The Makings of a Corporate Leader

Indunil Fernando – Chief Executive Officer of Pet Vet

As a child, Indunil Fernando dreamt of becoming a medical Doctor, however, he ended up building a successful 22-year-long career as a corporate leader and business coach. 

“Surprisingly, Sales and Business Development was not my first career choice. In 1997, Jetwing Hotels offered me the position of Front Office Executive/Management Trainee at the Hunas Falls Hotel in Kandy. I worked at many of the chain’s hotels, covering many departments to complete the program. I am thankful to Jetwing as I realized my true potential in the fields of Sales and Service, and gained vital experience in managing customers who come from various backgrounds. 

In 1999, I joined the sales team of the Metropolitan Group. During the three years I worked there as a Sales/Marketing Executive, I won the all island ‘Best Sales Executive’ award for Mobitel, every year. As I wanted to further my career in the Sales and Service field, I took up the opportunity to join Lanka Bell. While at Lanka Bell, I had many career milestones and was instrumental in the launch of CDMA technology in the country. I was ultimately appointed the Sales Manager in Enterprise and Corporate Business Vertical.

Having worked in the Telco industry for well over 12 years, I joined the Delmege Group to test my skills with an entirely new product line – Industrial Power Tools. Having proven myself a successful Sales Head in another industry, Hutch invited me to set up their Postpaid business unit. It was a great challenge to set up a fresh business unit from scratch. I consider this to be one of the major achievements in my professional life. As the Deputy General Manager/Head of Post Paid, Enterprise, SME and Channels at Airtel for over 7 years, I had the opportunity to further hone my leadership skills as I always believe that there is always a means of improving one’s self. 

Becoming a Business Coach was always my goal from the day I decided to continue my career in the Sales and Service fields. Today, I am pursuing my own goals as a Business Coach. Currently, I provide my services as a Management Consultant to a few companies, while most of my time is focused on Pet Vet, a leading veterinary hospital in Colombo 5.As the company’s CEO, I find it exciting and challenging to work with a great set of Veterinary Doctors who treat and value animals the same as humans.”

Indunil is also passionate about giving back to society. Through his volunteer work he serves as the Vice President -Asian affairs, Chairperson of the Sri Lankan Chapter of Global Goodwill Ambassadors (GGA) and an Advisory Board Member of the International Institute of Tolerance in the U.S.A. He is an all-island Justice of Peace for Sri Lanka.

Speaking of the reasons behind a professional’s love of Sales, Indunil listed – 

Excellent relationships with great people – You are able to develop invaluable connections and relationships with various people over the years, as a result of helping somebody to improve the quality of their life through a product or a service you promote. Selling is persuading someone to experience the better things life has to offer. It is not about the money; it is about making someone’s life better either by improving their lifestyle standards or by solving a problem. When you focus on this process and apply your strategies, money/profits will be the inevitable outcome.

Experience the most life has to offer – Sales is a microcosm of how life and the universe interact. It is simple. As you learn more about sales, you learn more about yourself. There are many lines that can be drawn between sales and personal development, leadership, relationships, health and finances. Everything we do in our lives is based on how well we are able to sell ourselves a new concept or an idea. For example, if you want to convince yourself to go to a hotel for the weekend you need to provide yourself with a more enticing sales pitch than staying at home and watching TV. The greater you are at persuading yourself of the benefits and handling the objections before they arise, the greater the chances that you and your family will have an enriching experience. 

Continuous personal development – There is a special enjoyment in trying to win over the competition who is often an expert. We must always strive to at least improve our strategies and learn from the other party even if we lose the deal in hand. This is what sales has always meant to me – developing myself in every encounter, whether I come out high or low. It is a fun game, pure and simple, where the opponent with the best strategic thinking is virtually always guaranteed to win. Understanding emotions, being intuitive, being able to read people, knowing the appropriate words to use and numerous other elements all play a vital part in the game.

Of his views on the relationship between humans and animals, Indunil said, “We are different species who share the same planet. Although humans have evolved a little ahead of other animals, we are all part of one ecosystem. The immemorial relationship we have with each other is a natural and essential one for the wellbeing and survival of the Earth. This relationship has changed with time.  From a relationship of fear and antagonism to a working relationship to one of respect as well as affection, friendship and love. The relationship often varies based on the species of animal involved.  Regardless of this relationship, for many there is at least a fundamental respect for animals. When this breaks down, it has huge detrimental effects upon the planet as a whole. The most important aspect of this relationship, I feel, is respect.  Because animals of all varieties are essential components of the planet.  Both animals and people must coexist well for the health of the planet. 

