All-Star Case Studies

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English Tea Shop (Amazon Trading Pvt Ltd)

Colombo, Sri Lanka

2021 Revenues: $18.5 million

Employees: 255

Critical Numbers™: 

Net Profit Before Tax & Depreciation

Organization Background

The island nation of Sri Lanka has long been revered for its tea, especially in the United Kingdom. In 2010, Suranga Herath and his team capitalized on that history when they rebranded the business (which was founded in 2001), calling it English Tea Shop. Building on lessons learned from earlier in the company’s history, when it catered to low cost and mass production, English Tea Shop evolved into a premium organic brand. They did that by moving away from the traditional auction model used to buy tea for centuries. To help promote sustainable agriculture practices, the company now buys its tea directly from organic farmers. 


In 2014, Herath flew to the U.S. to attend an executive leadership program at Harvard Business School. He was looking for ideas of how to sustain his business by introducing the Creating Shared Value (CSV) model where his employees, farmers, and customers could all thrive together. 


One of Herath’s professors, Boris Groysberg, had listed Jack Stack’s The Great Game of Business on a reading list. After reading the book, Herath immediately put together a presentation for his leadership team explaining how The Great Game of Business® (GGOB) was the operating system for their business they were looking for. Despite some concerns about opening their books to the entire team, they made the commitment to start playing The Game, and teaching their team to become businesspeople, in 2015.


Looking back at the time since they began playing GGOB, Herath says his team has achieved tremendous cultural improvement. “We call our GGOB application the ‘Big Game’ as we love to believe that we had married a societal and environmental focus to the GGOB framework through Creating Shared Value,” he says, noting that the founding purpose of the business was to help support local tea farmers. “But the underlying truth is that GGOB plays a magical role in turning everyone to think and act like businesspeople.” The company is now earning high levels of profits, improved cashflow, and greater productivity levels—which is benefitting the employees of English Tea, whose Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) now owns a 30% stake in the business.

The line of sight that GGOB creates for all of us is so powerful. We use our knowledge of the numbers and the business to make decisions and change. The huddle, scoreboards, and forecasts help make us aware of every part of the business and understand how everything fits together. I’m proud to see how our ownership culture has evolved since we began playing the Big Game and how it’s continuing to benefit our employees and our farmers. Whenever I tell friends and family about our culture, they want to come work with us.”

~ Niluza Badurdeen, Director of Finance 


Pain Points and Opportunities

The past two years have been a struggle for the country of Sri Lanka and its government. After much of the economy suffered as a result of shutdowns put in place to keep people safe during the pandemic, the English Tea Shop team worked together to keep each other healthy while also finding ways to become more efficient and productive. Those productivity gains have been critical to the company’s continued success as global supply chains continue to wreak havoc where, for instance, container ships that used to cost $2,000 now cost upwards of $9,000 each. Despite these dramatically higher costs, plus the added volatility of collapse of the national government and economy, the team increased their profit margin, pushing their PBT past 10%. “We have embraced change and flexibility in how we work,” says Herath. “We found new ways to be more productive and those changes came from the increased knowledge that our people have about their business.”

GGOB is a great tool to get everyone in the business to engage and collaborate with each other. I was lucky enough to join the team after graduating and it’s been a unique experience. It’s very unusual to see a company run this way in our country. It’s so interesting for me to learn and talk through financial statements and forecasts. We see the future today, identify the variances, and then we act accordingly. That kind of planning has helped us get through these crises.”

~ Shashika Udayanga, Manager - Sales and Marketing 


MiniGame™ Highlight

The English Tea Shop team has mastered the art of using MiniGames to help improve the drivers of the business that impact their Critical Number. This past year, for instance, they played MiniGames that tackled a range of issues that included minimizing lead tunes, getting advance orders in particular months, cutting back maintenance costs, and improving the lead times on order confirmations. 

What’s Next

Herath and his team are taking their Big Game to the next level by incorporating more social and environmental sustainability metrics and KPIs into how they track and measure their progress in helping the farmers and suppliers they work with. “We are all facing a social dilemma here in the global south,” says Herath. “It’s time to fix things. We want to be part of building a virtuous cycle and we can use The Game to help us get there.” 


GGOB pushed me out of the comfort zone of my desk and into a level of ownership across the entire company. I'm much more engaged with the entire staff on a daily basis. I also have more confidence in myself than before. English Tea Shop has given me the opportunity to grow and develop skills I didn't know I had.”

~ Nalin Senanayake, Administrative Executive  






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