for us in our relationship as partners but also as integrated values at the cutting factory.
It’s important to us that everyone feels and is a valuable member of the team which should function as a family. That means looking out for each other and supporting one another in times of need.
We also agree that having a good life/work balance is paramount to ensuring that everyone feels fulfilled and is motivated to do their best everyday.
Only by having this balance can we reach our full potential as people and businesses and enable each other to grow.
Lastly, both Wennick–Lefèvre and Nilanthi are ambitious and strive to achieve greater things than we can imagine presently. We are open to learning along the way to transform ourselves, and take the lead in changing the industry for the better.
We are enacting our values in both our partnership with Nilanthi and at the cutting factory, Sunrise Facets.
From the start we’ve aimed to create a culture where everyone is equal and respected and this has formed an atmosphere where everyone can speak their mind and support each other. Just as Wennick–Lefèvre and Nilanthi are a partnership, so are Nilanthi and her employees.
They listen and help one another in times of need like a family unit. Nilanthi has told us that she personally doesn’t see herself as the boss but rather their sister.
She’s there to help and take care of her employees everyday. Whether that means covering for them in case of sickness, making tea and lunch for them or providing a bed overnight if they can’t go home due to monsoon rain flooding the roads. She gladly accommodates specific needs and some cutters have shorter days as their commuting times are long and others have specific tasks to match their competences in the best way.
Nilanthi knows most of her cutters from their time as colleagues at Beehive – and some she’s known since they were kids. The team has built a close and loyal bond with one another and know that their factory is unique in Sri Lanka and is something to be cherished.
“They’re the family and I’m not the owner. We’re a team. I’m not the boss – I’m the sister. I’m the big sister to them. They call me big sister. I know them from working together before from my 20 years in the gem industry. I don’t get tired of work. If I have to take over quality control I go. Preform, I go.
Sometimes my employees get sick and then I go. I’m always here. Every morning I clean up and prepare tea for them. I’m not doing the cutting because they’re the experts.
They’re experienced cutters. When I opened the factory, I asked them to come work with me and they came to join me.
I take care of my cutters and handle them carefully because they’re very difficult to find” – Nilanthi Thisera
In our partnership, we’ve implemented the same family values by supporting Nilanthi financially in the 1.5 years that it took to renovate her third floor into the cutting factory.
During this period we paid her full salary and covered a lot of the costs related to the renovation and the buying of new cutting equipment.
Nilanthi cuts only for Wennick–Lefèvre which means that she can customise her cuts and production to fit the needs of our customers. She provides exceptionally beautiful cuts to our Madagascan sapphires and a unique lustre because of her slow polishing process.
As a part of our business model we pay her 50% more than the market price for her cutting which enables her to pay her employees double the average cutter’s salary.
This is not something that she was required to do according to our partnership – this is something she wants to do.
Other factory owners have contacted her to understand how she can run her business while granting twice the salary compared to the industry standard.
Nilanthi refrains from answering this but it makes us proud to see that our contribution through 50% higher cutting charges is being translated into setting new standards for salaries.
In our partnership we are laying the foundation for a lapidary built in and by a harmonious community and producing the highest quality faceted stones.
Profit is secondary to both of us.
We don’t have plans on expanding the factory and we are proud to have a small and exclusive production that fits our customers needs and doesn’t waste stones by overproducing stock. We want to show our industry that true partnerships and an integrated set of shared values not only create the best working environment, but are also the key to running a sustainable business.
We aim to transform all communities where we have a presence, for the better.
The fact that Nilanthi has founded the first female owned cutting factory in Sri Lanka is a huge achievement, but for us in Wennick–Lefèvre it was just a plus and not the deciding factor that she’s a woman. It was not her gender, but rather her capabilities, competences and personality that drew us to working with her.
Sri Lanka can be a very prejudiced and old fashioned society where men run the businesses and the values are many times based on power and profit.
We believe that Nilanthi will prove that their strategies are outdated.
Many companies would stay away from trying to change the status quo in another country but we have confronted this challenge due to our values in Wennick–Lefèvre.
We want to create a positive change in and around the communities surrounding our supply chain and it’s our goal, in Sri Lanka specifically, to improve equal gender opportunities.
Having a Sri Lankan business partner offers many opportunities due to the profound work ethics in the culture.
Nilanthi and her team in particular are very detail oriented and will assess each stone closely before and during cutting compared to many other lapidaries who will prioritise a quick profit over quality. This work ethic and focus is also what gives Sri Lanka their good reputation in gem cutting.
They have a long history of cutting and are considered to be some of the best globally, only rivalled by the Swiss who initially trained the Sri Lankan cutters.
Building a cutting factory across cultures does present challenges along the way. We have found that most of them lie within communication as our cultures are quite different. Communication in Sri Lanka is calm and patient while Danish communication is more direct and hurried.
We’re used to being able to pay for work to be done quickly but that’s not part of the culture in Sri Lanka where the culture is more laid back.
There, you will only get the best quality if you have built a good relationship and established mutual respect with the people you buy from.
That’s why it was essential to us to start a partnership with someone who we knew well and had a good relationship with. In the business culture people usually work alone. If they choose to work together they think more in the short term as they are not used to being able to rely on each other.
This is a culture that we hope to change over time by working with Nilanthi and thereby inspire more people and companies to trust each other and work together. Building partnerships require work, collaboration and an understanding for one another.
We’re looking forward to exploring what the future holds for us and Sunrise Facets.