Mr. Nuwan Wimalana commenced his career with Nestle Lanka Limited in year 1981 as a junior executive in the Sales Department and worked for 21 years until 2002.
During this long journey, he was holding various positions in Sales and Marketing including Regional Sales Management and Brand Management. He also spent 2 years on a foreign assignment with Nestle Malaysia in the area of Modern Trade Management. By the time he left Nestle, he was holding the position of Sales Manager – Confectionery and Ready to Drink Products.Mr. Wimalana joined Coca Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Limited as the National Sales Manager in year 2002 and subsequently transferred to Coca Cola Nepal as the Deputy Country Manager. In year 2007 he took over the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Swadeshi Industrial Works PLC, a well-known Sri Lankan FMCG Company. During his tenure, Swadeshi increased its turnover in many folds and grew substantially capturing major market share from multinationals.He was appointed as the Director/Group CEO of Delmege Forsyth & Company Limited at the beginning of year 2013. Delmege is a diversified Group of Companies engaged in the businesses of Consumer products, Shipping and Freight Forwarding, Interior Furniture Suppliers, Construction and Lifestyle products, Personal Care, Medical Equipment & Pharmaceuticals, Exports, Insurance Brokering, Leisure, Recruitments and Air Services.
He holds an EDBA from the University of Colombo and a MBA from UK. He had his executive education from Cambridge UK, NUS Singapore and Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.
He serves as a Vice President of Sri Lanka/Australia/New Zealand Business Council and an Executive Committee member of the France and Korea Business Councils of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. He was the past president of the Lions Club of Kiribathgoda and enjoys his leisure in social service activities, travelling, reading, music and ballroom dancing.
Our first and exclusive interview was with this remarkable and wonderful personality who devoted his precious time with Nerdynaut.
How do you like to introduce yourself?
I am a simple and down to earth person. I always like to share my knowledge without expecting anything in return. As a product of free education in Sri Lanka, I believe that I have a duty to share my knowledge and experience with younger generation.
What are the key factors that you need to become a CEO?
Let me answer that with my own experience. If you look at my career, I came from Rahula College, Matara from Year 7 scholarship exam to Ananda College, Colombo and finished my Advanced Level studies. At that time, we did not have many options like today. One option was to find a job. I joined Maharaja’s as sales representative at start for six months and then joined Nestle which became my university. That was where I became a man from a boy. I joined at the age of 20 and left at 41. I gained a vast knowledge through experience and learning. And it helped me to build up my career step by step as a supervisor, executive, manager, and a Head of a Department of the same company. The main thing is that you need to like the job of what you do and have a vision. I did not know the meaning of CEO at that time in 1980’s where everybody wanted to become Managing Directors. CEO is a new term came in 1990’s and 2000’s. My initial task was to go upward step by step where I always looked at the path to go higher. I kept on upgrading myself to bridge that gap to go to the next position in corporate ladder and always looked inwards to check what I lacked in myself to be in that next position. So the key factors you need are having a clear vision and working towards it always upgrading yourself with knowledge and skills.
What was your childhood dream?
Both of my parents were from teaching profession. They wanted me to become a doctor or an engineer by entering into a university. They did not understand the opportunities of private sector as both of them were from the government sector. Also, in that period, it was not an area considered by anyone to step in for a safer career platform till the introduction of free economy in late 70’s to Sri Lanka. I could not get into the university from Mathematics stream failing my Engineer dream. Yet, in school, we were motivated to become good leaders. I took part in badminton, karate and different societies which gave an insight of the life outside the school curriculum. Opportunities which were given by school gave courage to become good citizens even if you fail your major dream. It provided me strength to face challenges and also gave a brand to enter the society as an Anandian which had a higher value.The school or the university is the ticket to enter into an organization but after that what matters is not the label. It is your performance what matters afterwards. The past will not be anybody’s concern. You need to demonstrate that you are a performer with outstanding results and standards and ready to be considered for the next position.
What kind of motivation did you possess?
