Unleashing the power to lead: Global presence with local pulse

Monday, 4 November 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Postgraduate Institute of Management Convocation

We are indeed delighted to present 340 extraordinary managers at the PIM’s latest convocation. They have been developed as leaders with a global presence and a local pulse. That’s why we aptly picked the theme this year – ‘Unleashing the Power to Lead’. Instead of cursing the darkness of the leadership we see in the political area, we decided to light not one candle but many. Today’s column is all about this prestigious event of the premier postgraduate enterprise acclaimed the ‘Nation’s Management Mentor’. 



As we are aware, leadership is all about inspiring, influencing and initiating. It is more than positions and titles; it involves decisions and actions. We have been breeding leaders for the nation for over 30 years. These thoroughbred professionals have mastered value creation with confidence and competence. They are equipped with cutting-edge knowledge and complementary skills needed to perform in both private and public sectors alike. In producing them with clarity and commitment, the PIM has always been a centre of excellence in management education with wings spreading beyond Sri Lanka. 

Excellence is about being exceptionally good. When applied to enterprises, it involves exceptional achievements in a consistent manner. That’s what the PIM is proud of as a self-financed and semi-autonomous public entity. We simply excel at creating extraordinary executives and engaging them to unleash their true potential. The nation expects them to contribute towards its socio-economic upliftment in multiple fronts. 

As our mission proclaims, we ignite the human imagination by developing leaders with global presence and a local pulse. In this endeavour, we pursue innovative teaching, cutting-edge research, enriching partnerships, inspiring sustainability and exemplary governance. Now the time has come to expand our reach, regionally and globally, in adhering to best practices with the appropriate use of technology. As the ‘Nation’s Management Mentor’, the PIM will continue to produce value in practicing values.  

Keynote speaker

There were many accolades given to Carl Cruz who delivered a meaningful and a memorable keynote speech. He is no stranger to the Sri Lankan business community, having been the Chairman of Unilever Sri Lanka since 1 February 2016. 

Carl was previously the Vice-President of Customer Development in Unilever Philippines. He joined Unilever right after university in 1992, and has there done marketing and customer development work across Home Care, Personal Care and Foods in the course of his career. Carl’s international experience includes working in Thailand and India from 2004 to 2009. 

In Thailand, he was Customer Director for Unilever’s Foods and Ice Cream business and in India he deployed Category Management and Customer Marketing for Hindustan Unilever Ltd. Carl returned to Unilever Philippines in 2009 to head the Foods Business Unit and later took over the Customer Development function.

On the personal front, Carl is happily married to Adiel with three wonderful daughters. He loves spending time with family at home or travelling across the globe. Leisure time would be spent cycling, tinkering with cars, reading a good book or watching a good movie; he is heavily into 4x4 vehicles and loves the outdoors. It was encouraging to see Adiel with one of their daughters in the august audience. 


Highlights of the keynote address

I felt Carl’s speech was timely and topical. His main focus was to highlight how unleashing the power to lead becomes relevant in the current business context. He brought a wide array of points to ponder in ascertaining the rigour and relevance of leadership. I thought to share some extracts from his speech. 

“It is an honour to be here to address such a distinguished gathering of talented, accomplished individuals from the MBA, EMBA and PhD PIM programs. Let me at the very onset congratulate all of you graduating today. Achieving a post-graduate qualification whilst juggling what I assume are senior leadership roles in your respective organisations is not an easy task. It requires profound discipline and will power to commit to and see through a course of study such as this. My heartiest congratulations to each and every one of you.”

“My foray into Sri Lanka started over 10 years ago when I was on an international posting with Hindustan Unilever in India, visiting the country team here on work. Having been here continuously for the past four years, what strikes me the most about this beautiful country are its people. Particularly the younger generation like you, who have become catalysts for change, propelling the country forward to reach its full potential, reimagining a Sri Lanka that is future-ready and capable to take on some of the largest economies of the world.” 


There’s an age old saying in leadership – that “the only constant is change”. Yet, enacting change in oneself or in an organisation one leads is often a difficult path to take, and even harder to convince others to join you. Yet, the story of growth is in many ways also the story of change. From the humble telegraph to the intelligent smartphone, human ingenuity has offered the opportunity to improve lives, foster prosperity and push us all forward


“There’s an age old saying in leadership – that “the only constant is change”. Yet, enacting change in oneself or in an organisation one leads is often a difficult path to take, and even harder to convince others to join you. Yet, the story of growth is in many ways also the story of change. From the humble telegraph to the intelligent smartphone, human ingenuity has offered the opportunity to improve lives, foster prosperity and push us all forward.”

