50 Most Powerful Women – Second Generation

By Echelon.

Published on December 15, 2014 with No Comments

Second Gen-03


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.






Darshi Keerthisena has transformed a business – which her father founded – by fusing modern fabrics with a traditional fabric printing technique. Buddhi Batiks has demonstrated how the traditional craft industry – which usually only produces souvenirs – can be transformed to produce high-end apparel demanded by contemporary shoppers. Darshi Keerthisena who heads the creative unit and plays a key role in its overall management, says raising the profile of traditional crafts by linking them with modern design has made these vocations far more viable. Buddhi Batiks employs 60 people using traditional batik techniques to hand print on silks, chiffons, silk-satins and soft cottons which are then made in to sarees, swim wear for women, and now fabrics used in homes. Darshi says producing things in scale with traditional crafts is challenging because the processes are not mechanized. She is working with the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to help train women widowed by the long conflict in the North in traditional batik printing techniques. The ministry is facilitating the training and plans to assist trainees find markets for their products so they have sustainable work. Buddhi Batiks has doubled in size over the last few years because of a rebound in consumer demand for their somewhat expensive clothes and due to their diversification by working with interior designers of large hotel projects. Keerthisena also has a second job as Head of Design at apparel maker MAS’s unit Linea Aqua, designing swimwear for global brands Victoria’s Secret and Speedo. She works around three days a week at the MAS unit and spends as much time working for the family firm Buddhi Batiks.





Shibani Thambiayah joined the family business a decade ago and in the last few years played a key role in expanding and upgrading their hotels.

Renuka group owns a couple of hotels, real estate and securities portfolios. Shibani Thambiayah is also a director of DFCC Vardhana, a commercial bank. Renuka group firms own a couple of hotels on Galle Road and manage a large portfolio of stocks through a number of listed and unlisted firms. Shibani Thambiayah joined the family controlled business to assist managing the two Renuka owned hotels. In the last few years she has managed to refurbish the hotels and add a new wing growing the combined room count to 100. The group is also planning a new building in land it already owns. The family business has been split to a number of firms so their management could be split among family members.






Jetwing 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.




DIRECTOR, McLarens Group of Companies

33.Shehara wShehara Jayawardana has been leading consolidation in a business her father built over two decades. She joined the family business 13 years ago and got to work building a shared services unit, internal audit, systems for finance and HR processes, which included group wide performance related pay and ERP systems to manage the large dealer network.

The core business of McLarens is shipping, accounting for half its turnover. It is Sri Lanka’s largest shipping agency and has built strengths in many allied businesses to shipping. Other units include lubricants, hotels, manufacturing and a distributor network. Shehara is also a race car driver.





CHIEF EXECUTIVE, Art Television Broadcasting



Annika Senanayake has a wide-ranging role at firms controlled by IWS Holdings. She is Chief Executive of Art Television and a director at other IWS firms, which are controlled by the Senanayake family. IWS has a diverse array of businesses from dealerships for Jaguar and Porsche cars to logistics.

Annika Senanayake has been heading Art Television since 2008 and is Director Corporate Planning at IWS Holdings, of which Art TV is a unit. Senanayake has established a number of broadcast content relationships with Time Warner controlled brands including CNN. Senanayake is also a director at Sampath Bank.


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