My main motivation came from myself by self-motivation as achievements kept me going. You should not depend on someone else from outside to motivate you because it happens very rarely. Yet, I was lucky to be motivated by my parents and my wife who knew the value of education. That is why I continuously kept myself upgraded in education while engaged in the job.
How about your communication and negotiation skills as a sales person now compared to those days?
It has improved significantly but I cannot say it was poor in the past. I learnt lot of things from experience and education both in Sri Lanka and abroad. At that time to go up in the corporate ladder, I needed to have good communication skills, negotiation skills along with the ability to work as a team player. My main objective as a school leaver earlier in my life was not to do what you like, but to find a job. Today my advice to young job seekers is first find a job you like. If you are not lucky enough, find a job and see if you like it. If you do not, then change the field. If you like, stick to that and just improve in that job by getting extra qualifications for career development. Do not blame the company and bosses. Look at the mirror and see for yourself. Identify what you are lacking as a professional. Then concentrate on improving them.
What if a person is getting failed day by day? How he/she can be self-motivated?
If you fail continuously, do the same thing as mentioned above. Go in front of the mirror and identify why did I fail? Is it because of lack of commitment, knowledge etc.? If you want to become a CEO, there are various ways. As it is the top of the pyramid, it has a wider base. CEOs can come from various sections like Sales, Marketing, Finance, IT, HR, Supply Chain etc. If you are stagnated at a certain level, do not come down. Go parallel. For example, if a QA manager finds that he cannot go beyond a particular level, then he can request a parallel move to the Supply chain and then build a career path. It is like a zig-zag puzzle. Though few people have jumped from bottom to the top, my advice is to follow the step by step method. Also it depends upon how you can accelerate your career. If you follow a systematic path, it will be easy to manage employees because you have come through each step below to your current position. There is a danger of jumping steps. Because you will not understand the mentality, motivation factors and expectations of the team below.
Due to highly competitive education environment is it necessary to have a balance between studies and extra-curricular activities?
If you want your child to do only studies, it is correct to a certain extent that the child should concentrate only on studies because the child will not succeed otherwise under the current competition. One thing that the parents forget is that it is not only studies that matters for you to become a good leader or a manager. They want their children to become big leaders like General Manager, CEO, Director etc. one day but they should know how to strike a balance as only education is not going to help them completely. If you want your child to become a specialist like surgeon, professor, pilot etc. they need to be an expert on that particular subject. There are certain professions where you do not depend too much on other people but still they do a great contribution to the society with huge responsibilities. Different societies and sports in school teach you how to become a good team player. If you are not a good team player, you cannot go up in the corporate ladder especially in the private sector in the long run. I have seen many people who have failed in their career by stopping in the middle as they are not good team players or team leaders. To become a team player, you must always put the team in front of you. It is the team the priority not you. Team is for success. The value of a team must be highlighted without highlighting the individual self of yours. Self-centered individuals will never be recognized to lead a team if they cannot demonstrate this ability. So I believe education, along with the exposure of sports and other extra-curricular activities as a combined effect are extremely important in building the personality of a successful person.
In today’s context, we can identify there are lot of job applicants with many qualifications. Yet, there is a question whether they fit for the right job. How do you view this situation?
It is a very practical and a valid question in the current society. What I see is there are certain basic things that are expected from a job applicant today especially when someone comes with a university degree. Whatever the degree you have, you need to be fluent in English. It is expected though it is not a qualification. Second is your IT knowledge. These two areas are not considered as extra qualifications today. What I see is lot of undergraduates and young people do lot of courses for the sake of doing it. They have no goal or a plan. They start doing something because someone else is doing. What you find today when we call for vacancies is that, there are lots of people who are coming with a basic qualification. Basic qualification from a university is very wide. These applicants believe that as we have a degree, we can fit in to any kind of job with it. My advice is, with that basic degree you must come into some area. Start working in that area at least for one or two years to get some experience. Sometimes that job may not need a person with a degree. You can settle even for that but with your university background you can speed up your career with better performances so that you will be promoted soon. Yet, people do not look at the situation from that point. They straight away want to get into a management position whether they like that job or not. They stuck in that position for a long period and get demoralized for lack of promotion and recognition.