With companion animals the relationship often goes beyond respect.  Pets offer us unlimited and unconditional friendship and love in return for very little.  All they ask for is a little affection and care. This relationship has extraordinary value.  In addition to the well-known health benefits we gain by owning a pet, we also learn a lot from them.  We learn how to relate to a species that is different. We learn that ‘different’ is often a great thing and not a threat. We learn to be caring and inclusive. We learn to understand differences and value similarities. These are all skills that are essential to today’s society in order to create a better inclusive culture. We have a responsibility towards companion animals in return. It is our responsibility to ensure their health, welfare and happiness. Because yes, animals understand what happiness is.”

“Pet Vet is unique because our core vision is to encourage and strengthen the beautiful bond between humans and animals. The processes and exceptional services provided at Pet Vet lead the way in setting quality standards in the veterinary profession in Sri Lanka. We have pioneered services in many areas and introduced new concepts such as dentistry, feline care and advanced surgery. Pet Vet does not only treat sick animals, but we provide comprehensive solutions to enhance the relationship between a family and their pets. From advice on choosing the right pet for a family, behavior training and pet supplies to preventive care and all medical treatments including advanced surgeries and senior pet services. We also know that our pet owners are our partners.  That to provide the best possible care for a pet requires a strong partnership between the vet, the pet parent and the pet.  We are therefore willing to spend the time needed to answer all our customers’ concerns and questions.  We will take the time to ensure that your pet is relaxed and happy to visit us.  We know that you as the pet parent need to be fully on board, so together, we can do the best for your pets”, replied the CEO when questioned about what sets Pet Vet apart from other animal care facilities in Sri Lanka.

On the topic of the principle steps in the turnaround process of a business, Indunil stated, “Almost all companies will experience mild to significant operating difficulties at some point. These problems can be caused by external factors or may be self-inflicted. Turning around a business is a very dynamic and challenging task. The most challenging part is changing the mindset of the management team and aligning employees to go through the turnaround process. The full attention and effort of the leadership of the company is required to create a shared vision for all stakeholders, bring about cultural change and to assign accountability, in order to ensure that the process is exciting and to minimize resistance. 

A turnaround plan is focused on growing one’s way out of a problem. Periods of growth and strong performance can mask many problems. It’s when the growth stops and the cash flow strained that the underlying problems become exposed. The management must immediately begin to restore its credibility and gain the trust of the stakeholders again. In a turnaround situation, cash is king. A company in the midst of a turnaround is generally burdened by tight liquidity and inadequate cash balances. Having control of this precious but limited resource is essential for a successful turnaround. It is not about cutting costs, but cutting waste.”

According to the expert the steps are as follows, 

See the forest through the trees – It is critical to be brutally honest and establish the reasons for the company to be in business. This is a challenge because of the emotional capital some stakeholders have invested in the business. It is also essential to appoint a capable leader to steer the whole turnaround process. A thorough investigation conducted by cutting the existing business and operating models down to the bone will reveal the root causes of the problems. Then one needs to analyze the company’s current strengths and market opportunities in detail to determine the way forward.

Deciding the new life – Products and/or services should be redefined based on the company’s current strengths, which will lead to clear market opportunities. Filter the list of products and services further down to decide the “Hero Products”, which are the most profitable with the best market opportunities under the current context. Focus on those products and develop a fresh go-to-market strategy along with a fitting operating model. In this process, we need to ensure the proper arrest of the previously identified root causes, which led the business to instability. The new GTM and the OM should define clear processes for the company to operate in, the new key roles, detailed execution plan, time bound KPIs as a whole and down to individual level, new budget and a cost structure, product based profitability matrix, employee profitability matrix with an in-built reward and recognition system, simplified MIS system to getting to know the business heath on daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and long term basis.

