50 Most Powerful Women – Blue Chips

By Echelon.

Published on December 16, 2014 with No Comments





9. Nilanthi


Sivapragasam heads the finance function in a group of companies that has operations in six countries. She is also a member of Aitken Spence’s Board of Management. She has been involved in raising finance and structuring all of the group’s investments here and overseas.

Keeping ahead of tax frameworks which vary from country to country and from time to time, and managing the group’s cost of funds are also significant responsibilities. During the last few years Aitken Spence has made a number of significant investments including $6 million in a joint venture in the Port of Fiju and $100 million in a five star resort it’s building in Ahungalla in partnership with RIU Hotels of Spain.

It sold its share in a joint venture with a Chinese company that was building a container terminal at the new deep water Colombo South Port. Despite making large investments Aitken Spence hasn’t raised new equity from shareholders for some time. Some of the investments it’s making have long gestation periods and servicing debt then becomes challenging because there is no associated cash flow.

Sivapragasam is an accountant and has served on several policy and standard setting bodies of the Institute of Chartered Accountants.





Amali Nanayakkara (1)

Amali Nanayakkara has managed some of Sri Lanka’s most significant multinational owned brands. She now heads marketing for the Dialog Axiata group’s local ventures. Before joining Dialog she setup and led Indian Airtel’s local operation. Amali Nanayakkara also had a long career at Unilever, ending up as an executive director of the local unit from where she switched to the telco sector.

Dialog Axiata group has been steadily improving both its top and bottom line performance during the last few years. However its core voice business revenue is likely to come under pressure as smart phone penetration encourages more data use and less spending on voice. Fierce price competition has kept prices low for users. However telco operators haven’t found things to be so easy in this market and many privately held smaller players are struggling to make enough to be able to invest in new technology and expansion.




Shiromi Rajendra is Chief Executive of MAS Legato, a new venture she set up within MAS group, to provide financial outsourcing solutions. With operations starting in March 2014 this venture already manages more than 70% of the MAS group’s finance transaction volumes, having taken over the finance back offices of the four largest Strategic Business Units of the group. The project implementation is in two phases. In the first phase Legato will take on the financial back offices of the group company’s currently 67 operational locations overlooked by 33 finance teams.




The next phase is to evolve in to an outsourcing company offering financial outsourcing solutions to third parties.

“Legato gives the MAS Group great opportunities to leverage on scale. MAS in 2014 is forecast to have $1.3 billion in revenue with large volumes of payments for raw materials and services to support that turnover. When every dollar spent by the group goes out of a single location the opportunities for leveraging on scale are many. Further it opens avenues to rationalize payments. Before Legato each Strategic Business Unit would pay each supplier direct but once we bring it all here, you can finetune it, so MAS makes one payment to one supplier. Administratively it is efficient and will drive finance operation processing excellence and enable scalability providing agility for growth.

In designing the service model for the company Rajendra had to find an out of the box solution. All of the MAS SBUs had already implemented a lean enterprise strategy, which had stripped away multiple cost layers already, so there were few gains to be had there. Further since most SBUs taken over being onshore made options for cost arbitrage minimal. “If I’m bringing business from Europe or the US, there is a straight 20% to 30% cost arbitrage,” she says. Finally since MAS strives to be best in class in all they do this project had to be no different. In order to achieve all of these objectives the service model was based on maximizing automation of all processes.

For the first phase of automation MAS Legato selected Read- Soft Process Director, a business process management (BPM) solution. This is the first implementation of the end to end process in the region. This will enable the payable process of MAS to be completely paperless and touchless.





CHIEF EXECUTIVE, Allianz Insurance Lanka


Surekha Alles, CEO of Allianz Insurance Lanka, is a key player in the company’s success story. “We can proudly say that we are the only company to make underwriting profits since our second year of operation,” she states, claiming that falling interest rates haven’t affected the firm adversely.
Since entering the local market in 2005, Allianz Lanka’s non-life insurance (general insurance) business thrived, and is now the seventh largest in terms of revenue from among 22 companies. Following the success of this venture, it launched its life insurance business in 2009 which is now ranked eighth.

Commencing as a greenfield operation, Allianz Lanka has grown organically. In exploring future growth opportunities, the company rebranded its strategy with an increased focus on its retail business building out a 58-branch network. It is already seeing results of this strategy, posting 38% growth in the non-life sector and 56% growth in the life segment (the highest in the industry) in 2013.

Having legally separated the ventures since inception, Allianz is spared the disruption in the rest of the industry, which now has to segregate their life and nonlife businesses. However, she says Sri Lanka’s insurance industry is facing a number of challenges due to several regulatory changes such as insurance now being monitored based on solvency rather than the previous rule-based method, and the requirement for all insurance companies to be listed on the Colombo Stock Exchange.