“As an organisation that puts consumer intimacy at the heart of everything we do, we often find ourselves under the microscope. We need to constantly re-invent the way we do business in order to remain relevant in markets we operate in, making sustainable living commonplace and positively impacting the communities in which we operate. Unilever has been in Sri Lanka for the past 81 years. Our roots go deep in Sri Lankan society. Over the years we’ve built brands that have become household names in Sri Lanka, and we attribute the success of this to being locally relevant and answering a need in the country that goes beyond the functional purpose of a brand.”

“Let me explain very briefly. Our flagship laundry brand Sunlight has taken on the mission to “Care for the bonds that unite us as one Sri Lanka”, making the country a more welcoming place by removing social barriers of ethnicity, caste, religion and the like – a much-needed call for the country considering recent events. Our premier oral care brand Signal is committed to “Protecting the famous Sri Lankan smile by ensuring a cavity-free Sri Lanka”. Lifebuoy’s purpose is to “Care for the health and hygiene of all Sri Lankans” and both brands conduct multiple community outreach initiatives that have positively impacted the lives of over four million Sri Lankans, creating trust in our brands with consumers.”

“Together with embedding purpose into our brands, as an organisation we work on enhancing livelihoods of communities as well as improving the health of our planet. Allow me to share four initiatives along these lines in the country.

Project Saubhagya contributes to the economic inclusion of women in Sri Lanka through our 16-year old Women’s Empowerment Program, providing sustainable livelihoods for 3500 women in rural Sri Lanka.

As a part of our sustainable sourcing agenda, our work with Smallholder Tea Farmers focuses on training them in good agricultural practices such as multi-cropping, rainwater harvesting and proper soil management.

We are creating greener factories and have already reduced our water usage by 47%, greenhouse gases by 55% and energy by 19%. Of our water requirement, 15% is harvested through rainwater harvesting and 40% of our energy is sourced through renewable sources.

We are systematically reducing our plastic footprint through the 4R framework – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover. We are committed to ensuring that 100% of our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Currently, all Pears soap boxes and Vim dishwash liquid bottles in Sri Lanka are recyclable and more plans are underway for the rest of our portfolio. We will continue to work with the relevant stakeholders in the country to ensure that we close the loop on plastic waste.

As you can see, successful businesses of the future will look very different. They will take a stand and act on the big social and environmental issues facing the world. Around the world, people are holding organisations to account. Recognising that a healthy business requires a healthy world.”


A global mindset

“When Professor Dharmasiri asked me to speak on the theme ‘Unleashing the Power to Lead – Creating Leaders with a Global Presence and Local Pulse’, I was very pleased. However, I would like to shift gears slightly and ask you to focus on harnessing a ‘Global Mindset’. The world around us is changing at an incredible speed. Digitisation is impacting everything; how we live, work and play, leading to a massive fragmentation of our markets. The need for external orientation, a focus on outside-in to learn from others and the need for experimentation to propel growth is vital.

“As distinguished leaders in today’s Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, the trajectory of what is required of a leader is changing. As the consumer and industrial landscape changes, organisations need to change along with it, if not be ahead of the curve. To cater to these changes, all of us as leaders need to acknowledge what is needed of us.

The first of these is ‘Agility’ in leadership where leaders and the organisations they lead are nimble enough to course-correct on the basis of what the environment is throwing at them.

The second and possibly most important is the ‘Disruption’ of oneself or one’s own organisation, rather than being disrupted.

Third, is the need for ‘Continuous Learning’. The need to unlearn what we know and to learn what we need to in order to remain relevant in an ever-changing environment. I can tell you first-hand that this is something we all need to do, at whatever level of management you are in. 


As you can see, successful businesses of the future will look very different. They will take a stand and act on the big social and environmental issues facing the world. Around the world, people are holding organisations to account. Recognising that a healthy business requires a healthy world


“Let me tell you of my own personal experience. At Unilever we have a program called ‘Reverse Mentoring’. Now traditionally we all know that mentoring is usually done by a senior person helping out a junior person in the organisation. In the reverse mentoring program, we turn the tables on senior management, myself included! Today I have six university undergraduates whom I meet with every quarter. They coach me on the skills that I need to stay relevant to them. Because it is to them that we market our brands. They are our consumers. 

