WCIC Leadership Forum unlocks the power of women

Wednesday, 3 June 2020 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Angelica Bamaramannage

The Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Sri Lanka (WCIC) recently held a unique ‘Women Leadership Forum’ under the theme ‘Unlocking Her Power’.

It was held with the objective of harnessing the economic power of women to gain recognition and to improve their lives while stimulating economic growth. A captive audience of over 150 entrepreneurs and corporate women attended the event featuring experts such as Indira Malwatte, Tusitha Kumarakulasingam, Ramya Weerakoon, Jayomi Lokuliyana, Indrani Fernando, Gayani de Alwis, Sanath Fernando, Anura Ekanayake, Nayana Karunaratne and Prasanna Hettiarachchi.

The full-day forum was carefully structured to deliver knowledge and experiences to the participants in a manner which was appreciated by the audience. The key objective when crafting the workshop was to deliver learning in specific areas relevant to a business, such as marketing, business process management, building winning teams, and finance. In addition two sessions were included to deliver tips on dining etiquette, and building a personal brand.  

WCIC Chairperson Chathuri Ranasinghe introduced the concept behind the theme ‘Unlocking Her Power,’ elaborating that it is to encourage women to seek new challenges and opportunities as professionals in order to take leadership and participate effectively in the process of driving our nation’s economy.

What matters and why?

The keynote speech was delivered by Indira Malwatte, the first woman Chairperson of the Export Development Board. Her speech was based on the broad title ‘What Matters and Why?’ She addressed the issue as to what is most important to women in life and why.

Emphasising on the importance of knowing exactly what you want to achieve and having the correct values and skills in order to achieve maximum impact,  Malwatte pointed out that women’s courage and determination add value to the nation.

She shared her experience as a professional woman, which she stated was wonderful and full of adventure. She spoke about achieving fulfilment in her professional journey by being true to herself and the values she holds dear. When it comes to money and fulfilment Indira stated that she always chose less money and more fulfilment over the less gratifying combination of more money and less fulfilment.

Malwatte shared her guiding philosophy of 3 Cs and 3 Ps, which is a framework she herself followed and would encourage all professionals to follow in order to achieve success. The 3 Cs are character, confidence and courage, and the 3 Ps are professionalism, passion and pride. She explained the importance of each of these values that must be cultivated for professional success.

She stated: “I’m not too sure if any of the business schools in the world today would be able to give us one recipe to be a successful leader. That is because the external factors and the internal dynamics are different from each of the leadership situations and the responsibilities one holds. One could only aspire to take lessons from what is shared and make their own recipe and build up your character and leadership traits and sharpen some of them to meet the demands.”

She advised her audience to be clear about what they want to achieve in their journey, so that they may be able to utilise their qualities and traits to the maximum in order to reach their destination even when they have limited control over the external factors.

Malwatte also spoke about the importance of, as a woman, balancing one’s family life with their career. As a mother and a grandmother she emphasised on the importance of healthy support systems and stated that similar to a great woman being behind every successful man, there is also a great man behind every successful woman.

Marketing to create a winning brand

The Women Leadership Forum included separate sessions and workshops. The session on ‘Marketing for Success’ was conducted by Tusitha Kumarakulasingam, an experienced marketer with over 30 years of industry experience, working with leading brands.

The session consisted of some valuable business insights and extensive market research in the form of graphics to understand the target demographic in the domestic context. This was very useful to many aspiring female entrepreneurs present in the audience.

Kumarakulasingam guided the audience to understand the concept of the marketing mix, from the stage of designing a product or service to the stage of making it available to consumers. While explaining the elements of product, packaging, price, place and promotion, she pointed out the opportunities available in the current market and the scope of tapping into those with rapidly-increasing demand, in an attempt to highlight the opportunities present for potential entrepreneurs and investors to explore. She stressed on the point that anyone could build a successful brand by understanding the consumer’s need perfectly, encapsulating the same in the form of product or service and delivering it to them flawlessly.

Kumarakulasingam’s session was informative and simple to understand as she broke down the process and the technical jargon to use laymen terms to be easily understood and adapted by those with no marketing background.

Conversations of leadership

A panel discussion followed featuring four successful entrepreneurs; Ramya Weerakoon, Jayomi Lokuliyana, Indrani Fernando and Prasanna Hettiarachchi.

Ramya Weerakoon, Chairperson of Ramya Holdings, spoke about her success story, from being a single mother who was at the time pregnant with a second child, venturing into the world of business, selling batiks alongside big brands to support herself and her children, growing into building a big brand and becoming a successful entrepreneur.

When asked to describe herself in a single word, Weerakoon chose the word ‘determination,’ and rightly so as she had to persevere through countless challenges and believe in herself fiercely as she embarked on her journey. In a world where women watched from the sidelines when men took up the centre stage, she strove to be independent and support herself and her children.

