50 Most Powerful Women – Advertising

By Echelon.

Published on December 16, 2014 with No Comments





Varuni Fernando thrives in her role of being the conscience of, and the culture guardian of Triad.

The firms associated with Triad have built an ethos based on  taking pride about being a Sri Lankan business. Advertising, where Triad had its start 22 years ago, is dominated by multinational agencies. Triad is the only large advertising firm that has resisted the network benefits of a multinational tie-up – an embodiment of its pride in its Sri Lankan ethos. The agency is now a fully integrated communications firm and with the stock market boom in the last few years has diversified in to owning and operating hotels, a number of consumer goods firms, and a media company.

Triad has leveraged to grow their businesses and Varuni says none of their private firms have ever paid a dividend.

Recently the group committed 2% of their profits to setup a trust to promote entrepreneurship in economically disadvantaged regions in the country. A focus of developing talent over the long term has left each of the busines units with capable teams and Triad founders are now thinking developing an employee share option structure. Varuni says the founders are keen for Triad to not be perceived as a family business.

The firm’s strength in brand building is being extended to the portfolio of businesses they are building including hotels and consumer products.




VICE-PRESIDENT, Grant Group of Companies



Laila Gunesekere Martyenstyn wants to bring back the glory days of advertising. When she joined the industry three decades ago, agencies didn’t just support clients, but were partners.

Over the years, she has watched this client agency relationship fade into a rigid process as the number of agencies mushroomed. She feels a general decline in talent quality is the reason for the decline. The improving calibre of designers is overshadowed by the waning quality of creative writing talent. She says that when she first joined the industry, advertising was not a job, but more a lifestyle. “People don’t share my excitement because they now see this as a job,” she says.

Re-elected as the President of the International Advertising Association this year, she hopes to continue her work on a series of workshops aimed at improving the quality of advertising talent. She counts the English Copywriters Workshop conducted recently as the biggest success of this series.

At Grants, Laila has already had some success in improving the quality of people and the work. As Vice-President of the group, her responsibilities are wide, but she sits alongside and works closely with the creative team. The Grant Group won Ceylon Biscuit’s digital pitch – a campaign led by Laila – and the Fonterra campaign for the fourth time. The agency is expanding in line with consistent additions to its portfolio.




“We all have a streak of madness in us. It’s all about honing it,” says Chandini Rajaratnam. For Rajaratnam, the biggest challenge in her role as Chief Creative Officer is helping her employees unleash their creativity.

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Her solution is to keep the creative department as informal as possible. A creative person comes into the advertising world with an idealistic view of the job, she says, but finds that working in advertising and coming up with ideas can be difficult to juggle alongside deadlines, budgets, client demands and constant judgment of your work. She also takes a very individualistic approach with each employee, and consistently changes people around client accounts so they, and the team, get the benefit of a fresh perspective. Rajaratnam currently leads a team of about 20.

As Vice President, Rajaratnam wears a very different cap and has to take herself out of the creative role to look at the bigger picture, concentrating on more prosaic aspects such as bottom lines, targets, reporting and staffing. She has twice been offered the prestigious corner room at JWT’s Colombo office, but declined it because it would take her away from what she is passionate about.

JWT is the world’s oldest ad agency and will be celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The global agency works as an integrated network, and this brings in many multinational ad accounts to the Colombo office, which currently works with around 40 brands – Unilever, HSBC and Airtel among them.

Rajaratnam has had a hand in establishing many of the processes and structures in the creative space at JWT Colombo, but she sees as her legacy the people she has trained. Many people she once hired and nurtured now hold positions across the industry, with some even leading other agencies. “I love guiding people along and watching them grow” she says. “I feel very proud of the people I have hired who didn’t know anything about advertising, and seeing where they are today. Ilike to believe that whatever knowledge and skills I had is now in somebody else somewhere in the industry.”

Rajaratnam was selected to be a part of an international jury at the Spikes Asia Festival of Creativity 2014. Spikes Asia recognizes the best work by ad agencies from across the Asia Pacific region and is organized by the same body that manages Cannes Lions, which recognizes the best ad work from around the world.




CHAIRPERSON, Grant Group of Companies


“As the Chairperson of Grant Group, change has to begin with me; so it is a constant process of acquiring new knowledge and challenging the status quo,” says Neela Marikkar. The group achieved over Rs2.2 billion in gross billings in the last financial year after investing aggressively in developing their digital media and brand experiential divisions. She adds that the company, “has retained its longstanding clients despite strong competition, with some relationships dating back over half a century.”

Showing strong growth, the Grant Group has been continuously recognized for their work. Neela’s role in this process has been in empowering the people leading her business units and encouraging them to focus independently on growth strategies. “Giving them the freedom to grow and develop their own areas is the best way to develop the leaders within an organization. This has helped bring in new thinking and a more dynamic culture,” she says.

Going beyond her day job, Neela is passionate about working towards gender empowerment and promoting the role business can play in rebuilding the country after the war and establishing a lasting peace.


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