Sunela Samaranayake - Leadership and Work
Fulfilling strategic investment aspirations of high net worth individuals & corporates
The Head of Corporate Finance at Asia Capital PLC, Sunela Samaranayake, was born the only child in her family. So, whilst she enjoys her own company, when she clocks out of office, Sunela often finds herself surrounded by amazing friends and family – something that she is extremely grateful for. Ever on the lookout for an opportunity to leave the hustle & bustle of the city, travelling, sampling new cuisines and getting exposed to different cultures makes her a true travel aficionado! Also a bookworm, Sunela is the youngest member in her book club and remains fascinated on how books can be differently interpreted by an individual’s background and upbringing. Personal life aside, she overlooks the corporate finance functions of Asia Capital PLC, with an almost obsessive eye for detail, as you will read on to find out.
Tell us about your firm and what it is involved in..
Asia Capital PLC (ACAP) started out as a Stock Broking firm and ventured into becoming an Investment Bank which has since branched out into Leisure, Real Estate, Property Development, Project Management and IT Services. Ten years ago, the management and shareholders felt that gears needed to be shifted, transforming ACAP into a significant Private Equity and Venture Capital player within the Sri Lankan market. This is the role I moved into, coming from a Transactions & Business Advisory background from two world leading Professional Services firms. We were engulfed in an environment which believed that Corporate Social Responsibility was a cornerstone of any successful business and in turn, I was given the opportunity to showcase my writing skills for “Glorious Jaffna” – a pioneering attempt into book publishing about post war Jaffna. As an organization, ACAP has always fostered the nurturing of new blood and the pushing of boundaries with innovative product offerings, led by a management team that is truly passionate about what we bring forth to our clients but always staying true to our roots of nitty gritty numbers. These are the principals of entrepreneurship.
As Head of Corporate Finance, what are some of your duties?
I overlook the Corporate Finance function with our primary involvement being in Private Equity; clients come in looking for an investment opportunity and we then marry it with an appropriate solution. My team carries out tasks relating to the financial feasibility, valuation and due diligence depending on a particular client. We would then advise the client on whether such an investment would be ideal, based on returns and other factors. Regardless of whether it is a merger, acquisition or greenfield project, we are the first stop for potential investors. If the client wants to take it further, we hand over the project to a dedicated project management team. If for example the project is the construction of a hotel, the entire development is overlooked by them. Following completion, we either hand it back to the client for operations or if it is the case as with a hospitality project, our hotel management company can run the venture on behalf of the client.
How important is the functionality of your team?
My team is vital for the whole operation. As we are the first stop and originators of transactions for clients, our word has the power to either stop a transaction or progress it. I’ve surrounded myself with a capable group of intellectually brilliant boys; I sometimes feel that they are far more intelligent than myself! My role as the team leader involves harnessing the skills they have. As a group, we also never stop learning. Everyone, me included, continues to study. I am a firm believer that continuous improvement and keeping up with the times is critical.
What do you enjoy most about working at Asia Capital?
I’ve been given a lot of flexibility to take initiatives on my own. I report directly to the Executive Director; he has given me a lot of autonomy to run my team, yet I always seek his advice. As a result, I’ve been able to obtain flexible working hours for myself and my team. I’m an advocate for this as I understand that people work in different ways and giving them that freedom is what makes the employee want to work. Additionally, it is so exciting to meet the diverse clients that visit us. Apart from the everyday tasks that we carry out, we often meet people from various industries. This keeps me on my toes as my role is never monotonous.
What is your attitude toward challenges?
Everybody faces challenges, I don’t think they are just limited to the corporate world. The way I look at challenges has a lot to do with my upbringing; my family would always face issues head on. Having said that, even if I have faced any, I don’t think they are significant enough to actually talk about; you just have to get on with it.
Would you say that there is a gender bias in Sri Lanka’s corporate world?
I feel that there is a gender bias in Sri Lanka, but we deal with it much less as opposed to the western world. Potential talent should be judged more on personal attributes and intellect rather than gender. I cannot definitely say that I haven’t faced any issues related to my gender, but as I said above, I refrain from dwelling on things.
What can Sri Lanka’s corporate culture learn from the West?
I have a few things on my mind about this. First would be collaboration and partnership, Sri Lankan businesses really need to be able to stick with their partners during the good times and the bad. We should also be more inclusive and avoid jumping the gun with stereotypes. This includes those who identify themselves as LGBTQ+, those with disabilities or simply someone whose arms maybe covered in tattoos; surely these very same factors may be the winning combination at the negotiation table. I would also like to see a heightened sense of values; in other words, it is all about doing the right thing when no one is watching. Finally, Sri Lanka also needs to understand that the customer rules! At the end of the day, it is customer demand that keeps any business running.
From your experience, what tips do you have for those who are about to debut in the corporate world?
Always stay true to yourself. Do not let any company take away your integrity; these are the values that I have been brought up with and continue to practice with constant reminders from my parents. In this day and age, it is so easy to get carried away with people in order to climb up the societal or corporate ladder, but keep in mind that this kind of advancement is not organic.