Weerakoon spoke of achieving goals in silence and never giving up on your dreams. Starting off uncertain and almost accidentally stumbling into her business, she spoke of the process of building an empire out of courage, a strong business intuition and the ability to keep going in the face of adversity. She gave the important message that a brave woman with a strong determination to succeed can achieve great things.

ZMessenger CEO Jayomi Lokuliyana, a professional in digital marketing, revealed that she stumbled upon her business venture purely by coincidence. She was at the time a dropout of the Peradeniya University, pitching her idea to potential customers who rejected it.

She stated how she patiently bided her time. Her efforts proved fruitful with the rapid development of mobile technology. Her perseverance through the criticism and rejection and her firm belief in herself was ultimately rewarded.

Lokuliyana stressed on the importance of having a likeminded partner. She considers herself as extremely blessed for having ‘the best of both worlds,’ with a partner who works alongside her and supports her ventures as well as plays the role of her honest critique.

Philips Hospitals Ltd. Chairperson and Managing Director Indrani Fernando said she was responsible for singlehandedly transforming her humble family business to the multi-specialty healthcare provider it is today.

Starting off with almost nothing, she set about renovating and improving the facility with the aid of bank loans, trusting that her efforts would prove to be fruitful. She purchased the finest equipment and hired the only the finest specialists, never compromising the wellbeing of patients. She placed more importance on the assurance of her patients’ safety than the profit she made.

Fernando too stressed on the importance of family bonds, having people who have faith in what you do and appreciate your efforts.

Certified organic and sustainable food solutions specialist and Saaraketha Holdings founder Prasanna Hettiarachchi who was the sole male panellist spoke of how he stumbled upon his business venture by accident. He recollected his success story starting from how he has been serving in the garment sector and took up growing various crops as a hobby. He retreated to a plot of land he held in a rural area to escape from the stress of corporate life.

Hettiarachchi explained in detail of how he realised the world was starting to focus more on sustainable and healthy lifestyles. He saw this as an opportunity that a business could cater to, and retail organic products that are free of toxic chemicals which could be made accessible to the public at an affordable price. He explained how the company uses modern technology to make their products price savvy in order to keep customers interested to make the investment to live a healthy lifestyle.

Speaking about his support system, Hettiarachchi thanked his wife for being an inspiration to him and supporting him in his endeavours, sharing a relationship where they mutually understand and support each other along the way which makes communication effortless as they carry out their plans and build their dreams together.

Winning through superior logistics

Following the panel discussion, the forum had a session with Gayani De Alwis leading the audience through a lecture on ‘Business Process Management’. De Alwis is a former Director, Customer Service and Management Committee Member for Unilever Sri Lanka, responsible for supply chain. She has made great achievements during her 19 years in the company, one of the most significant ones being becoming the first female director of supply chain.

De Alwis posed the crucial question of ‘What do customers look for in a product or service?’ to the audience, and narrowed it down to three fundamental aspects of quality, cost and availability. She then explained the importance of a product being available to consumers and the role supply chain plays, stating that there is no life without the supply chain!

Using real life situations such as fuel deficiencies she emphasised on the crisis created by supply chain mismanagement. Using graphics to depict the flow and processes of a supply chain, De Alwis gave a comprehensive picture of how the chain operates and why it is important, stating that ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’

Using current world examples such as the iPhone supply chain she explained the key processes involved in a supply chain and the importance of selecting the right sources in order to minimise cost and maximise efficiency by managing inventory and cutting down on non-value adding activities. She introduced the lean concept using Toyota as an example.

De Alwis stated that good supply chain management had become an imperative aspect of running a business in a volatile business environment and pointed out that superior logistics were the cause of winning.

Building winning teams

The lecture on building excellent teams that go above and beyond what is expected in an attempt to truly excel was a lively and interactive session conducted by former Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Chairman Dr. Anura Ekanayake. At the commencement of his session Ekanayake challenged his audience to refrain from accepting his words without reflecting on it and being proactive enough to try out his methods first hand.

He introduced the four ‘W’s for winning teams, which are why, when, what and who. The ‘W’ denoting ‘why’ arose because in the rapidly-changing world with exponential growth of knowledge, an individual is not equipped to manage by himself and team work comes into play as one of the fundamental survival methods from ancient times still etched in our DNA. 

Ekanayake gave a brief narration of the evolution from troops and tribes to Gen Z, emphasising all that has changed and all that is different, comparing and contrasting the current generations of baby boomers (1944-1964), Gen X (1965-1979), Gen Y also called Millennials (1980-1994) and Gen Z (1995-2015). He gave an understanding about the so-called ‘generational gap’ as these four categories have vastly different values and characteristics that must be understood mutually if one is to understand how to work with the other in an optimal manner despite the clash of generations.

