Shalindri Malawana’s background is a whole mix of things. Her education was in fashion design but her professional choices led her down a completely different path. “I studied in Malaysia and worked there for a couple of years in public relations and marketing,” she tells me. “The year I returned to Sri Lanka wasn’t a great one for the fashion industry, so I asked myself what else I enjoyed doing. I narrowed in on events and PR.” This led Shalindri to ABC Radio for a short stint followed by KISS FM for 3 years. “After a while, you plateau and find yourself seeking more fulfilment out of your career,” she shares. “This is why I started sending out my CV, very randomly, not knowing what I desired to do or where I wanted to end up. All I knew was that I needed an active, fun role.”
Rockland Distilleries (Pvt) Ltd was one of the places she applied to and they called her. They didn’t necessarily have a position available, but her application piqued their interest. And, fast forward 5 years, Shalindri is the General Manager of Liquid Island, Rockland’s non-alcoholic arm. “When I joined the organization, there wasn’t a position,” she says. “I was offered the title of Head of Retail for Wine World for a year and a half. My boss saw I was very happy doing events like wine and malt tastings, which eventually led to the creation of The Epicurean. It’s an events company under Rockland that I headed for nearly 2 years.” After some time, and being successful at every role handed to her, Shalindri was asked to take on the brand, Olu. It was a step away from the very fun, alcoholic arm of the company and she was sceptical if it was the right fit, but, as it turned out, Shalindri was the woman for the job. “I was General Manager for Olu and that snowballed into including Fever Tree and Monin, too.”
Since the get-go, Shalindri has faced a variety of challenges, particularly making her mark in a male-dominated industry. “When I was introduced as the Head of Retail for Wine World, not only was I apprehensive about the role, but that feeling seemed to be mirrored amongst the shop staff as well, initially,” Shalindri reflects. “Over time, things changed. See, in any office culture, especially in a male-dominated one, there will always be push back when a lady steps in. They’ll challenge you and assume you don’t know what you’re doing. But it’s about manoeuvring your way around it, asserting yourself where you have to, even if it means coming off as aggressive.” When Shalindri joined Rockland, there were a handful of women, but, soon, many changes took place. Today, the company has employed female staff well into the double digits.
With a passion for learning that reflects Rockland’s core, Shalindri has learned how to be the best version of herself with every new role thrust upon her. “My boss always says, in any role, the key factors are common sense and learning, constantly expanding our knowledge and growing. And, you know what? He’s right,” she says. “Today, I’m certain I can walk into any role, take it on and be perfectly alright.” That’s not something many women can attest to, and it’s clear; it all boils down to the amount of confidence you have in yourself.
Like many women, Shalindri has experienced a phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome. It’s a psychological pattern where you doubt your accomplishments and have a constant internal fear of being exposed as a fraud, even if you’re the most successful person in the room. “It’s funny you should mention it,” laughs Shalindri. “Because, I was telling a friend one day that I have this great position and I might get an even higher one, but I don’t know if I deserve it. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m doing it right, you know? He labelled it Imposter Syndrome too!” How does she navigate it? I ask. “You’ve got to have enough confidence in yourself,” she tells me. “Let go of the fear. It’s never going to be all smooth sailing, but you push through. It’s an internal struggle, but, you should never hold back. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Your biggest enemy is yourself, so conquer yourself first.”
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.