Surekha says that Allianz Lanka has lobbied against this and the regulator has now exempted 100% foreign-owned companies from this directive. “Our parent company is willing to invest in us; our duty is to invest in Sri Lanka and create opportunities for the local market, share our knowledge, provide job opportunities, and enhance living standards,” she added.

Allianz has businesses in over 70 countries. She feels that two issues insurance companies must address as a priority are the still low life insurance penetration and the lack of awareness, generally, about insurance.





DSC_8709Jetwing Travels in one of the island’s largest travel operators for tourists coming in to the country and Sri Lankans visiting overseas. Inbound travel business has grown substantially for Jetwing.

Shiromal Cooray at first refused to join the family business and perused a career in finance instead. When she eventually did join the business she took over the travel arm.

Jetwing Travel’s response to the price competition has been to build their hotel and travel brands. The country’s visitor focus has shifted from the West to the East. Tourism promotion budgets have already shifted their focus to the East. However the product is still geared to Western Tourists.

Some promotion in the West to capitalise on the great reviews the market has been receiving in international magazines may help generate better yields from that market. Cooray is also a director at the advertising agency Leo Burnett and investment bank Capital Alliance.





Despite the chaos in the region, Middle Easterners are still drinking tea, as they have done for years. Struggling new democracies and movements for political change, notwithstanding, the Middle East remains the top export market for Finlays Colombo packed tea. Finlays has been challenged to adapt itself to these new realities.



Since the crises erupted the firm has found new means to fulfill its buyers’ demands. However, the Middle Eastern turmoil has contributed to reducing the profitability of its tea business by more than half in the last two years. Despite profits falling, revenue from tea is growing, because consumers even in strife torn places continue to enjoy Ceylon tea. Finlays complies with International sanctions which include bans on deals with the sanctioned governments, investing there, travel bans, a freeze on sanctioned government assets overseas and dealing with state controlled firms there. However, these do not preclude trade with the countries Finlays exports to.

Listed Finlays Colombo is 96% controlled by UK parent James Finlay and tea accounts for nearly 80% of the Sri Lankan unit’s revenue.

Coralie Pietersz points out that peace in the Middle East, where the tea it packs is popular, would improve the business outlook. However the Middle East turmoil’s impact on the Finlays bottom-line has been offset by growth in other businesses including logistics; where it has a successful venture operating a cold storage facility which offers refrigerated warehousing solutions, environmental services, insurance brokering and the GSA for Cathay Pacific; an airline controlled by the Swire Group, of which James Finlay of UK is a subsidiary. As an executive director at Finlays, Pietersz – who has a finance background –has responsibilities supporting the company’s many business lines including strategic planning, evaluating new projects, financial reporting, risk management and compliance.She is also a Director at Seylan Bank.

She counts her engagement with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (CA Sri Lanka), where she is a Fellow Member, as a significant point of influence on the future of the accounting profession. Pietersz is currently the institute’s only female council member.

Over the last few years CA Sri Lanka – where over 4000 accountants are members – has transformed its member engagement and grown its national stature. It is also engaging students, whom it hopes to convince to pursue its qualification. The realization that engaging Generation Y requires a new set of strategies is driving the thinking at the institute.

Pietersz is currently serving her second term in the council, and is alternate chair of the branding committee and is a member of the task force for integrated reporting, in addition to steering a project to attract students from urban schools and the non-commerce sector, to pursue its qualification.





Sandra de Zoysa has been responsible for establishing service delivery functions, front line services and shared services at Dialog Axiata.

Sandra functions as the Chairperson of the Company’s Service Delivery Group Leadership Committee since 2005. In the ultra competitive mobile market, operators need every bit of competitive advantage they can muster and good customer service is one that Dialog has been differentiating their offering on.

Sandra De Zoysa, has a unique record of having worked in the mobile telco customer service from the industry’s inception in 1989. She has seen the industry transform to an era when phones and mobile internet are ubiquitous. She has led the customer service transformation as the industry went quad play at Dialog during the last 16 years.





DSC_8895Shehara De Silva has experience building multiple brands in several Asian markets in the over a decade she has worked outside the country.

She is now about to end a three-year stint heading marketing and sales at Janashakthi Insurance. Janashakthi Insurance, she says, was challenging at two levels. Firstly in terms of building confidence in and boosting the brand, and secondly because of the need to build accountability and align with the firm’s values a team of 2500 sales people.

Eight months ago the sales team was split in two in anticipation of the legal separation of the life and non life businesses that’s happening industry wide.Shehara has been managing the non-life business sales team since.


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