Dr. Ekanayake explained that during the time humans moved in tribes, the tribe determined one’s identity. There was no individuality apart from the tribes as the tribe moved together for security and survival. He stated that in certain indigenous languages, the word ‘I’ does not exist. This is the history of team work and why it is part of every humans build up as from the olden days, one’s chances of survival was higher as a pack. This is a fact we must learn to accommodate and use to our advantage within a business.

When are teams needed? Teams are needed whenever the workload cannot be managed by a single person. What is team? It can be any number depending on the complexity and capacity of the task. 

Who should be in a team? It could be team leaders or team members, Ekanayake explained. He suggested some simple methods of facilitating team work such as constructing a clear set of goals, addressing the question ‘why?’, before ‘what?’ and ‘how?’, by making it enjoyable to work as a team, having reviews and giving constant feedback and finding solutions to problems as a team. 

Dr. Ekanayake concluded his interesting presentation by explaining the four factors of leadership; simplification of complexities, driving ambition for the enterprise and playing well with teams. These insights were no doubt valuable and relevant to everyone.

Understanding your numbers

The session by Sanath Fernando was focused on managing the financial aspect of the business. An experienced accountant who is a fellow chartered accountant, a fellow member of CIMA, and a member of CIPFA and ACCA, Fernando is a partner of Ernst & Young.

He said regardless of the scale and nature of a business, managing its finances is a key part of it, and the session addresses ‘What you need to know and do’ to ensure one is well versed in managing this particular discipline.

Fernando encapsulated his key criteria of financial wellness in a case study he titled as ‘The Story of Charini’. 

Charini, a home baker and entrepreneur, starts a promising career only to fail due to her mismanagement of finances. Fernando also addressed what went wrong by analysing each error she made when managing her finances.

He started off with the issue of insufficient capital and emphasised that small businesses tend to overestimate cash inflows and underestimate cash outflows. As a result budgeting and forecasting figures become inaccurate and it becomes difficult to determine if sufficient funds are available. Therefore he stated it was crucial to understand the exact amount of one’s income and expenses and the time lag between them in order to take effective decisions. 

In a similar way he explained poor cash management, which must be prevented by monitoring the cash flow vigilantly, poor record keeping and controls, poor tax compliance, which could be illegal, improper product pricing, uncontrolled growth and not measuring business performance.

After a lengthy discussion on how to prevent these mistakes and manage one’s finances effectively, Fernando proceeded to educate his audience on a few simple ratios that can be used to measure the profitability, liquidity and efficiency of a business, and why it is useful to measure such ratios. His lecture was certainly untangled many of the seemingly complex, but in reality simple financial operations.

Building a personal brand

The final session of the Forum was conducted by Nayana Karunaratne, the well-known owner of Nayana Salons and Director of Image Consultants. This session was equally entertaining and lively just as the very short session she held before lunch on the ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Dining Etiquette’. Karunaratne explained how personality is built through a person’s skill and knowledge, appearance and conduct. These three aspects she deemed necessary in the process of building one’s image.

She introduced the self-esteem triangle to her audience, stating that self-esteem stems from self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-respect. In order to cultivate self-esteem one needs to develop their self-image by practicing physical wellbeing, impeccable grooming, good conduct and self-discipline. She stressed on the importance of managing one’s self which will then in turn make them capable of managing their relationships and career.

Karunaratne shared some of common mistakes women make due to ignorance. Her entertaining remarks made the lesson memorable to her eager audience. She emphasised on the posture, conduct and behaviour that is appropriate for a lady to command respect. In terms of values, integrity, punctuality, consistency and knowing what you bring to the table in terms on strength and weaknesses can be a woman’s greatest assets as a leader and the driving force that sustains families. Above all, Karunaratne stressed on living a simple life, valuing happiness over worldly values, and living an authentic life.

Wrapping up the forum, Ilanga Karunaratna said that the event provided valuable networking and knowledge opportunities for participants. Gaining insight to each of the aspects of business discussed within the day, and enriched and inspired by the stories and experiences of women who achieved the impossible, and empowered by the opportunity and hope brought by an event organised by women for women, who will go on to shatter glass ceilings and continue to spread this powerful message in the true spirit of the International Women’s Day.

The Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce is the premier organisation supporting entrepreneurs and professional businesswomen. With a well-structured board of management and pillar teams and leaders with dedicated responsibility, the organisation focuses on achieving its detailed objectives with a clearly-defined strategic plan, as well as a plan in to action. The membership is open to women who believe they can contribute to society as well as benefit from the many facilities the organisation creates.

Pix by Lasantha Kumara