Q: How do you view the management field in Sri Lanka?
A: It’s a mixed bag. There are those who are more like leaders with a clear vision and growth mindset; others are bureaucratic and stick to routine. Many Sri Lankans hold the manager’s title in high esteem not always realising that they’re still part of a team.
To me, a manager’s success should be gauged by how empowered their team is rather than the success of the individual. Managers should be committed to the growth and development of the entire team.
Q: What does it mean for you to receive this award?
A: I consider this an award for the Gateway Group more than myself. In 2003, I was conferred the Gold award for ‘Outstanding Businessman of the Year’ among small and medium companies at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ (CIMA) Pinnacle Awards.
At the CMI Management Excellence Awards, I was named ‘Best CEO of the Year’ in the services category in the large companies segment. Gateway’s growth to become a large organisation gives me more pride than my personal achievements.
As an educational organisation, Gateway must have been different to others in this category. Educational institutions should function like corporates with good systems, processes and a drive to grow. In this fast-paced world, you cannot rely on laid-back traditional practices. This award highlights the fact that Gateway
is considered a successful corporate.
However, our ethos is different from the typical corporate culture of many large companies. Gateway’s culture and values are traditional, and Sri Lankan in many ways. Therefore, to be recognised as the best CEO of a forward-thinking yet somewhat traditional organisation implies that the balance we maintain is appreciated.
Q: So what practices have led to this recognition?
A: Being a medic and researcher by profession, I tend to view matters differently.
Gateway has evolved to think outside the box and do things a little differently. It is an international school following the British curriculum but we tend not to be fixed to a particular system.
Be it tablet PCs in classrooms, electronic whiteboards, incorporating science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning, and robotics, or introducing mathematics labs and innovation studios, Gateway’s pioneering efforts have helped us manage change efficiently.
We continue to nurture the values inculcated by our late founder R. I. T. Alles for students to be disciplined and respectful. His concept of an international school in a Sri Lankan setting is close to us all. I see our new ‘mindfulness’ programme as another important step in strengthening this aspect.
Q: How can leaders drive organisational growth?
A: Leaders should be passionate and focussed. As the key figures providing direction, they should be research
oriented and courageous to embrace change. They should also have the confidence to take reasonable risks.
They should constantly remind themselves of their responsibility for the company’s growth and the team around them. Being innovative and creative sets you apart from the competition. Decision making and determination to get things done also set the pace for organisational growth.
Leaders need to develop skills to identify everyone’s strengths, and create an environment in which everyone wants to develop and contribute. Successes are attributed to all team members. Mutual trust and respect between colleagues lead to good teamwork in any organisation.
Gateway’s mission statement encompasses all these values. We want all employees and students to add value to themselves, and do so continuously.
Q: How does integrity play a part in Gateway’s dealings with others?
A: Credibility and integrity are very precious to us. After all, we’re in the business of education. Trust is key in our sector and we will not do anything to compromise that. This is why we say ‘yes’ to what we can do and ‘no’ to what we cannot. In my opinion, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver
than the reverse.
As a private fee levying organisation, we have tried our best to be as reasonable as possible and offer parents more than their money’s worth. We take pride in the fact that Gateway Group – through entities such as the Gateway School of Computing, Gateway Language Centre, Gateway School of Speech and Drama, Gateway Graduate School and Springfield colleges – caters to an array of segments in society.
In a corporate sense, students are our clients – what we want is for them to receive the best international education, and have the ability to utilise their acquired knowledge and skills for the development of the motherland.
We want students to respect our multiethnic and multi-religious culture, their elders, parents and teachers, and be close to their religion. In line with our vision, we want the entire Gateway community to be energised, enlightened and empowered.
Dr. Harsha Alles