Corporate leadership: Opportunities for innovation entrepreneurship and professionalism

Thursday, 9 January 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

To present to potential returnees the status of key top performing industries in Sri Lanka, such as apparel, higher education, IT, telecommunications, and hospitality, WISL featured a panel discussion which featured top head of those industries to share their views in terms of opportunities in their fields. Moderated by Vanguard Media Chairman Lakshman Bandaranayake, the speakers of the panel were Dialog Axiata CEO Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya, Virtusa COO Keith Modder, Brandix CEO Ashroff Omar, Aitken Spence Head Plantations and Business Development Dr. Rohan Fernando, and University of Moratuwa Former Vice Chancellor Prof. Malik Ranasinghe.       Bandaranayake: How is it that the Sri Lankan apparel sector continues to be high-performing and what are the growth prospects? Ashroff: If you look at the performance in the last few years, it is clear that we did double the export value and we now stand at US$ 4.2 billion, which is 5% above last year. We believe that apparel is not only the most exciting industry, but is also the sexiest industry. We have a narrow profile of customers with the largest being Victoria’s Secret followed by Marks & Spencer and few others. About seven customers account for 60% of apparel exports. Per capita wise Sri Lanka is easily one of the largest per capita exporters of apparel. The industry certainly has the potential. We believe that Sri Lanka can act as a hub and take the production service off countries such as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. If the industry is to continue its growth momentum, it should continue to change its gears. At Brandix we have started many processes where focus is on technology. And in order to bring in additional technology from outside, we invite entrepreneurs and engineers to come and set up small business that is relevant so we can support such to come up.       Bandaranayake: The mobile market is saturated and the SIM cards registered outnumbers the population. It is a challenging industry due to its volatile nature. What is the status and position of this industry, and what does it hope to achieve in the next few years? Dr. Wijayasuriya: Sri Lanka is not so different from other countries in this area. Telco’s are challenged on one side. We live in a connected world and there are many top competitors globally who are challenging the domestic Telco’s. So the opportunity that we need to bring on is to convert from being just a telecommunications provider to a smart provider by offering a plethora of services that enhance the lives of consumers. So here there is huge opportunity, because if you look at our lives, we are increasingly connected. We rely on technology in most of our daily activities. So Telco’s in Sri Lanka are in a very exciting juncture of transforming from being just connectivity provider to being providers of much wider span of services.       Bandaranayake: Focusing on the opportunities in the higher education sector, in Sri Lanka it is going through a phase of massive transformation. What is the status of the higher education sector in Sri Lanka and what will be the landscape of the technical education sector in the next five years? Prof. Ranasinghe: The Ministry of Higher Education is highly ambitious. A large number of students qualify to enter university. Only requiring three passes, in reality only about 15% of students manage to secure a seat in State universities, and there is an issue as to what can be done with the remaining 85%. One side there is a huge demand from parents and students for higher education because our country looks at education as a way forward. On the other hand the State universities look at only accommodating the best students. When you look at the non State universities, most of these institutions are offering the opportunity of having a good higher education. So there is no question on the need of private universities, but we also realise the education need a large upfront investment. We also need more people to service these sectors so there are many opportunities in this arena.       Bandaranayake: Interesting about technology in Sri Lanka is that it plays a significant role in many industries and there is a lot of emphasis in developing this sphere. So where does the IT industry stand in the value pyramid comparing to other countries in the region? What are its strengths? Modder: There are some key broad parameters that are important. First is that Sri Lanka as a country has a profile where there is stability. It has done well in attracting leading IT companies to establish in Sri Lanka. The second is that it offers good tax incentives for the industry. The challenge is to attract people from many other countries to work in Sri Lanka. Asia being a relevant geography is an added benefit since it the future markets.         Bandaranayake: How has the landscape of the hospitality industry evolved? Dr. Fernando: Looking at Sri Lanka as a tourism destination, this is one sector that has gained impetus. This is mainly because of three factors, which are, peace, improvement in logistics, and improvement in infrastructure. These three areas really gave the much needed boost for Sri Lanka as a destination. In the past couple of years there have been significant developments in the country, mostly in infrastructure. In the last many years we did not have 400-500 star class hotels and today we are seeing large hotel chains coming in. These are going to create opportunities for people who are interested in this area. Apart from the boutique hotels that are synonymous to the leisure travellers and high spenders, so many other opportunities prevail. There are opportunities for architects, construction, and services. There are areas where Sri Lanka could benefit from because being a world class destination. There is a huge shortage of high quality hoteliers and technical specialists for tourism related areas, so there is a high demand for such talents.