Winning in today’s competitive business world is among key buzz words whenever I talk to a youngster. Let me capture some pickups that I have experienced in my tenure guiding youngsters in the world of business and marketing.
I remember once a particular youngster who met me. He said ‘Sir, have failed my A/Levels but I did do well in my sports and prefect duties. Do you think I can make it in today’s world?” The only advice I gave him was that past failures have no link to the future.
What is important was to focus and study, get involved in the group/team work and learn the skill of getting on with people, read the business sections of the print and electronic media daily. The youngster went on to win the Sri Lanka prize, joined Unilever in Sri Lanka and then went on to get placed in Pakistan then in Singapore.
The learning: Past failures do not determine your future success. It’s all about the sacrifices you make to master your chosen discipline and career
When Michael Phelps won his first Gold at the Beijing Olympics, I can remember how he went and hugged his mother. It was later that the truth emerged that, at the age of nine, Michel was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, that weakens the power of concentration. Through years of training by the mother (as she was a single parent), the deficiency was overcome and he went to become one of the greatest athletes of the modern Olympics.
In my view Sri Lanka’s corporate sector has many Michael Phelps. I met a youngster who had a very strong stammer that hindered his ability of interacting. I really felt he might not make it but over time saw how with practice he overcame this limitation and went on to get a top grade in his study career and today he is a Marketing Manager handling one of the top 10 brands in the country.
The learning: If you focus on a deficiency that needs correction, you can overcome it, provided one is ruthlessly focused to the task.
English is not a barrier
At one of the multinational companies I worked for, I was on an interview panel to select a medical representative for the company. A youngster from Matara came and spoke in Sinhala saying, “My dream is to join a multinational company and wear a tie.” We gave him a chance. He learnt English, studied for the post graduate diploma from CIM, read for his MBA and went on to become a brand manager for a global brand and then became the Category Manager and toady he is a Head of Marketing in a global paint company.
The learning: Language is not a barrier for one’s development. You can learn English as you move on in your career. All that is required is the passion to learn.
Leaders fall too
Once I met a top graduate who had been asked to take a cross posting internally to work as a Area Sales Manager which he felt was unfair as he had got good performance ratings in brand management. I asked him to take the challenge and perform and then argue it out at the next appraisal. Within six months he had made his area within the top two regions in the country and he went on become the Head of Marketing and today is a General Manager of a large apparel company.
The learning: Leaders also get in to murky ground in one’s career, but the difference is that they get up and run and prove to the world the spirit of fighting in their character. In fact these experiences make success sweeter.
Once there was this youngster who came up to me and said that he had resigned from a company, as he did not want to get involved in unethical practices that were of financial nature. I was proud of him but was angry that he had thrown a job out of the window, without having another in its hand. I organised a few interviews and he went to earn a job in the banking industry as a Brand Manager and today heads one of its operations overseas.
The learning: Never be scared to be honest. There can be peer pressure but in the long run it pays off. Think of the long-term and not the short-term benefits.
Girls can win too
At a Chartered Institute of Marketing guest session that I did, I came across a youngster who was very conservative in dress and behaviour. At one time I wondered if she would make it in the world of marketing as she was more a back office driven personality that I felt was based on the parental upbringing rather than her personality. She went on to win the Sri Lankan prize and she got a break at a global research agency where she earned her self a top position within two years and now she heads a global brand for a premium multinational whilst also being on a regional team for new product development.
The learning: In today’s competitive business world one is recognised on performance and not on how one is dressed or if one is a male or female. Just get out there and perform should be one’s ethos.
We live in a world where values have changed drastically and now there are many families which are single parent driven. Once I came across a youngster who came from a single parent household. I went out of my way to get a break for the youngster and today he is a Brand Manager in a leading bank in Sri Lanka and in the first year he was rated to win the Chairman’s Performance Award and in the second year he received an Exceptional Performance Award. Today, he is on a MBA program in one of the best universities in Sri Lanka whilst he continues to manage this leading brand in the country.
The learning: Family imperfections should not be a deterrent for one’s performance. It’s all about being committed and disciplined.
The above experiences are just some of inspirational encounters that I have witnessed in my tenure guiding. They may not be a memorable as the ‘Olympic moments’ but are real-life situations based on the ordinary human quest to become the best. I once read a maxim “you become what you take time to become!” and how true it is.
[Rohantha is an award winning marker and business leader who is a Board Director in a multitude of private and public sector organisations. He is an alumnus of Harvard University (Boston).]