Rukmankan Sivaloganathan has several years of experience in the financial services sector. He has held senior positions in transaction banking at HSBC, Citi, and Standard Chartered Bank in Sri Lanka, London, and Singapore. He was also involved in mobile money, remittances, and prepaid card initiatives in all three banks. He returned to Sri Lanka in 2011 to set up a few ventures of his own. I caught up with him during my visit to Sri Lanka.
I know you currently have multiple projects that you’re working on at the moment. Can you tell us a bit about those projects?
Well one of them is a travel agency focused on affluent Chinese travelers. Chinese travelers are the fastest growing segment in Sri Lanka, and they will be the biggest going forward. Since there was very little focus by existing players on the HNWI segment, I decided that would be an interesting niche to pursue. There are a few other projects but they are still at a very early stage and it would be premature to talk about them at this point.
How do you balance all of these projects?
I’m struggling actually. I’m not the best person at managing my time and I’m constantly trying to hack this!
What are some of the techniques that you’re trying to implement right now?
These are all techniques that are fairly obvious – it’s just a matter of following them. i.e. sticking to a schedule, making plans the following night for the next day, and not getting distracted by social media. Not that I’m having any success though.
With the businesses that you’re running at the moment, how do you distinguish yourself from other competitors?
My passion has always been optimizing processes and product development and I suppose these are things that we focus on to differentiate ourselves, i.e. by having better products (travel experiences) and better service standards as well as through more efficient operations.
What are some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work? What are the lessons that you’ve learned from either the time you were in school or from your work experience?
I wouldn’t say they are lessons but I suppose it’s just dealing with inefficiencies. I have, over time, become very direct in my communication so that feedback is given almost immediately. Passive aggressiveness, a national trait, is something that I avoid.
What are some of the habits/mindsets that have helped make you successful?
First of all, I don’t know whether I’m successful yet. Starting a business isn’t something I’d consider as ‘success’. However, I do have a few traits that define who I am. Whether they are good or bad it not something I have an answer to. One is that I have a huge tolerance for risk and the second is that I err on the side of action, i.e. gut over analysis. The jury is still out.
When you’re faced with major challenges or having to balance all of these various projects on your own for the most part, how do you manage that?
I don’t often get stressed, except when I have to talk in front of an audience! I’m not sure how but I’ve managed to quell my OCDness and propensity to fret when things aren’t perfect and so I’m not pretty zen about things. Eventually it all works out and to be honest, none of the problems I have faced, such as not being able to raise capital or increase sales, are real problems. They all eventually pass.
There was political turmoil in Sri Lanka and many people were leaving the country. What made you want to stay in the country and set up a business, despite political and business uncertainty?
There always was political turmoil and there will always be political turmoil. That’s a given. At the time I came back, there was a lot of positivity about Sri Lanka given that the war had ended. Sri Lanka is perfectly placed geographically and the fact that it hasn’t received more investment and that it’s not more prosperous is because we have not had farsighted political leaders. One of the reasons I came back was that, post-war, Sri Lanka had tons of opportunities in many sectors. Given my interest in the travel and leisure sector and given that this sector would perhaps be the most important one to Sri Lanka, it was a no brainer to come back.
Personally, there’s no other place I would want to live in the long term than here. The lifestyle, if you are reasonably successful, is amazing, all my friends are here, and there are lots of opportunities.
What are some key pieces of advice you would offer to a young entrepreneur – someone who is just starting out or is in the corporate world and ready to take a similar risk that you did?
There really isn’t anything I can say that hasn’t been said before. But I’ll say one thing. A lot of my friends ask me “I want do something. I’m sick of my banking/lawyer job. How do you take the plunge?” And I tell them that you just know. When you loathe going into work and the thought of not getting a regular pay cheque no longer scares you as much as it did, then you know you’re ready.
Interviewed by Byravi Dineshkumar