Share in brief a summary of your educational qualifications?
1.Undergraduate, Manchester Business School: Bsc. International Management with year abroad at Copenhagen Business School - Year of Exchange
2.Masters Imperial College London: Msc. in Strategic Marketing
3.Summer School at Stanford Business School, USA
4.Summer School at Central Saint Martins London: Fashion and Marketing
1.Undergraduate, Manchester Business School: Bsc. International Management with Babson College (USA) - Year of Exchange
2.Masters Imperial College London: Msc. Innovation Entrepreneurship and Management
3.Summer School at Imperial College London
Share in a brief summary of your professional journey?
1.Internship in the Strategy Team at Interbrand London
2.Marketing Executive at Pentland Brands London
3.Creative Director, Gandhara, 2016 onwards
4.Co-Founder and Creative Director, The Design Collective. Founded in August 2017
It was always my intention to work for one of the family businesses after I graduated, but before doing so I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I was in London , hence I undertook a couple of internships. In a world where profit often triumphs people or purpose, I believe that business is only as successful as it’s sustainable, therefore I specifically worked for the KPMG Sustainability Division and Forum for the Future in London.
Tell us a bit about yourselves?
First and foremost, I’m very happy to be back in Sri Lanka after almost two years away in London due to Covid19. It’s been great to spend time with my parents and sister Elisha. They finally got to meet our son River. It was a long time to be working remotely, so I am very happy to be back with my teams at the Design Collective and Gandhara.
Life at the moment is busy, I am currently working on a few intresting projects at Westgate and looking to expand the company in new directions. It’s an exciting time as I’m currently in the midst of moving houses and planning our wedding next year! My sister Shahili has been home after two years away and it's been so wonderful spending time with her, my brother-in-law David and my adorable new nephew River.
Shahili, how is it working with your father and working for the Family Business? What plans do you both have for the business?
Dad comes from a real corporate culture running huge organisations so he has much to teach me about managing people. As you can imagine, we would still have many moments when we clash, but he is always open to new ideas which I appreciate.
Elisha, how is it working with your mother and working for the Family Business? What plans do you both have for the business?
My mother founded Westgate thirty years ago and has a wealth of experience and is a great mentor. She has empowered me to learn on my own and find my own style of leadership. Westgate will now be more focussed in offering turnkey solutions for clients; offering in-house design and manufacturing solutions.
Share with us a secret about your sister that no-one else knows?
It's not really a secret for anyone that has met her, but she has major OCD. Her room is perfect. It makes sense that she's in the interiors industry!
She reads the synopsis of every show and movie before she starts watching and loves to talk about it which can be very frustrating if you don’t want to know the ending!
What are you both most passionate about?
We are both passionate about promoting female leadership in business and changing the corporate landscape in Sri Lanka. There are far too few female CEOs in big companies. We would like to see that change in our generation.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
Our parents are a great source of inspiration. They have both been involved in business so they have much advice and experience to share. We also love Michele Obama, as she is a great role model.
Elisha, you studied overseas, yet you returned back home to work. What made you come back to Sri Lanka?
I felt that through my experiences of studying and living away that I could transfer my learnings to the company that my mother founded. Sri Lanka has so much potential, hence I was keen to come back and grow the company. Plus, my fiancé, Saakya Ukwatte, was here and I wasn’t keen to do long distance!
Shahili, you are married and living in London, yet running several successful businesses in Sri Lanka from Gandhara and The Design Collective to Villa Republic, how do you manage it all?
It's all about hiring great teams, right talent and trustworthy people. Obviously, I am reliant on WhatsApp and Zoom and the time difference can be a pain, but ultimately if you have the right people here on-ground, working remotely is totally possible. For The Design Collective, my Co-Founder Binu Wickremasinghe is one of the key pillars of the business. Dehara, my mum, is involved with Gandhara and she has taught me so much about the business. I took some time off work from Gandhara after having my son River, and my mother has been a pillar of strength to me.
Shahili, will you move back to Sri Lanka one day?
David and I are settled in London, and have a great group of friends, but Sri Lanka will always be home. I would never say never; who knows where we’ll be in five years!
Share with us in brief your plans for the immediate future?
1.Wedding to plan and trying to move in to our new house;
2.I intend to get involved with the National Synchro Team;
3.Launch a new ‘work ready-to-use’ line’
I am going to stay in Sri Lanka for a couple more months then head back to London.
Rapid Fire Round
Favorite Resort in Sri Lanka?
Shahili: Postcard Hotel, Galle and our property in Benthota, Villa Republic
Elisha: Postcard Hotel, Galle and Mount Lavinia Hotel
Favorite Holiday Destination?
Favorite Party Destination?
Must Watch Netflix Series?
Shahili: Korean Drama - Crash Landing On You
Elisha: Spy, Blacklist and Dirty Money
What’s In. What’s Out.
What's In: Women in Charge
What's Out: Patriarchy
In: Sustainability. Sustainability. Sustainability.
Favorite Restaurant in Colombo?
Shahili: Nihonbashi and Ministry of Crab
Elisha: Nihonbashi and Seafood Cove, Mount Lavinia Hotel