Our origins lie in a produce and exchange broking business founded by two Englishmen, Edwin and George
John, in Colombo, Ceylon, in the early 1870s. “E. John & Co.” was one of a handful of broking companies
that helped build tea production and export into the mainstay of the colonial Ceylonese economy.
In 1948, the year of Ceylon's Independence, “E. John & Co.” merged with two London-based broking companies to form the private limited company of “E. John, Thompson, White & Co. Ltd”. Business opportunities in a fledgling post-Independence economy spurred growth and expansion throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Our name “John Keells” which is now synonymous with Sri Lankan business leadership, came into existence following the acquisition of another Colombo broking company, “Keell & Waldock Ltd.”, in 1960, the resulting entity being named John Keell Thompson White Ltd.
As Ceylon modernized, becoming the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972, social and political change helped drive John Keells' expansion and diversification. The growing economic importance of travel and tourism was reflected in the acquisition of Walkers Tours & Travels, the leading inbound tour company of the time, and the Mackinnons' Group, which had extensive interests in shipping. Thus began a process of diversification that has resulted in today's 70-member conglomerate. The parent firm, now known as John Keells PLC (formerly John Keells Limited), became a public quoted company in 1974.
In October 1986 a newly incorporated John Keells Holdings Ltd. acquired a controlling stake in John Keells Limited and obtained a quotation on the Colombo Stock Exchange amidst a heavily over-subscribed public share issue.