“When You Are Not Focused There’s No Win”


0
(0)

Ms. Kasturi Wilson, Managing Director of Hemas Pharmaceuticals and Hemas Logistics and Maritime Sector of Hemas Holdings PLC is a woman of strength and courage who has challenged herself and succeeded proving that glass ceiling is not a reason to step aside. Joining with Exposition she shares her experiences which made her the personality she is today.

Q:

Can you take us through your childhood, which shaped you up to be the personality you are today?

A:

I came from a middle-class family of four and my dad could not hold a steady job and when I was about 7 he gave up working , hence my mom had to do three jobs to run the family. It didn’t matter to me because I was a child who did a lot of sports at school and who spent ninety percent of the time outside the classroom, but I managed to pass my exams thanks to my school which is Holy Family Convent. I played basketball and netball and held the captaincy of all age groups. When I was preparing for my Advanced Level examinations, I realized that I didn’t have an ambition, and would state I wanted to be an engineer since I was very good at mathematics. However as life turned out now I am an accountant. Soon after my A/Ls within a week of leaving school, I was headhunted to play netball for an audit firm even without my results being released. I didn’t even know what an audit firm was, but I knew they were the Mercantile netball A division champions. While playing for the Firm, I learnt auditing from a practical aspect. My Introduction to double entry was from a practical angle since I lacked any theoretical knowledge. However since I am competitive and as a person who likes to excel in what I do, I learnt to be good at it and then became a senior auditor. By that time, I applied for a state university. It was said to give extra 25 credits for university admission for having captained a Sri Lankan team but unfortunately not for engineering and medicine. Hence missed engineering and ended up with Physical Science, Which I didn’t pursue due to ragging in the university. In Fact I only attended one day of university.

Q:

What kept you going without terminating work under any circumstances?

A:

I’ve been working since I was 18 years old. My mother always used to say “A woman has to have a qualification to fall back in an emergency”. My boss made it clear that I won’t get promoted beyond a certain point without a proper educational qualification and also the competition was getting very strong. At the same time my boss asked me to do CIMA but I had financial difficulties at that time. So my company paid for my education under the condition to pass all my exams at my first attempt. Even though it sounded a difficult task, after doing the first stage, I figured I could do it easily. Even when I was traveling overseas representing Sri Lanka in basketball, I made sure to have my CIMA books in my bag and I would study while others were relaxing. With the focus and effort I put in, I was able to get qualified in two
years.

Q:

Prior to working in an audit firm, what was your ambition in life?

A:

I always had this aspiration of becoming a mother. I didn’t want to work; I admire women who are employed but I thought I wanted to be a housewife. My mother did 3 jobs and I saw how hard it was to work, but I just love children and by twenty-two, I got married and I had my two children. However, I never gave up working. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t try to give up my job. I was one of those women who wanted to give up her job due to pregnancy. But my boss never let me do that, so I worked parttime. My mind was very active, and it made me work through the hardest times. By the time I had my second child, I became a Director consulting and a Manager audit. I was fully qualified, and I was able to be financially independent. At the age of twenty-nine I became a single mom and that’s the time when I switched my aspirations and focused on my career inorder to be able to provide for my kids. I moved back to my parents home and decided to do full-time work at Aramex. I would be the one who would walk out at 3.30 and take my children for swimming, but I would come back at 7 o’clock and finish my work. So , I got used to it and people saw the quality of my work and there was no opposition from anybody at work. There was something that I would always say to my bosses, “family comes first”. Though I had many chances to go abroad, I decided to stay in Sri Lanka and look after my parents because they did so much for me.

Q:

How supportive were your children?

A:

When they were small, they also had to compromise and adjust to my work life. Being in Hemas, they always understood my life and always helped me to be there for my children. But sometimes I felt bad, I was guilty thinking that I’m not giving enough time not only for my children but also for my company. I always thought “when you are not focused, there is no win”. But as my children grew, I always made it a point to make them independent. Sometimes by making them travel by bus, in case when I couldn’t afford cars and drivers. When I played for Sri Lanka, we had children from all over the country and we learned to share whatever food we had with anybody and through that exposure I got, I always wanted my kids to be like that too.

Q:

To make it this far, there must have been supportive figures you found throughout your career.Would you tell us who were your pillars of strength?