Execution through people – People-the best resource in any business – will be the deciding factor in the turnaround process. Therefore, the company’s leaders must be capable of managing the staff well to boldly drive them towards one goal. To effectively implement the process, a common operating philosophy throughout all levels of the organization must be introduced. Understanding the root cause and deciding the new life will simply be a costly waste of time and effort if there isn’t a proper execution plan. This is why it is important to focus on employees who will be the front and back runners in execution. It is best to create a new working culture to ensure all employees, including the management, understand and take part in the process positively as a team. Maintain absolute transparency with all employees about what is happening throughout the process of transformation. This will clear doubts and allow you to gain their trust. It is crucial to retain high performing staff during this period and not drive them to jump ship. The clarity and properly communicated turnaround plan will give them confidence and encourage them to contribute to the process further.

He also added that decisions should be made to act on the important matters, not to react to the things that come up as urgent. “Always aim to go for extraordinary results, not to settle for the ordinary. Use energy to fuel your fire and not to burn out. It is important to celebrate small wins regularly, for the ultimate victory will be made up of small successes in many areas. This will also keep everyone on track and energized, creating a pleasant journey for everyone.”

When questioned about what goes into the successful development of new business segments, Indunil responded, “In the business world, change is inevitable, but growth is not. Business growth always depends on your strategies and actions to make it happen. The development of new business segments is a 2-step process to find a gap in the market that you can fill. It begins with market research, wherein a company does a segmentation analysis and short lists market segments, which are worth pursuing. It is often an attempt to use the existing product or service to attract new customers. The goal is to expand the reach or access a different segment or unexplored market. It’s vital to be sure that the new segments are focused based on their own strengths, which will ensure the placement of a better competitive advantage and be relevant in the market place. Being vigilant about the competition is important, but should never be obsessed over. One should never fight against the unique strengths of one’s competitors. Instead you need to develop strategies based on your own unique strengths, which could create a competitive edge in the market. Continuous improvement via adding value to products or services is another definite way to be relevant.”

Expressing his opinion on the most crucial responsibility of a leader when it comes to strategizing and strategy execution, Indunil disclosed, “A leader with only a vision can become a failure if they don’t have the capability to be actively involved in strategizing and being in charge of strategy execution. This is why CEOs who are driven by KPIs, and are seen working alongside their employees are much more effective in today’s world. Developing strategies must be facilitated through an inclusive culture with the active involvement of the leader in setting up objectives, visualizing opportunities, developing strategies and most importantly, execution.”

He went on to say that a leader should take up the following responsibilities when formulating strategic plans and in the execution of the plans;

  • Ascertain the ultimate objective and target
  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of the team
  • Analyze the critical path to be taken to achieve the end objectives
  • Plan and map out the actions to be taken based on a SWOT analysis. Be aware of the available options when faced with challenges and obstacles.

Strategy Execution;

  • Choose the right person for each job and notify them of the methodologies to be used to execute the plans and the timing of delivery
  • Empower the team with the adequate resources, parameters for flexibility and provide an appropriate environment for execution
  • Ensure regular monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to map the progress and take corrective action as required
  • Inspire the team and motivate them to achieve the objectives as per the required time scale by giving suitable remuneration and recognition

A leader must hone in on honesty, believe in people, and create an open transparent culture, with clear strategies and processes for all to follow.

During his tenure as CEO, Indunil has thus far, made a number of significant contributions and additions to Pet Vet. “Straightening up the processes and implementing strategies based on the exceptional strengths already existing within the business sums up my contribution to Pet Vet. They have a wonderful friendly culture, which makes it a pleasure to work there. I believe that the staff is the most important asset of a business, and more so in the Service industry including healthcare business. Pet Vet is fortunate to have a wonderful team of people with vast experience in the trade, and most importantly, people who really care about other beings. They truly value the bond between humans and animals. My first step was to get to know each and every staff member in order to understand their strengths and individual personalities. 

Then systems were put in place to make sure that we do the small things right by simplifying and de-cluttering the processes. Focusing on the unique strengths of Pet Vet, I urged the staff to find ways to always improve the service provided while upholding the company values. I encourage them to act on important matters and not get lost in seemingly urgent, but minor incidents that come up. Introducing a KPI based performance evaluation system to recognize and reward top-performing staff members, streamlining daily operations, improving the reporting mechanism, and organizing learning and development opportunities for the staff are a few things I implemented to ensure long term sustainability and continuous growth. A very flexible and accommodating higher management team ensures that the new strategies are executed well. I am looking in to global strengths and standards wherever applicable at Pet Vet in order to ensure that  intrinsically valuable societal benefits are embedded in a profitable and robust business model along with world class services for the customers and their beloved pets.”