General Manager – Industrial Engineering
SILUETA (PVT) LTD
Dr. Thashika D.Rupasinghe, General Manager of Industrial Engineering at MAS Holdings, Sri Lanka is an outstanding and phenomenal corporate leader with immense experience and accomplishments in her career and education. Dr. Thashika is also a former lecturer at the Department of Industrial Management (DIM), University of Kelaniya, as well as a proud product of DIM. She joins with Exposition Issue 16 to share her thoughts on optimizing processes within an organization amidst a crisis.
Q: Could you give us a brief introduction about yourself?
A: I grew up in a family of four where my father worked for a medium-scale private firm focused on apparel and knitted garments and my mother was attached to the Department of Chemistry, University of Kelaniya. I have only one sibling who is working as a surgeon at a state hospital. I acquired my primary and secondary education from Sirimavo Bandaranaike Girls School, Colombo and tertiary education from the Department of Industrial Management, University of Kelaniya. I have received my postgraduate qualifications from Clemson University, USA where I read my M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Industrial Systems Engineering. Besides that, I am a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), UK, and have worked at SYSCO Corporation, the USA as a Senior Supply Chain Analyst and Manager in Supply Chain Operations. I have engaged myself as a faculty member in both Clemson University and the University of Kelaniya and my areas of expertise would be in designing and planning analytics, process reengineering to optimize manufacturing and supply chain operations. I have co-authored over 90 scholarly articles covering Industrial Systems Engineering, Supply Chain Optimization, and Digital Transformation for process excellence. Currently, I am attached to MAS Holdings, as the General Manager in Industrial Systems Engineering overseeing Industrial Systems Engineering and digitalization pillars for a strategic business unit of the Intimates cluster. The person who I am today is simply because of the way I was brought up and I am eternally grateful for my parents.
Q: What kind of encouragement did you get from the Department of Industrial Management of University of Kelaniya for you to reach this pinnacle?
A: I must remind all the teachers from my school and the DIM’s senior faculty members who are there today and those who had retired, for giving us world-class education to groom us to get to the positions we are enjoying today. I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to all the supporting staff, fellow students, and peers who gave the collaborative supporting hand to shape our careers and enough learnings through ups and downs. Especially, I would like to say that in shaping one’s career; a strong foundation of a university education really matters and I was fortunate to acquire that scaffolding from the DIM of University of Kelaniya with a concrete multidisciplinary scientific platform.
Q: As a female, how did you face the challenges in Industrial Engineering?
A: The presence of females in highly technical fields is very rare. Especially in the field of Industrial Systems Engineering, this can be very prominent. Being one of the very few who have obtained a doctorate from the USA in this demanding field, is quite a privilege. I must add; being a female it adds a lot of facets to this and I have faced a lot of ups and downs throughout my career. Looking back, I feel that I was able to inspire a lot of young females to enter into this field and have shared my experience in maintaining work-life balance. Being a female corporate leader, it is a tough job and we work 15+ hours a day. Apart from that I pursue my passion for research and teaching and advising three doctoral students at the moment. Managing time across multiple demanding focus areas is quite challenging!
Q: From your perspective, would you describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic situation; as an obstacle or an opportunity?
A: All of us know the fact that we are facing significant challenges at the moment. Many of the organizations were asked to take a 360-degree turn and during this lockdown period; we lost a huge amount of opportunities and orders. Along with these things, the existing system came to a complete stop. I must tell you that the way the companies looked at corporate strategy, organizational structure, and productivity will never be the same, including the recruitment of employees. It depends on which is of your interest! At the same time, post-COVID-19, new opportunities have risen and markets are changing in the light of newer demographic trends. Including our company, many companies have opened up for new markets and new territories. Without this COVID-19 situation, those decisions may never have materialized!
Q: In your point of view, how can we move forward to overcome this crisis?
A: The conventional ways of thinking have been severely challenged and as one nation, we need to capitalize on our new set of core strengths which are needed to face what the future unfolds. So, what is demanding from us is, we need to build organizations that can be agile and flexible to foresee the future and bring innovations from the future, and delight the customers today!
Q: How can state universities use this sudden outbreak of the pandemic to improve their teaching facilities, and what are the new aspects they can approach with the available technologies?
A: It is pretty evident that (student or the faculty). I would suggest universities rely on blended learning where more and more students can go and experience the real corporate environment and the theoretical scaffolding can happen not so traditional old-school way. I like to say that more internships, capstone-projects, and real-hands on the experience of corporate activities through virtual environments where it is not possible to experience the actual. For the students, my advice would be to get as many certifications offered by the world’s leading universities from MIT to Stanford to Oxford as what we are missing in Sri Lanka. If you utilize this time wisely, you would gain a hell of a lot!
Q: What would be your first step in recovering this crisis, with the industrial engineering context?
A: Within MAS, our teams have done a lot! Otherwise the recovering will not come this easy for us. We started working full time again from the mid of April and we were never at home during the pandemic period. We planned all the COVID plant readiness activities and also lead many process improvement, digitalization, automation, health, and safety projects to minimize the impact of COVID-19. We have not stopped and gone that extra mile with the Kaizen mindset to make a full recovery for MAS and the Sri Lankan apparel business as a whole.
Q: How do you feel about the experience gained while working with local and international exposure, at multiple profiles and capacities?
A: I must say to you all, it is very important to get yourself out of the comfort zone. Anyone who has succeeded in their careers has done the impossible and beat all the odds they have to face. I know, it is tough and nothing will be going easily. We should always keep it in our minds. I would say about the exposure I had with multidisciplinary teams as well as the rigorous training we received through our education system. Also, I should mention the postgraduate exposure I had from foreign countries. All of those exposures made me who I am today. Apart from that, all the national and international awards I won gave me immense encouragement that I was going on the right path. Once again, I am grateful for all those to lend me a supporting hand for my journey.
Q: As a former lecturer of the DIM, what is your idea about the Exposition Magazine launch and its way throughout these 16 years?
A: With 16 years of experience, we have come a long way. Congratulations to all those who worked on this journey to get to this level. Now we need to take this to a whole different level. I would suggest you make this your official scholarly publication where students get to share their intellectual findings through their honors theses, applied contribution via internships, and other contemporary research findings where any industry, academia, or fellow students may benefit significantly, whereby the Exposition can position our student community at a very competitive segment in the local and foreign student population.