Reproduced from Living – our quarterly lifestyle magazine

Her name is well-known in maritime and logistics circles, and she’s the daughter of McLarens’ Chairman Rohan De Silva. Notwithstanding her father’s stature however, Shehara De Silva has blazed her own trail while garnering respect among the younger generation – for being one of the few women in Sri Lanka to drive through Colombo’s corporate barriers.

With a career that took flight back in 2003, she has demonstrated where passion driven hard work can take a person’s career and reputation; Shehara is someone we’d like to refer to as a ‘driven personality’ as well as something of a ‘connoisseur of life.’

The Group Managing Director of McLarens gained the title ‘Woman in Shipping’ at the 2021 Maritime Standard Awards. And as a mother of two energetic boys, and being a racing car driver (yes, you read that right!), she does it all…

But when Shehara isn’t shattering glass ceilings and spearheading boardroom campaigns or running behind her loveable kids, who is this intriguing woman?

Ashwini Vethakan catches up with Shehara De Silva for a tête-à-tête to learn about her background and journey, and hopes and aspirations.


What sort of a child and then teenager were you?

As a child, I was shy – and my mom dressed me in frills. But as a teen, I was very much a tomboy with racing cars and playing basketball being at the top of my list. I was a happy and cheerful kid with a great bunch of friends.

Tell us about your interest in race car driving… when did this begin – and how?

Being the only child of Rohan De Silva – who was a local racing legend at the time – I grew up surrounded by race cars.

I spent many late nights at the workshop working with racing vehicles, and also watching and supporting him from the trackside. So it was only natural that I’d want to emulate him – despite the lack of women who were competi­tive in the sport at that time.

If not logistics and shipping, which sector or industry would you have liked to work in?

While studying at the London School of Economics (LSE), I was very passionate about development economics and wanted to work on poverty alleviation with the World Bank.

But after a few months of being exposed to the family business, I was hooked onto the dynamic world of shipping. It’s been 18 years and there’s no turning back! On a lighter note, I always dreamed of running a fashion house or label… Who knows, maybe sometime in the future?

Do you have any other passions?

Absolutely! I love to read, listen to music, workout and keep fit, travel and explore new places. And I’m very passionate about projects related to empowering women and children.

Your most memorable moment in life so far is…?

The day my first son was born. Seeing my baby for the first time was the single most magical moment life has given me so far.


Which social problem is your top priority right now…?

I’m passionate about helping women and children, as I firmly believe they deserve a safe environment to grow and learn. I have been working with ‘Friends of Prisoners’ Children,’ which is a welfare programme that supports the kids of inmates at the Welikada Prison by awarding scholarships.

In addition, I am also an ambassador for the ‘Room to Read’ initiative, which promotes education among rural children and supports their work. I have a vision to spearhead my own foundation for children someday.

How have you been able to balance motherhood while leading the McLarens Group?

Balance is a fine art and I believe we have to prioritise each task at a time. Sometimes you have to skip a meeting to attend your child’s concert or miss a PTA session to meet a work commitment.

I have learnt to decide what I need to do each day and outsource any activities that can be undertaken by others. By planning my itinerary meticulously, I ensure that I don’t miss important milestones or deadlines.

The group now spreads over 50 subsidiaries in six sectors. Over the last few years, I’ve been able to create a structure that supports its day-to-day operations; and I have to be involved mainly for key decisions on recruitment, investments in new businesses or issues at board level.

Having said this, it’s also very important to be hands-on and keep your ear to the ground to really understand what’s going on in the business. Knowing when to ask what questions and when to dig deeper to keep track of the group’s performance is also a fine art that’s acquired over time.

And the least favourite part of your job is…?

Anything that’s mundane!


What is your definition of success?

Being happy with what you’re doing, being able to do what you want to do, and adding value to your work and the lives of others.

How would your closest circle describe you?

Passionate, largehearted, loyal and an honest friend who is good fun.

What are five items you always use?

My phone, the desktop, high heels, a handbag and the Bible.


If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My height!

And what’s next for Shehara De Silva?

My focus for the next few years will be to contribute towards the development of the shipping industry by working hand in hand with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and other state institutions.

My vision for McLarens is that we continue to grow, and expand our range and depth of services in the shipping and maritime sectors, build on our synergies to invest or acquire an export manufacturing related venture, and ensure that my staff are happy and well looked after.

My personal priorities are my sons: I want them to grow up to be good, healthy and kind human beings. Socially, I plan to take on a few initiatives, and launch my own project related to children and women in need