Our Heritage

Since 1913, M. D. GUNASENA has become an established household name that resonates in the hearts and minds of people, as a trusted brand synonymous with education. Sovereign in ownership and true to its founding ethos, we hold ourselves accountable to one principle, our Vision: the advancement of human thought. Today, our core business is in Publishing, Printing, Book selling and Education. 2013 marked a significant milestone for the company; our 100th anniversary and the start of our second century.

Ethos

The following ideologies that we follow with assertiveness, define the true spirit of our company

  • True :by being devoted to our brand values.
  • Trustworthy by consistently delivering our promise
  • Helpful by listening and responding.
  • Straight forward by keeping things simple, clear and transparent.
  • Inspiring by constantly striving for excellence.
  • Heart by showing passion and conviction.
  • Love by wishing, serving and doing the best.
  • Integrity by adhering to ethical and moral principles.
  • Responsibility by being accountable.
  • Humility by the willingness to help others.
  • Gratitude by appreciating and saying thank you all the time.

Our Saga

Malagalage Don Gunasena was a mere school boy at Wesley College when he first peered in fascination through the windows, as the rolling wheels of the huge Wharfdale machines were moving to churn out sheets of printed matter in the presses on Dam Street. Even while in school, he ran errands for the printers just to get a closer look at the printing presses.

His father Malagalage Don Carolis Peiris Appuhami and mother Galpotte Kankanamalage Sophaya Perera Hamine belonged to a paddy farming family from Wewala, Salpiti Korale. Malagalage Don Gunasena the youngest son in a family of three, began his education in Wewala Government School in the village. His parents sent him to Wesley College to learn English under British rule. Soon after, the family fortunes changed and the parents could not afford the luxury of giving him, an English education. The boy was compelled to leave school when he was in the fourth standard and take up Ayurveda, under a Veda Mahattya in Grandpass.

At this time his elder brother was running a small grocery in Colombo. Seeing young Gunasena’s futile efforts over the study of ancient Pali and Sanskrit, he suggested that it was time for his younger brother to learn a trade. It was then that Gunasena requested that he be sent to the Boys’ Industrial Home attached to the Wesley Press. Following his boyhood fascination, it is there that he mastered the art of printing. Destiny had been made and there was no turning back.

The young qualified printer immediately joined H.S. Perera to help the Dinamina at the Lanka Abhihawa Visrutha Press owned by Pundit Robert Batuwanthudawa. Subsequently the press was handed over to his Son-in-law Sir Baron Jayatilaka. Gunasena mastered the art of setting up type and further sharpened his printing skills, until he was forced to return to Wewala due to a bout of illness. On his return to Colombo he sought an opening at the Government Press with a letter of introduction from Pundit Thomas Karunaratne, only to be told that the Government Printer, Mr. Cotton had left to England. With no job, he was at his boarding on Green Street, when a friend informed him of a vacancy for a compositor. He joined Sir Harry Van Cuylenberg’s Independent Newspaper at Hulftsdorp, where he earned his first salary. Ironically, 30 years later, he bought the same premises and it became home to Independent Newspapers Limited, an associate Company of M. D. GUNASENA’s, which shut down in 1990.

His adventurous and entrepreneurial spirit always found him looking for better prospects. He later worked as the manager for Wijewickremage John Appuhami’s Victor press on Dias Place. Here he played the role of salesman, canvasser, bill collector, designer and printer. As a salesman he use to start of early to visit many establishments to obtain printing jobs from customers and return to the office at around 10 a.m. Assuming that Gunasena was habitually late, he was reprimanded. The honourable young Gunasena immediately tendered his resignation. A week later Appuhami apologised on behalf of his poor judgment and asked him to return to work. Gunasena refused; as he had made up his mind, never again to work under anybody.

Appuhami then proposed that Gunasena buy the press but then again he declined, as he did not have the money to do so. Then Appuhami suggested that he was willing to accept the payment on installments. Gunasena agreed and this was the defining moment, way back in 1913. With determination complemented by hard work, Gunasena surged forward. Success and progress came quickly and he was able to buy additional secondhand machinery from N.S. Fernando and company. He installed the new machinery on First Cross Street, in Pettah, in 1917 and named it New Victor Press. Two years later he relocated to Fifth Cross Street.

At 29 he married Lilian Senehelatha Perera from Grandpass on the 30th of November 1922. As the press expanded, he borrowed more funds from the Chettiars(local money lenders) of Sea Street to meet working expenses, as banks did not lend to small-time Sinhala businessmen. When the Japanese paper supplier, Kiichi Ensha, whom Gunasena took on as a partner in 1919, expressed concern over his debts in 1925, he cancelled the partnership, paying him in full.

In 1925, he expanded the business with new machinery and staff, relocating it to Fifth Cross Street. The business being his alone, he named it M. D. GUNASENA AND COMPANY. This same year the company ventured into book publishing with sales and distribution handled by K.D. Perera & Sons, J.D. Fernando & Company and W.E. Bastian & Company. In 1926 Gunasena acquired a small firm of Book publishers named C.Boteju & Company on Dam Street. Armed with stocks and a few copyrights the company began to operate as a bookseller. In 1929 the business expanded rapidly and the company was relocated to Norris Road (Olcott Mawatha), its current headquarters. The bookshop operation was carried out from Olcott Mawatha, the printing happened in the middle of the premises and the wholesale operation was at the rear, opening out to Maliban Street.

