This article about the late Chairman Mr. W.P. Abdul Aziz was published on 6th March 2005 by the Sunday Times paper. By Smriti Daniel
He is living proof that it is not the times that make the man but the man who makes the times. As someone who has risen above great odds, Abdul Aziz has lived a life that is testament to the old fashioned virtues – hard work, persistence and courage . Today he is the head of Budry Scales (Pvt) Ltd, the first company to manufacture weighing scales in Sri Lanka. Today prosperity is a close companion – but then things were not always so.
“I was born in Slave Island to a poor family,” says Mr. Aziz. He was the seventh child, in a large family. Even then he had what he likes to call a “mechanical mind” and was always picking apart anything he could lay his hands on, so that he could see how it worked. This ability was to prove invaluable when he grew older.
He was still young when World War II began. The war forced numerous hardships on everyone. Food became something of a luxury, he recalls, and people were even forced to eat horse fodder to sustain themselves. Things didn’t get much easier when the war was over. “When we returned to the city, we couldn’t find a house,” says Mr. Aziz. The family was to all intents and purposes on the street, and hardly knew where the next meal was coming from. He was 14 years old at the time.
A relative came to the rescue and thankfully, the family settled into a house in Maradana. Months passed, but again difficult times came. He tried his hand at all manner of jobs, even working as a cobbler for a while. Never having been particularly close to the family, Mr. Aziz chose to leave home at the tender age of 16. In the days that followed hunger and homelessness walked alongside him. Strangely, the one thing he couldn’t do without was a newspaper. That single habit was to change his life.
“One day in the paper I saw an advertisement calling for cullet.” While many wouldn’t have known what cullet was, young Aziz knew that it was the term used to describe the broken glass that was gathered for re-melting. “I immediately wrote to the Ceylon Glass Company,” he says. “I would go by bicycle from shop to shop and home to home collecting it but then someone told me about this factory where they had a huge dump yard with lots of broken glass.” The factory owners asked him to buy it from them. Even though the price was more than reasonable, Mr. Aziz simply did not have the money. He turned to his friends, who loaned him the money.
Taking a desperate gamble, Mr. Aziz hired a truck driver, collected the glass and headed to the factory. He had only a few cents on him and was counting on the payment for the glass to meet the transportation bill. When he got to the factory, he was told that the man in charge was out and would not be in till morning. Mr. Aziz convinced the driver to return to the city after promising payment. He used the last of his money to watch a movie and then spent the night on the street, waiting for dawn and the arrival of the man-in-charge.
When the moment finally came, Mr. Aziz was devastated to find his cullet rejected as too “dirty” for use. For a moment it seemed he would be facing ruin and debt, but then the authorities relented and accepted his goods.
Soon the enterprising youngster began making profits. “One time I made Rs.10,000 (a whopping sum at that time) and my sister insisted I spend the money on getting married.” And so a suitable wife was found for the 26-year-old Abdul. Sharaful Zareena, all of 18 years, was to change his life forever, bringing him a sense of family and belonging that was missing before. In the years to come they were to have a large family – 10 children would share their lives.
Now a married man, he decided to set up shop. Specialising in second hand hardware, Mr. Aziz became known for his ability to take a dysfunctional, uncooperative piece of hardware and have it running smoothly.
The first time a broken weighing scale passed through his hands he bought it for Rs. 35 and sold it for Rs. 75. Recognizing the potential of this business, Mr. Aziz decided to get more heavily involved with it. “I would be up late almost every night repairing scales,” he remembers, going on to explain that his wife would stay up with him, alternately offering him tea and screwdrivers.
An advertisement in a newspaper was to decide his fate again. It proclaimed the sale of numerous weighing scales at the CWE. Soon Mr. Aziz was the proud owner of all kinds of weighing scales, including massive platform scales. With help of some boys, he cleaned and painted those scales and displayed them to advantage – hoping to attract customers. But nobody came. By this time, a month had passed and he was still in debt. So Mr. Aziz decided to advertise. “On the very same day the ad ran in the paper, many big mudalalis in cars came to see the scales, and many were sold.”
It wasn’t long before the authorities noticed. An officer from the Weights & Measures Department stepped in and asked to see the licence. Mr. Aziz hadn’t even known one was needed. He was determined to remedy the situation. The months that followed were difficult and demanding. This young man without any real education to speak of, took up the challenge of mastering all the intricacies of the weighing scales.
After many hours of study, he obtained a licence to repair scales. He was now doing good business. It was inevitable that he would dream bigger – he now wanted to be a manufacturer. No other local business had achieved this, and the Weights & Measures Department had some high standards that had to be met first. Each part of his proposed new weighing scale had to be tested individually and Mr. Aziz met with failure numerous times. Discouraged but determined, he gritted his teeth and went back to work. In the end he triumphed.
As they say, the rest is history. Today Budry Scales (Pvt) Ltd produces instruments trusted not just all over the island, but in other countries too. Enjoying the strong foundation he built for them are his 10 children, 21 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren – all of whom have had a good education according to his wishes.
Mr. Aziz however, is not content to rest on his laurels. “I will keep working until I die,” says the 75-year-old, “life is not meant to be idled away.”
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