Shehara Jayawardana, Group Managing Director of McLarens Holdings PLC, dishes on pursuing passions and achieving success in the corporate world, while living an exciting life in the fast lane.
Describe yourself in one word.
Tell us about your work. What do you enjoy the most?
The variety, for sure. As managing director for Mclarens Group, I work with different business sectors including shipping, logistics, bunkering, automotive and property, and across various disciplines like operations, sales, finance, HR, IT, strategy and planning. I also work with about 20 different companies, so I enjoy all the different situations, people and challenges I face in each industry.
Apart from work, you have many other interests. What’s your secret to time management?
You have to harness all the support you can get from friends and family, and be super organised by planning and delegating with detailed instructions! It’s also important to prioritise tasks for each day, which means saying ‘no’ to some, but catching up on them later. I try to balance work, family and kids, racing, health and fitness, CSR and industry-related activities, and friends on a longer-term horizon and not necessarily all in one day.
In your opinion, what does it take for a woman to be successful at the workplace?
Simply be good at what you do—work hard, work smart, improve yourself with constant learning, set your targets high, never be afraid to ask questions, develop a good team, learn to communicate (to be heard and to explain your point clearly), and never underestimate yourself just because you are a woman. Use your tact and instincts when the situation calls for it. J We can do anything as long as we put our minds to it, and have the hunger and passion for what we do.
You are the first female formula racer in the country. What made you get into it?
My childhood was very much centered around racing. My father, Rohan de Silva, was the champion racecar driver in the country at the time and I loved going to races to support him. I spent weekends with mechanics, preparing racecars. I was inspired by him and many other great drivers, and the passion just continued to grow till I knew I had to do this myself. As a kid, I played with remote control cars and go-karts, which eventually led to circuit racing in stock cars at 18 and thereafter formula cars, which was my dream. After a few years of racing, it became such an exciting and integral part of my life. I enjoyed driving, as well as the whole experience of race weekends, the technical aspects of preparing the cars, etc. I continued to learn from the sport and developed traits such as perseverance, courage, and mental and physical discipline.
Did anyone discourage you at the beginning? How did you overcome any negativity?
There may have been slight opposition from my family at the start, but that was temporary. But the immense support I received from my father, my husband, my extended team, friends, senior racers such as Bri Ponnambalam and Sajaad Zuhair, and many others have been invaluable throughout my journey.
Very few thought I would resume racing at a competitive level after having my second son. Being a mum of two, it was a mental and physical challenge for me, but I treated it as a gradual process; I now race competitively again and was back on the podium after a six-year break. In fact, I now race in the Honda Slh up to 1618 cc class, which is a very competitive and fast event in the local motor sports lineup.
As a female taking part in a male-dominated sport, what’s the most valuable lesson you have learned?
I have learned that it’s not about being male or female, but about how well prepared you are and how well you are able to complete a task. Be it at work or a sport, it’s all about focusing on the job or the challenge at hand. When I am at the start line, I don’t think I am a girl against all these guys. I think of the task at hand and focus on the lights, the flags, getting into gear, gripping the wheel and the launch. In fact, many of my fellow competitors have helped me immensely, so it’s important to work in partnership and learn from others. There are times I feel I’m not strong enough or fit enough, or that I can’t keep up with the level of technical input required, but I treat these as areas to be worked on and not as inhibitors. Gender is not a limitation if you don’t let it become one.
What emotions do you typically feel before a race, and how do you deal with them?
Emotions! I feel a lot of them! Sometimes mixed. Generally, it’s passion, anger, fear, adrenaline, happiness and excitement, to name a few. In the weeks run up to a race, I am very determined and work on fitness and building mental strength. There are times when the night before a race I tend to feel a bit nervous, but come morning I am in full gear. I only need to get to the racetrack and I feel at home. I enjoy being among the cars and walk the track before a race. I also pray. God has taken me through a lot and is a big contributor to my strength, ability and the will to keep going. I do feel a bit tense at times, especially when there is close competition, but I think success lies in channeling that emotion towards focusing on the goal. Of course at the end of the race when you see that flag and you’re on the podium, there’s nothing but joy! Managing one’s emotions is an important part of achieving success in sports.
What do you do to create balance in your life?
Sometimes I think my life is out of balance. There are days at work when I have to attend board meetings and dinners to entertain foreign partners who are in town. As a result, I hardly get to see my kids (I can do all this thanks to mum). Then there are days when I need to catch up with the kids or go to PTA meetings, which means I lose half my workday. It’s the same when I have a race weekend—I don’t get the chance to see to household matters or other personal stuff because I am out of town the entire weekend. But the key is to balance life in the longer-term and to catch up by working harder and smarter. There are days when I catch up on my emails after the kids go to bed, or I take the kids along with me to office on a weekend. You should work in a flexible and well-organised manner, and ensure all your responsibilities are taken care of in a way that’s best for you. There’s no right or wrong way to do this; every woman has to realise what areas are important to her and plan for short- and long-term goals by concentrating on one thing at a time!
What was one of your most defining moments in life?
Giving birth to my first son. I was overwhelmed with love and felt very emotional. Having a little being in my arms, it was evident that I was starting a whole new chapter in my life.
IN A FEW WORDS
1. Dream racecar: Mitsubishi Evolution IX, Porsche Cayman GTS or F3
2. Favourite racers: My Dad, my husband and the great (late) Ayrton Senna
3. Most worn accessory: Handbag
4. Preferred colour for a car: Pink!
5. Favourite holiday destinations: Nuwara Eliya and Europe (Italy, France Spain and the UK)
6 Fashion staples: Exciting handbags and shoes J
7. Favourite hangout: Home
8. Happiest memory: Giving birth to my sons
9. Most admired human quality: Generosity
10. A ritual before a race: Prayer
This article was originally published as ‘How I Did It’ in the January 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more career advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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