Merrill Joseph Fernando

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Merrill Joseph Fernando (born 1930) in Negombo, in the North-west of Sri Lanka. He came from a middle-class family of many children and had a comfortable childhood. When he was 18 he joined the Ceylon tea industry as a taster.


Fernando was one of the first Sri Lankan tea tasters to be selected to learn about tea in Mincing Lane, London. Up until this time, the prevailing colonial system did not believe Sri Lankans were capable of assessing tea as they felt they ate too much curry which would affect their assessment of the taste. However, Fernando was one of five who were selected and trained in London.[1]

It was in London that Fernando witnessed a system of colonial exploitation that treated producing countries as raw material suppliers whereas branding and value addition were done overseas and all profits accrued never reached the producers.[2] This greatly disturbed Fernando, who dreamed that someday he would create his own brand of tea where the producing country would receive all profits from value addition and thereby get their due recognition.[3] He wanted to bring integrity back into tea.[4][5] With this intention he became, quite literally, the “face” of his brand, his smiling persona emblazoned on tea packets around the world as he urged people: “Do try it.” He wanted to bring quality, authenticity and ethics back to tea. Fresh tea is rich in antioxidants and so he wanted to offer his consumers tea that was garden fresh picked and packed at its origin. Fernando strongly believed that consumers had the right to know exactly what they were drinking and so he pioneered the concept of single origin tea.[6]

Charity work[edit]

Fernando believes in the philosophy of seeing business as a matter of human service. 10% of all Dilmah profits are channeled to the MJF Charitable Foundation [7] which is working towards the dignified empowerment of underprivileged people around Sri Lanka.[8] Each year, the foundation cares for over 5,000 children in its Child Development Centres, nurtures over 1000 children through the MJF Kids, empowers women, and has created over 600 entrepreneurs through the Small Entrepreneur Programme – SEP– and uplifted the lives of countless plantation workers. These are only a few of over 100 projects the MJF Foundation implements each year.[9][10]


In 2007, Fernando extended his commitment to human service by establishing Dilmah Conservation which focuses on working towards a more sustainable use of the environment in partnership with IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The Dilmah Conservation initiative aims to foster respect for the environment and ensure its protection by encouraging a harmonious co-existence of man and nature.[11] In 2010, Fernando made a Declaration of a Core Commitment to Sustainability which expanded the Dilmah Conservation scope and scale to include initiatives in the areas of Habitat & Species Conservation – both terrestrial and marine, Ecosystems Restoration, Environmental Education and Culture & Indigenous Communities.[12] In 2016, The Merrill J. Fernando Eco Innovation Awards was initiated calling for breakthrough, purposeful proposals of well-developed concepts and working prototypes that seek to solve current national and global environmental issues in the areas of Waste, Water, Energy, Blue Economy and Biodiversity.[13] “I want to prevent the hardship of young entrepreneurs of today when I compare myself with the hardship that I went through in launching Dilmah Tea,” Fernando said at the awards ceremony.[14]

Awards & achievements[edit]

Dilmah is the first producer owned tea brand in the world and is among the top ten tea brands. Merrill with over 60 years of expertise in tea has the distinction of being the most experienced teamaker in the world today. In 2005, Dilmah received an award from the Medinge Group for its work as a Brand with a Conscience and also received a Presidential Merit Award for contribution to the preservation of the environment in the same year. On the 6th of May 2015, Fernando received the Business for Peace Award in Oslo, Norway.[15] The Business for Peace Foundation annually names honourees for the Oslo Business for Peace Award in recognition of business persons who, through their own actions and commitments truly are business worthy, promoting socially responsible and ethical business practice in an outstanding way, and standing out as examples to the world.[16] In September 2016 Merrill was honoured with the Global Businessman Award at the Ada Derana Sri Lankan of the Year 2016. The award seeks to honour and celebrate the outstanding achievements of individuals/groups whose efforts have far-reaching influence on the country, positively impacting the local community and thereby help place Sri Lanka on the international limelight.

On November 30, 2016 Fernando was honoured with the FIRST Award for Responsible Capitalism and the award was presented by Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, at the Royal Automobile Club, London. The Award recognises business ethics, emphasising his unique philosophy of making business a matter of human service. Fernando is the only Sri Lankan to have received this Award. The previous award winners include Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi the enormously respected CEO of PepsiCo, HRH the Prince of Wales, and Prof. John Kay of the London School of Economics, to name a few.[17][18][19]


1930 - Merrill J. Fernando is born in Negombo
1954 -Merrill J. Fernando starts work with AF Jones Spends 12 months in London with Joseph Travers & Sons Ltd
1958 -MJF is appointed a director of AF Jones, and buys AF Jones with 2 partners when the company owners decide to return to England
1959 -MJF appointed Managing Director of AF Jones
1982 -MJF establishes Ceylon Tea Services Ltd
1985 -Merrill J Fernando is asked to supply pre-packed teas to Russia
1988 -Dilmah Tea launched in Australia
1994 -Dilmah establishes state of the art Tea packaging facility at 111, Negombo Road, Peliyagoda, Colombo
2002 -The MJF Charitable Foundation is officially inaugurated
2005 -Dilmah receives award from Medinge Group for its work as a Brand with a Conscience. Dilmah receives Presidential Merit Award for its contribution to the preservation of the environment
2007 -Official inauguration of Dilmah Conservation
2009 -Dilmah celebrates its 21st Anniversary and the Founder's 60th Year in Tea Dilmah School of Tea inaugurated in Colombo First International Tea School established at the Institut Paul Bocuse in France
2010 -Dilmah pledges a core commitment to sustainability Merrill J Fernando celebrates his 80th birthday
2013 -Dilmah celebrates 25 years as a brand
2015 - Merrill receives the Business for Peace Award in Oslo, Norway
2016 - Merrill J. Fernando was honoured with FIRST Award for Responsible Capitalism for improving the lives of underprivileged children and deprived communities.
2017 - Merrill J. Fernando successfully fulfilled the pledge he made in 2014 to make Dilmah Sri Lanka a Carbon Neutral facility.

Further reading[edit]

The Cup of Kindness (2012). Dilmah Publication

The Story Behind Your Cup of Tea (2013). Dilmah Publication [20]

The Teamaker(2009). Dilmah Publication [21]

Yan, Jack (2016). Business is a matter of human service, in Brands with a Conscience, Sandra Holdings and Nicholas Ind (Eds) London, Kogan Page. ISBN 978 07494 7544 4.


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