1) What is the story behind the establishment of Suren Cooke Agencies?
Suren: Well it all started after I left my previous employment which was in a foreign company where I worked for nearly 20 years. As time flew by a thought struck me as to why not start on my own and that’s how it all began 32 years ago.
2) From being a pioneer in the pest management industry now broadening it’s services to plastic recycling, what prompted you to do so?
Sheran: Basically pest control is always connected with chemicals , poisons and toxins .However we were not only concentrating about chemicals but also on the impact it had on the environment. As a solution to minimize the impact we started recycling plastic and making certain products that were needed. First we started recycling chemical cans then moved forward to doing bait stations and now it has grown wide from there. Earlier we were outsourcing it but then we put up a factory and is doing it in house.
3) Plastic polymer recycling is often considered as more challenging with numerous technical hurdles to overcome. How is this done at Suren Cooke Agencies ?
Sheran: We don’t get directly involved with the collecting of the plastic, we have plastic collectors who provide us with it. It’s like a pyramid, the smaller plastic collectors provide it to a bigger collector then it goes to the top and is supplied to us. We use 100%recycled plastic we don’t use any virgin material.
4) In the mission of creating a greener Sri Lanka you’ll have initiated the SOS project, what is this about?
Sheran: SOS means save our seas. The reefs are dying due to the plastic pollution and the tones of plastic submerged effect the marine life adversely. This project was carried out in collaboration with Sumitomo and the Sub Aqua Club of Colombo. The divers went in the Mount Lavinia area cut down the nets that were entangled in the corals and cleaned the seas. Probably after the dive season starts in December we are looking forward to doing it again.
5) Any message that you would like to give to the society that will make them minimize their contribution towards plastic pollution?
Sheran: Simply the two main big R’s, recycle and reuse without throwing plastic away.
6) What are the future plans that Suren Cooke Agencies is heading towards?
Rajitha: We are planning to mainly diversify within similar industries and open outlets in foreign countries which also means more mergers with foreign establishments. Lot of foreign companies are interested in coming to Sri Lanka to carry out their services or sell their products in the market because they see Sri Lanka as a potential hub for the future with the development of tourism and hotel industries. With the added benefits given to the export industry these chances are made more likely. Along with food safety standards becoming more stringent pest control becomes a compulsory factor.
The journey for 32 years has been trying to differentiate ourselves from the norm of been a general pest control company. We are not simply taking a sprayer and using chemicals to kill insects instead we spend a huge amount on technology enabling us to bring in new products. This includes technology which is much safer, effective, greener and definitely not harm the environment. If chemicals are misused, it can create an issue. For instance the fogging used for the control of dengue has had bad effects on species like butterflies. So we are more focused on killing the target pest alone. A very good example for this is the introduction of our termite camera where you are able to exactly identify where the termite infestation is. Specially for high rise apartments when you are having problems with termites this has been the only effective solution and we have a lot of clients who can vouch for that. Also the xterm baiting where we don’t inject any chemicals that will harm the marine life. With the future moving into organic products we cannot use chemicals and so we have introduced pro fumigation products.
Sheran: People don’t take bed bugs seriously but if you get a bed bug bite it can lead to septic poisoning. The housekeeping and hotel industry should make it a point to focus more on these pests. Bed bugs are becoming a problem when compared to the common insects like rodents, cockroaches and mosquitoes. This is because of the low cost carriers that is with the cheaper flights that are moving into Sri Lanka. With research and development we moved onto heat treatment for bed bugs. The heat treatment doesn’t use any chemicals instead we heat the room and bring it under control in less than 24 hours. That has really caught on and now hotels, hospitals and large staff accommodations are beginning to use it.
We’ve also done few projects with the Ministry of health using drones and we are trying to use it more in tone with our business where you can pin point the use of insecticide.
7) They say that family companies in Sri Lanka don’t survive beyond the third generation, tell us about the transition that took place from the parents to the sons.
Suren: The two of us did attend some of the seminars on family businesses where they have been thriving businesses and then they came up with this problem where the way forward was also discussed. So we are endeavoring to use those examples and experiences in the transition.
Sheran: Between my brother and me we have thundering arguments but we never take it home so that keeps the peace.
Mrs. Cooke: The transition was made easy because both of them were slightly involved in the business from their teenage years. It was from a young age they joined hands with us and it’s not something that happened suddenly at one go. They got in at the lowest level of operations and by that way they learnt a lot. When we had shortage of staff they used to go and help with the operations and even with the transport when the driver was off duty.
8) Any competition in this field and how do you keep the brand alive?
Rajitha: When we started there were only 3 companies catering to this field. It’s the technology I believe that makes us stand out from the rest. A lot of effort is put in introducing new technology. Not only in a business perspective but we also try to help the country whenever possible. Last year we introduced a new chemical in response to the dengue issue helping our country fight against it. Sri Lankan fruits and vegetables exports have been having severe issues in Europe because of fruit flies and now we have introduced a product that has proved to be successful during the trials carried out by the government. Once again that will help the export industry because they have warned that unless Sri Lanka finds a solution they will not allow any imports into the country. Looking at the hotel industry our solutions to bed bugs has made a revolution. foreign clients expect high standards at international quality and we are ISO certified also following the food safety requirements. Whether it is tea or rice which is exported we are proud to say that the pest control is good as that found in US or other European countries. Sadly the perception of pest control in Sri Lanka is not that good. When some of them are cutting corner and doing it cheaper we instead are trying to improve the standards in the industry.
Suren: We managed to build our confidence the people had in us from the very inception which is taking us through. We have become a trend setter for the other companies. We are the first to be using the drone technology for pest control. Another important thing is that we don’t keep our products for ourselves instead we share it with others. We would get a huge advantage if we only keep it to us but we make sure to share our products and even the knowledge with other pest control companies. Some of my ex-employees have started on their own and they still come to me whenever they are faced with a problem. We are very open in our business dealings and that’s what we expect from our competition. It should always be a fair competition.
8) How have you adopted the experiences in recycling to your main business in pest control ?
Sheran: Most of the plastic products that we need like the in ground bait stations for rodents and bait stations for termites are produced by us. If we purchase them, we are only increasing the quantity of plastic that is accumulating in Sri Lanka and so we use recycled plastic. That’s how we are integrating recycling to our business in pest control. By producing them locally with the help of local employees we are also saving foreign exchange. Not only that we also make them available to our competitors at a nominal price.
9) Balancing family life and the business life how was that experience?
Mrs Cooke: It was tough I must say. We were in our 30’s, my younger son was 4 and the elder one was 8 when we started. When the younger one finished schooling at 11.30 I used to bring him keep him on my lap and do the typing. Back then I was his typist, secretary and accountant all in one. There were no computers then and every instruction letter had to be typed in the manual type writer. Few years later the electronic type writers came which made things easier and the computers came long after that. He was the managing director of another pest control company before we started and then we left our home, bought a place in Kohuwala, came to our company premises and started small. God’s grace has helped us come this far and we are indeed very blessed.
Suren: Word of advice to all businessmen is to start small and grow big, don’t try to start big and grow small because I have seen it happen over the years. The secret is that if you start small you will never go wrong. Then you can face all the storms, build your business gradually with proper ethics and give back something for the society.