Is Sri Lanka ready for a new office culture?

Uzabase Sri Lanka, a Colombo-based research unit of a Tokyo-listed company, thrives on an open environment and continuous learning.

Two Tokyo-based invest – ment bankers and a Sys – tems Consultant found – ed Uzabase in 2008 to develop a platform as a source for data and information to the global financial industry.

In 2016, it got listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and started the Colombo research centre with just seven people, headed by Mifnaz Jawahar. Initially Uzabase had offices in Shanghai, and Singapore which served Japan and a few other markets in south-east Asia.

From Sri Lanka, Uzabase expanded coverage to include the US, Australia, India and the Philippines, apart from
markets in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand which the Colombo office already covered.

The team publishes various market and industry reports including documenting the latest trends in artificial intelligence, internet-of-things, healthcare, and education to name a few.

The team comprises of young, dynamic individuals who have fast proved their dexterity.

They help drive a new office culture—one that includes an open environment, a flat organizational structure and room for endless growth.

“Unlike other companies, the job role, salaries and position here are very transparent,” explains Jamal Hussain, Associate Director of the Data Assurance & Stats Team.

“And if you want to progress in your career, there is a development progress chart that each individual has for themselves.

If someone excels or progresses quickly, we make everyone aware of what she or he did to get there.” Values, too, play a central role at Uzabase. Closely intertwined with Japanese culture, this working environment is open and integral to how it functions as a whole.

One such value is celebrating individual differences and unleashing each person’s talent. Another important facet in this research unit is its diversity.

Comprising Gen Zs and young millennials, these individuals hail from different education, work and ethnic backgrounds.

“Talent and the outcome are what is important,” enthuses Kanchana Nirupamala, Associate Director of the Industry Research Team, “there’s no bureaucracy here!”.

Uzabase values various types of expertise and irrespective of who you are, you can succeed if you have the right skill set and are willing to learn.

As the company grows, so does each individual. Uzabase’s continuous learning opportunities set them apart from their competitors.

Their personal development cycle takes place every six months where each team member revises their own targets based on both their individual vision and that of the company.

“We’re not hierarchical and we have a very flat organizational culture,” explains Saranyan Maraikkadar, Associate Director of the Trends Team.

We evaluate people based on 3 criteria — edge, which is your skills and expertise; execution, how well you do your work; and values, and these play a role in promotions.

” We often push team members out of their comfort zones and ensure they never stay in the same role for very long. Our culture encourages members to learn from their mistakes, and this helps us explore our full potential without any boundaries.

“Every year since inception, we’ve been doing something new. When you do something new, you need to learn a fresh set of skills. Sometimes you get it right, and other times you don’t, but you learn from it and become better,” he says.

Work-life balance is another essential component at Uzabase. Each individual is in charge of his or her workload. “And every year, we plan the workload around public holidays and annual leave.

This way, we ensure work life balance is given priority, and when you get back from leave, you don’t have so much work to catch up on.

This also allows members to plan their work in such a way that they can take leave whenever they want unlike other organizations where specific days of the month/year are taboo,” shares Kanchana.

MEET THE TEAM LEADS
DESIGN TEAM

I joined last November as the Sri Lankan office’s first design lead. I work directly with the Design division in Japan and report to the Chief Design Officer of Uzabase.

We manage the entire company’s design projects including UI/UX, print design, and branding. A month after I joined Uzabase, I visited Japan to meet my team.

There are no barriers and we have the freedom to decide what we can do. We can plan our future and what we want to achieve next.

I started my career in 2010 in advertising and compared to my previous jobs, this company differs greatly from anything I’ve experienced. Everyone is at the same level and, as a bonus, there’s no office politics!”

Nirmal Fernando, Associate Director

INDUSTRY RESEARCH TEAM

“I was an introvert when I joined the company and was comfortable working on my own. But it was only when I moved into a managerial role that I understood not everyone is like me.

At the start, I had a high standard for the juniors in my team, because I wanted perfection. As I grew, I realized people have distinct personalities, backgrounds and objectives.

I’m still learning, relearning and unlearning many things, and because Uzabase is a start-up with such an open culture, the opportunity to do this is infinite.

We have close to 3,000 industry reports on our platform, SPEEDA.

The industry research team handles just over 60% of these reports. One of our goals is to make sure we manage and update these reports every year.”

Kanchana Nirupamala, Associate Director

“I joined the company in October 2019 with 12+ years of equity background. The role I have played during this short period is dynamic and challenging, and the work requires adaptability.

