Canada’s Prem Watsa in Sri Lanka investment

Prem Watsa

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Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings Founder, Chairman and CEO Prem Watsa expressed confidence in Sri Lanka’s growth prospects and optimism to increase investments in select sectors which offer new opportunities.

Fairfax is a large investor in Sri Lanka’s premier blue chip John Keells Holdings (JKH) with an economic interest of 14% including a near 11% stake acquired in early this year for Rs. 23 billion. Additionally, Fairfax holds a 15% stake in JKH-controlled Nations Trust Bank as the second largest shareholder and owns 80% in Fairfirst, the fourth largest general insurer following the amalgamation of Union Assurance General and the former Asian Alliance General Insurance.

Globally, Fairfax is one of the largest general insurance groups in the world specialising in insurance, reinsurance, and investment management with operations in over 100 countries. Fairfax also has stakes in many Fortune 500 companies in its investment portfolio.

“We are really excited about Sri Lanka and its long-term prospects,” Prem told the Daily FT in an exclusive interview.

He said the rationale for investing in JKH is it is Sri Lanka’s largest and best-run company. The diversified premier blue chip mirrors the modern economy of Sri Lanka that includes tourism, real estate and property, retail, food and beverage manufacturing, logistics, ports, transportation and financial services among others, he added.

“I have been impressed by the dynamic leadership of Chairman Krishan Balendra. JKH has great vision, management and corporate governance,” Prem stressed.

Fairfax’s entry into JKH was a natural progression of the strong relationship via the first set of investments in the blue chip’s general insurance arm as well as NTB. “We don’t invest in sectors but in good and honest people as we are interested in building relationships,” says Indian-born Prem, who at 22 after migrating to Canada, founded Fairfax in 1985 with $ 10 million in assets and grew it to a global firm with $ 40 billion in investments under management 35 years later.