“One of the first things they told me was, “Mr. Carl, we don’t watch TV.” So here we were, a large organisation focussing most of our efforts on mainstream media. So we had to change our approach and I had to learn how to snapchat, facetime, insta-post, insta-story, tag, tweet, share, re-share, post, re-post, DM, IM and Hashtag overnight!

The fourth on the list is an important currency in business nowadays, ‘Speed’. Again, gone are the days where we need to have 100% of the input required before we take a decision. One can be perfect, but perfectly late as well. As leaders, you need to work with the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable product) as well as the concept of launch, fail, and learn. Do not be afraid to fail and don’t let it hold you back. More importantly, don’t let it hold your teams back.

And finally, the need to be ‘Data Driven Leaders’ but still have that “human” touch. In a VUCA environment, one must leverage data, because data is the new oil. Leverage AI and algorithms in your leadership journey.

“There’s a concept called ‘Productive Paranoia’ that I firmly believe in and have made my mantra. Leaders need to always be Productively Paranoid in order to stay a step ahead of the race. Being big or a market leader does not necessarily give you the license to win. Neither must you allow yourself to believe that what got you here, will get you there. High-performing individuals are never complacent and never settle into a ‘comfort zone’.

As leaders we will from time to time face crisis situations. Never let a crisis go to waste. Effective leaders use a crisis to effect behavioural change, transform teams, and take organisations to the next level.

“You also need to be open to the unorthodox. There are New Ways of Working that are eliminating the old. As the world evolves and consumer demand shifts, leaders at the helm of organisations need to anticipate these changes and work the system. Working against it will be futile. We are increasingly seeing more and more organisations moving into ‘Agile Working’ and ‘Flexible Working’. At Unilever we have Scrum Teams working together to deliver high-power projects. These cross-functional teams collaborate across sites, geographies, connecting remotely and are driven by open lines of communication and a common goal. Enabled by collaboration tools such as MS Teams, Skype for Business, One Drive etc., which allows collaborative cross-border working and impact delivery. We also see that Career Breaks are being opted for by many employees to invest time in family or self-improvement. The ‘Open Talent Economy’ or ‘Gig Economy’ is being pursued increasingly by the new generation and ‘work-life balance’ is not a nice thing to have anymore. It is a must-have.”


Developing your Inner Game and Outer Game

“At the end of it all, as leaders who will shape the socio-economic landscape of Sri Lanka, I stress the importance of mastering two key facets: 1). Your inner game where you work on improving yourself and 2). The outer game which has an impact on others. Leaders cast a large shadow. What you do, what you say and how you behave are all looked in a lot of detail by everyone in your organisation. Keep this in mind.

In your inner game:

Work on Personal Mastery in your field of work, always bringing your best self. Leadership is personal. How you show up makes all the difference, particularly in a VUCA environment that throws curveballs all the time.

Work on Agility and Curiosity in adapting to changing times. Hone your skills to think disruptively even in the most complex of situations. It is critical for you as leaders to constantly upskill, unlearn and re-invent yourselves. Dial up your external orientation and be open to learn from the unorthodox. Do not let complacency set in and do not be afraid to experiment. If it doesn’t work – fail fast, learn fast and move on.

In the outer game:

Be a Catalyst for Growth – know that you need to bring out the best in your team and inspire the energy that you need to win and grow. Empowering your teams to learn and grow is at the core of enabling everyone to thrive.

Finally, Passion for High Performance – it’s the extra energy, commitment and eagerness to achieve dreams and ambitions, wanting to make a difference and to be the best that you can be. It’s about being curious, with high drive and influence to constantly work with people around you to find new opportunities for growth. It’s about being resourceful and imaginative, focussing energy and activity in ourselves and our teams to improve performance and deliver results.

“I like to believe that CEOs of today are not just Chief Executive Officers but are also ‘Chief Energy Officers’. Leaders of today need to be the thermometers of the organisation. Knowing when to cool things down during decision-making or heat things up in the organisation to inject a sense of urgency in its people. There has never been a better time to create a brighter future for Sri Lanka. Re-imagine yourself so that you lead the change that the country needs. With this, I wish you once again the very best in all your future endeavours,” concluded Carl Cruz. 


Way forward 

As Aristotle said, the roots of education are bitter but the fruits are sweet. The convocation day was a time of tasting that sweetness. A premier postgraduate program should have high quality and relevance.  That is what we at PIM are continuously striving for. Convocation is the commencement of consolidating competence and confidence. That’s how we unleash the power of leadership in breeding holistic leaders who can fulfil the dire need of the nation.  

(Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri can be reached through [email protected], [email protected] or   www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)


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