Otara Gunawardena, leading entrepreneur and environmental and animal rights advocate addressed the BOI staff at the Board’s Auditorium recently.
The lecture focused on Otara’s successful career as an entrepreneur, and her creation of a well-known brand in the country from an initial US$50 to US$50 million.
In addition she spoke on how she was able to assume equally well very different roles as a fashion model, entrepreneur, mother, advocate, business woman while at the same time running a successful business at different times of her career.
Furthermore as an animal rights advocate, Otara, through her efforts with Embark, was able to find welcoming homes for over 4,000 street dogs and having provided treatment, vaccinations and sterilization for over 50,000. This brought happiness to both the dogs, their owners, families and the communities the street dogs live in, as it addressed many health and safety issues. The adoption of stray dogs has promoted the idea of caring for others.
The message Otara told the staff of the BOI was that they should enjoy what they are doing and live their passions and ideas. One has to be true to his or her beliefs and therefore it is very important to be authentic.
While Otara is keen to see development in the country she also is passionate about the environment and wildlife. A biologist by education her early campaign was for the protection of wild elephants.
Odel Department stores carried T-Shirts with elephants and other wildlife, to promote the importance of our wildlife and the need to protect them.
Otara also spoke on the need for the individual to study new situations and learn from them. Hence she had to learn from scratch essential skills needed to managing a business such as HR, Marketing and Finance.
“I had a big team and it was important for me to listen to their opinions and ideas as well” she said, stressing the importance of teamwork and brainstorming in the managing of a business.
On the subject of branding Otara stated “It is important for a brand to be recognizable and be top of mind. Odel was always both of these things. It is still recognizable and associated with quality retail”.
It is also important for any organization to understand the evolution of business, “When I started retail was very new but now there are new elements to the business equation where many changes have happened and things continue to evolve on a day to day basis. It is important to understand what is happening globally as well since the world is a lot closer now and what happens outside can have great impact to your business too” said Otara.
Otara said that it is important for individuals and the organizations they represent not to be deterred by any challenges they may face.
She shared with the audience that she nearly gave up her business when her retail outlet at Dickman’s Road burned down. However rather than give up on her business she saw the damage as a challenge and that motivated her to reach new heights.
The “Reach the Peak” lectures conducted at the BOI are designed to motivate and expose BOI staff to interesting personalities who share their life experiences to officials at the Board. In an earlier lecture Cricketing star Kumar Sangakkara addressed the staff of the BOI. The lectures are a platform for a discussion and exchange of ideas.