A:

The first supportive figure would be my mom. She always said a woman should have a qualification, have a sound education and have financial independence because you don’t know when you would need it. I can remember one time when my mom went overseas to work for two years, my sister and I ran the house managing all the housework and school work together. My father is a good human being but had an alcohol addiction. So, we had to control spending money as well. The next supportive figure would be Mr. Jayawickrama. (audit company).He is the one who always had faith in me and motivated me to get my qualifications. That was the company which provided me financial assistance for my education and I wouldn’t be here without them. Third supportive figure would be Mr. Hussein from Hemas, his brother was my first boss. I worked as the Director of finance for him for about three years. Then I was moved to the corporate office where I was entrusted to set up the group’s financial shared services. Subsequently, I was appointed as the CPO ( Chief Process Officer ) where I overlooked the entire group’s process and technology, even though I didn’t know anything about IT. But I still managed because I already knew what a business could benefit from using technology effectively. In this role I was exposed to supply chain where I had to learn and understand supply chain thoroughly. Subsequently, he influenced me to accept the role the Managing Director of transportation sector, which I initially didn’t want to accept, since I had never done a business role in my life other than a functional role. A functional role is something where the boundaries are specified for you to stop your responsibility at a certain point. Even though I was hesitant, Husein who was the group CEO at that time believed I had the capability to take over that role and made the decision for me. If you put me in deep water, I swim. So, he has been a key influencer and he still is. Even though I do pharmaceuticals, logistics and maritime, he still takes time out once a month as now he is group chairman. I do have sessions with him and we chat about what’s happening in the group and the market. Sometimes I doubt whether would I achieve this much if I would have worked in a different company because I’m not an easy person to work with, I get annoyed when I see inefficiencies, and while I respect hierarchy I am not intimidated by it.

Q:

How significant is the female representation in the industry with regard to a similar position as you are in now? When you consider the industry as a whole, do you think there is an improvement in female representation at present when compared to the time you first entered the industry?

A:

Well actually, there are fewer women than men in these types of industries. The reason is there are only a few who would survive in the middle management, that is the biggest problem. But once you survive it, you would know there’s nothing stopping you from taking leadership roles. I am a woman but I always thought the glass ceiling is nothing for me to step aside from. If you were given a designation, you can’t just expect others to just queue in line, but you have to make sure you earn your place there and add some value. After joining pharmaceuticals, I remember an instance where I was a part of the chamber meeting we had, but the chamber chairman wouldn’t allow me to share my ideas. But at a point when they were talking about an Annual General Meeting dance, this chairman said “so Kasturi, you can do the coordination of the annual Dance?” For which I politely said that organizing dances is not my skill but using my brain for strategy is. That was the first and the last time someone made such comments at that forum.

Q:

What is the significance of having paper qualifications, when someone first enters the field? Is it the paper qualifications that help in climbing the career ladder or the experience or something else?

A:

I’m talking about two different generations here. In our generation, when I first entered the industry, it was without paper qualifications and I had only CIMA for a long time and then I did ACCA. If you take Mr. Susantha Rathnayaka, he maybe not have had the fancy degrees, but he’s such an amazing leader and during his tenure JKH actually had its best years. So in general, you’ve got to get paper qualifications like an initial degree, but it’s only going to give you a certain tool kit and an entry path. Your attitude, passion and skills will take you through the rest. Your personality matters as well, so if you have done sports or extracurricular activities, leadership qualities and your personality would be built. So, I believe paper qualifications are just the initial opening for a job.

Q:

You mentioned that attitude is the key factor if you want to progress. So, skill set wise or attitude-wise, how should an undergraduate groom themselves to meet the requirements of the industry?

A:

If it’s a technical job, I think you need to have a required skill set. You can’t say “I want to be an accountant” without the knowledge of accounting. You might be stuck behind a table because you’re just happy doing that little thing you’re given. But I think a person should have the passion to be excellent. The other essential is teamwork, you need to be a team player. So, if you communicate well and if you are willing to learn and grow, that will always be a support for you. To learn and grow you should have self-confidence, don’t ever underestimate yourselves. There are times where you should portray self-confidence. For instance, sometimes I walk into meetings, but I’m dying inside, during such situations I would take a deep breath and pretend like I really am confident. One other important fact is communication. Unfortunately, universities downplay communication and personality building. That’s why I love trying to work with universities. Though the best brains enter state universities, I feel that the biggest drawback within the system is that they lack personality development.

Exposition Magazine Issue 15

How useful was this article?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Previous “Always leave the campground cleaner than you found it”
Next Future of Micropayments with emerging Blockchains