This fitness buff and econ nerd has faced many obstacles along the way. Despite all, her awe-inspiring hustle is truly one-of-a-kind!
Was it your passion for economics that drove you towards founding Yeti Isotonic Drinks?
NP: I’ve always had a passion for economics and I’ve been an econ nerd for as long as I can remember! While economics provides the basis for my analytical approach to life, it was not the base for my company’s founding. That was the desire to create a Sri Lankan product with global potential.
Throughout your career, you’ve been involved in product development and innovation. However, innovation seems to be far behind other industries in Sri Lanka. Why is this and how can we solve this?
NP: Innovation has become such a buzz word in corporate Sri Lanka. Everyone talks about it but only a few will take the risk and do something innovative. So much time is wasted doing risk analysis, doing consumer research, making useless presentations and having meetings. Very little time is spent implementing ideas and launching products. Being overly process-oriented can kill innovation. We have to stop talking and start doing. We have to be fearless and stop being so risk-averse!
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced, being a woman in a male-dominated industry?
NP: Some older men in Sri Lanka have fragile egos which get damaged when they have to take input or direction from young females in positions of authority. I’ve been in countless meetings where only my male counterparts were acknowledged and addressed. I’ve had to fight for a voice at the table every step of the way.
There’s also a cavalier attitude towards harassment in the workplace. There aren’t many females in very senior positions to provide mentorship and guidance on how to navigate these tricky situations. My hope is that this generation will make enough progress to destroy these barriers and that there will be more female role-models for the next generation to emulate.
What’s the secret to your success?
NP: On my first day at university, someone told me: “Figure out what you love to do and get someone to pay you for doing it”. I thought that was great advice and took it to heart. I loved dancing so I became a dance fitness instructor. I loved econ so I became an economics lecturer. I love fitness and adventure so I started a sports drinks company. Loving what I do has been the secret to my success!
Any words of encouragement for young girls who wish to become a #BossGirl?
NP: Defy stereotypes. Your life, choices, and career don’t have to fit into a neat little box of societal expectations. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t feel entitled. Don’t blame society or cultural norms for the lack of opportunity. And, don’t play the gender or race cards. Instead, be determined to be a successful woman, despite the odds stacked against you. Dream big and follow your heart. And finally, don’t let anyone extinguish the bright light that’s within you.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.