Coming into the leadership role in the industry research team was a drastic change from being an individual contributor to managing a team.

It’s interesting because I get to handle people with diverse backgrounds, and you need to cater to each of them differently while understanding their emotions.

What’s challenging is managing people and their expectations, and ensuring they’re meeting the target and continuously motivating them to achieve their personal goal as well as the objectives of the company. Despite coming from diverse backgrounds, we are bound by the company’s stated seven values and, that’s a unique working experience.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with the team in Japan which has been great exposure to learn their culture and values.
Moreover, as a manager of this team, I have an added responsibility to constantly improve the quality of our reports.

The teamwork in place gives us the freedom to share our own ideas on the quality improvements, which goes through several brainstorm sessions, and ultimately to execution.

Mirshad Muzamil, Associate Director

TRENDS TEAM

“In addition to managing the trends team, I cover a few emerging sectors. My core responsibilities revolve around researching emerging industries, writing reports, identifying key trends, analysing industry updates, and providing insights to investors.

Every year at Uzabase demanded me to be better than the former. I joined as a junior analyst three months after we set up the Sri Lankan office.

When I started, I wrote reports across multiple sectors for the industry research team. At the start of my second year, I became a senior analyst, managing a team of two analysts.

My responsibilities included training and mentoring team members and managing their workflow. Later that year, the company took on industry research work fully in-house.

We hired nearly 15 new members, and Kanchana and I led this new division.

This experience really pushed my limits and taught me valuable skills. I realized the importance of stepping out of the comfort zone to challenge myself.

More recently, we started a new US project focused on emerging trends, so I moved to that team.”

Saranyan Maraikkadar, Associate Director

“All of us at the Associate Director role manage a team. Saranyan and I manage the new initiative team that includes news updates, writing reports and market sizing.

The team is seven strong and our job involves a lot of project management tasks, like workflow management, resource planning, and coordinating with the US. I had seven years of experience by the time I joined Uzabase.

My background is more quantitative analysis, but writing was new for me. So I began by writing reports, then I supervised the customer consulting services—while also coordinating with the Singapore team. Uzabase allows people to run their businesses outside the company.

I have a CrossFit gym and it also helps in both roles because I do research on connected fitness devices. So you have very applicable knowledge about what you do.

Many people might say, ‘Oh, that’s just research,’ but you have knowledge that you can apply, and start your own thing.”

Tharindu Weerasinghe, Associate Director

DATA ASSURANCE & STATS TEAM

“I manage a team of 5, and our focus is on data assurance and statistics. The SPEEDA platform has a vast amount of content, so we make sure the information we provide is accurate.

If the company financials or non-financial information are taken from an external party, the team and I run a check on accuracy.

This is key to building user trust. Maintenance of statistics is the other important element, for which we make frequent stats updates to provide our users with the latest information. Besides that, I also take upon and execute various special projects that come from Japan.

A year after I joined as a Senior Analyst, the data assurance and statistics project came about, and I had the opportunity to head the team. Uzabase promotes stepping out of your comfort zone, so I took a shot at developing and implementing it.

We built this team from the bottom up which included hiring, training, coordinating with the team in Japan and setting up work processes in Sri Lanka.

The process is now streamlined, for which I must give credit to my team as most of the hands-on work is done by them.

Apart from this, I also work on reports and other individual contributions, while also helping around with various office operations.

Over the past four years, I have gone from an individual contributor to managing multiple divisions. This brings about a dynamic element which makes my work life more interesting.

Jamal Hussain, Associate Director

CONSULTING SERVICES TEAM

“Our team handles almost all customized research requests from the ex-China and Japanese client base. These clients are in banking, consulting and advisory, even general business corporations.

The common research asked of us is niche industry research, regional business guidance, and company profiles.

I joined Uzabase in 2017 as a Senior Analyst, and I was a hybrid between two teams — the industry research team andand the consultancy services team.

Back then, my role was only to author customized research reports. But as we grew, they completely absorbed me into the CS team and I was made responsible for setting up our unit over here to handle the entire function.

The scope of work has expanded to client communication, client retention strategy and managing a team of 5 consultants.
Our work includes putting meticulous care into anything we do. Uzabase is very open in terms of innovation.

We brainstorm a lot and welcome a lot of ideas from the team. So whenever someone comes up with an idea, we have a discussion to see how we can implement it.”

Shehan Jeph Perera, Lead Consultant