The message to youngsters is not that they should go in the same path which I went through. It was hard. Yet, I always did what I liked to do. I kept going up too. So, when I came into management level, I found out some of my schoolmates who got into the university had not come to my level. May be I was lucky or it was an exception. Some of my friends passed out from universities and got jobs too. But they did not enjoy what I enjoyed in life. Actually, your education is your entry ticket to find something you like. Do not wait and look an employment only for the positions.
Other than educational and professional qualifications, companies assess candidates’ attitudes and competencies. How do you view that?
Except few organizations, most of them are running with commercial intensions to get the return on the investment of the shareholders. That is the main objective. Therefore, we need people with positive thinking. Even if you are given a very difficult task, we do not want people to crack and say sorry it could not be done. Instead, we would like to hear “Sir, it is difficult but let me get back to you with a plan”. That is mainly the positive attitude is all about. Other thing is the attitude as a team member. As a team player, if you show negative attitude, you will never become a good team leader. The biggest and best assets we have in an organization are brands and people. Without them we are nothing. When we have people without the correct attitude we are demoralizing the entire human resource. Therefore, attitude is extremely important. It does not mean that you need to say yes all the time. But, we need someone to think positively. Also accept other people as colleagues without thinking I am superior or inferior. The moment you come to an organization, you must have a feeling that I am part of this team and I have a responsibility towards the team’s objectives.
Soft skills also play a vital role too as they can affect on how to be a good team player. By proper behavior to give and get respect from both internal and external customers. If they do not connect properly, there will be internal problems. Then we will have to be more focused on internal competition than the external competition. There is internal competition in any organization but we should not promote it. We need to compete on merits, performance, values with a perfect understanding of each other while being in good and friendly terms with colleagues without leading to conflicts. We need to keep in mind that the real competition is not within the four walls of the organization. It is outside the four walls.
How do you identify inclusive leadership within the corporate sector or business culture?
A leadership in this corporate sector has to be a simple leader who always empowers his/her core team with authority and the responsibility. If I keep the authority with myself and ask them to take only the responsibility, I am not a successful leader. I must always take my core team included in the decision making process in order to practice true inclusive leadership in the organization. They can take their own decisions within their respective sectors but they are responsible for their decisions. If you want to manage a corporation, you must delegate the respective leaders (as you are not an expert on each area) authority along with responsibility while keeping you consulted and updated.
How do you recognize the employees’ voice in Delmage?
In Delmage, we have developed forums where we discuss the innovative ideas of the employees about business objectives, plans and strategies. So, we give them a chance to open up and present their ideas in a forum where that particular idea will get noticed by a wider audience other than his/her superior. It is the responsibility of the organization to give a chance with proper employee recognition for the benefit of the organization.
Finally what is your message to the next generation?
My advice to the next generation is first, you need to understand what you like. You should decide which path you should take. Even you can dream of becoming a CEO but it cannot be achieved immediately. Yet, do not keep on dreaming. Jump into the water and start swimming. Some people still keep dreaming. First thing is to face the challenge, take the risk and start something. If you find that you are not in the correct path, deviate before it is too late. Do not lose everything of what you have. Look at different options. If you find what you like, then start, enter and get established first. Once you are established then look at the next step. After that, do the gap analysis. Find out what you are lacking for the next step. It can be skills or qualifications. Then you need to start working on them. Then be ready when the company calls for the next opportunity. Step by step walk up the ladder. If you find that you want to become the top/head of an organization, always remember there are various ways/paths to reach the summit. There is not only one path. There are so many paths you can go. If you become stagnated, then change the path horizontally and take a new route to the top. If you have the vision and always keep improving yourself, one day you are going to achieve it.