At that time the Company was at the forefront of the Publishing Industry. Many prestigious titles from legendary authors like, Martin Wickramasinghe; Professor Gunapala Malalasekera, V.D. de Lanerolle, Dr. E.W. Adikaram, and Munidasa Kumaratunga were and continue to be published by the company.

Gunasena’s nephews both M. D. Sirisena and M. D. Premadasa joined the business in 1932 and grew the business exponentially. In 1942 the property was purchased from Helena Jayewardene mother of the former President of Sri Lanka J.R. Jayawerdene. In 1945 the company was registered as a limited liability company.

In 1949 artist G. S. Fernando created the famous logo. The scribe in the logo is a representation of Gurulugomi the author of Amawatura and Dharmapradipika written in the 12th Century. The logo was first used in Martin Wickramasinghe’s Sahityodaya Katha book published in the same year, 1949. Ever since that the logo has become the symbol of quality literature in the country.

By 1959, the company was publishing almost 300 titles a year virtually a book a day. The same year the company reopened the doors of its new building at Olcott Mawatha. The spacious state of the art multi storied bookstore was the second largest bookstore in the world with the other being in Helsinki built a year earlier. Ever since that day, we never looked back but surged forward to become the market leaders in the fields of Publishing, Printing, Bookselling and Education.

This is the story of the humble beginnings of our company. It is the Founder’s vision, corporate values and the innovative spirit that continue steer this company forward. We believe and it has been widely accepted that, “We Taught the Nation to Read.“

TIMELINE

1913
The Founder M.D. Gunasena leases out Victor Press making his entry into the printing industry.

1925
The business was registered as M.D. Gunasena & Company.

1926
Acquires a small book publisher named C. Boteju & Co. marking the entry into publishing.

1949
The reputed Artist G.S. Fernando created the Gurulugomi Logo which was first used on a Martin Wickramasinghe’s Book.

1929
Moves the Business to a spacious premises at 217 Olcott Mawatha in Colombo 11.

1932
M.D. Sirisena a nephew of the founder managers and grows the business to be the most prominent publisher in the country.

1945
Proprietary business is registered as a Limited Liability Company.

1948
National resurgence following independence creates a great demand for Sinhala and Tamil books taking the company to greater heights.

1950
The Company publishers 300 titles a year – virtually a book a day and at least 70% of the books used in schools bear the Gunasena imprint.

1959
The Founder passes away and his son Mr. M.D. Sepala Gunasena takes over as the Chairman.

1961
The Independent Newspaper Group launches its first daily newspaper Dawasa under the prominent Editor D.B. Dhanapala.

1963
The Bookshop was moved to the Spacious new purpose built building on Olcott Mawatha. At that time the building was one of the two largest bookshops in the world, the other was in Helsinki.

1973
The Newspaper was sealed by the Former Prime minister Mrs. Sirimavo Banadaranaike.

1974
The Common Wealth Press Union presented Mr. M.D. Sepala Gunasena the prestigious Astor Award for his notable contribution towards freedom of information.

1977
Independent Newspapers resumed publications.

1990
The Combination of the 3 year closure, changes in printing technology, migration of journalists to other newspapers, direct government economic sanctions took its financial toll. The newspaper finally closed.

2000
The Company expands its retails stores and currently operates 16 stores across the island.

2000
The Company ventures into direct education and sets up Oasis International School.

2008
The Company invests heavily in printing technology to stay ahead of the competition and becomes the printer of choice.

2011
Begins to source quality stationery directly from China and other potential markets.

2012
Launches the first Loyalty Program in the industry and currently has 130,000 members.

2012
Ventures into online retail with the launch of Iread – A Home Delivery Service.

2013
Appointed as the sole agent for Colleen Colour products based in Thailand.

2013
The Company celebrates the 100th Year Anniversary.

2016
Launches its first CSR program – Donate a Book for Change to build a reading Sri Lanka.

2016
The publishing arm launches a successful series of workbooks linking online tutors to aid students a first in the industry.

2018
Reopens the largest multi-story bookshop in Kandy.

2019
Ventures into E-books by launching the Gurulugomi App available both on Android and iOS to deliver Sri Lankan literature across the globe.

2019
Appointed as a distributor in Sri Lanka for AA Photocopy papers.

2020
The Company develops and launches a mobile App for customer feedback, where customers now can leave feedback with ease to help better the business.

2021
The Company launches the first eGiftVoucher program where customers can purchase, gift and redeem vouchers against their favourite books and stationery.

2021
The Company implements digital and large format printing to embrace on demand customised printing.

2021
We continue to lead innovation, set trends, and achieve milestones to revolutionise the business and overall industry. Our Payoff line “We taught the nation to Read”, is accepted by all undisputedly for our continued contribution in the fields of Publishing, Printing, Bookselling and Education in Sri Lanka.

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