Family matters with Thiyasha De Fonseka
Hailing from the sacred city of kandy; what it takes to be a female leader in a male-dominated industry
Hailing from the hill city of Kandy, Thiyasha De Fonseka was brought up amidst deeply valued family ties which would later form the cornerstone of her results-oriented and motherly leadership style. Thiyasha, as a director of the family-run enterprise, is at the helm of Tiesh’s Colombo branch and stands as a paragon of empathy and resilience which makes a deep and lasting impression on both staff and customer relationships. Continue reading to find out what it takes to be a female leader in a male-dominated industry while detailing how Tiesh proceeds to weather through the storm of the recent economic downturn while fulfilling its aim of creating a rock-solid bond of goodwill with its customers and the community at large.
What does the Tiesh brand stand for?
Tiesh initially started off as Lakmini (Pvt) Ltd. We just completed 22 years in the gems and jewellery industry. Our brand name is a combination of mine and my brother Ayesh’s name to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Lakmini (Pvt) Ltd. We’ve been in this industry for a while now. Our Kandy store is the largest of its kind in the country and our long-term goal is for our Colombo branch to follow in that trajectory.
With the inception of the Colombo branch, we started off with focusing solely on the tourist market but we soon discovered that the ladies of Colombo, with exposure to Western society, were drawn to our contemporary style of jewellery. Our designs are refreshingly unique when compared to the more traditional offerings of other Colombo jewellery houses. We pride ourselves on showcasing Sri Lankan precious stones to the fullest. Tiesh is a brand built on trust along with a policy strongly endorsed by my father, “Whatever you do, you give the best product at the best price possible,”- and this is regardless of competition.
How do you ensure that the impeccable brand image of Tiesh remains consistent?
I’ve been in this company for 10 years and there have been inevitable ups and downs. Fortunately for me, two of my greatest assets are the undying support from my family, and my staff. They help me to bring Tiesh to its true potential and are the face of the organization because they render the first impression when a client walks in. One of my all-time favourite compliments is when people say that they see the reflection of my father even from the security officer’s smile of welcome.
How have you seen Tiesh evolve over the years?
My father had his own distinctive way of doing things. With my brother and myself joining, the brand evolved on the basis of designs and management style. This is probably due to the exposure we have had overseas and the management skills we have learned there. We’ve incorporated this into Tiesh gradually because nobody likes change, therefore always ensuring that the transition is as smooth as possible. I’m a very result-oriented person and I believe in a team-oriented effort so I expect everyone to give their fullest every day because no one can shoulder everything by themselves.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of being a director?
The biggest challenge I have faced in my professional life is the HR management in Sri Lanka – it is a tough nut to crack. At the same time, I think that navigating this obstacle has made me a better leader. The key is to listen and empathize with people and I believe that is a key part of a leader’s job. Sri Lanka has a very text-book oriented culture and I like to inspire people to think out of the box; this philosophy is the backbone of Tiesh and its success. We always want to be trendsetters, never followers.
What would you say is your most significant competitive advantage?
It would have to be the family bond. Many family-run organizations fall apart due to differences in ideas and individual members separating to start their own ventures. The bond between my family is untouchable and unbreakable and there is never a decision we make without a discussion among us. This sense of family was embedded into my brother and I from a tender age. My father always said, “People will come and go, employees can come and go but the unity that we have should never be shaken.”
Are there any challenges associated with running a business where family is involved?
I would say it comes with the territory! My father, in particular, is someone you just can’t say no to, and it throws me off my feet whenever I feel like I have disappointed him. I don’t ever want to fail my father after all he’s done for us. So the emotional attachment means that you tend to take things a little more personal and you can’t brush it off lightly. But at the end of the day, we make it a point to never go to bed angry – family always comes first, everything else is secondary.
Have you been subjected to any obstacles because you are a woman in the industry?
All the time. People always think I can’t do something just because I’m a female. But I’m confident that I can do the exact same job as a male counterpart, if not better. Tiesh has been in Colombo for eight years so far but we are already competing against companies that have been around for 70 or more years. The fact that we made our mark in 8 years must mean I’m doing something right. I think this has a lot to do with my ability of weathering through any crisis with a smile along with the endless support of my family.
What are your thoughts on shattering the glass ceiling?
I’m all about shattering the glass ceiling. I’ve been living in SL for the last ten years and I’m a great believer that women need to support women. We already have the opposite gender telling us we can’t do it, so we have to stick together. I always make it a point to actively support my female friends who have their own business regardless of whether it is in my area of expertise. I’ve opened up to a lot of young ladies who have started their own businesses by mentoring them. I find it massively rewarding because it shows that they have faith in what I do and how I conduct myself. Growing up, I was inspired by female leaders like Otara, and that sort of role-model is so important in this society to show girls that they can do it and there’s always a way.
What do you have planned for the future of Tiesh?
We were hit hard by the Easter Sunday attacks after which we were on lock-down for three days. However, this did not deter us. Instead, we decided to widen our lanes from tourism and we are currently expanding our market and going into an area of jewellery we haven’t done before. It is trial and error for me but I’ve been blessed with staff members who know the ins and outs of this industry. With their support, I know we’ve got big things coming ahead. I’m going to tell people to stay tuned and follow the latest steps in our journey. We’ve got a lot in store for everyone. At the end of the day, I want people to walk in and walk out happy. I don’t want a one-off client; I want generations to place their trust in Tiesh.