Minoli Wickramasinghe, Managing Director/CEO at Capital Trust Properties Group of Companies, a thriving property business, shares her secret for success in a male-dominated industry.
Stock market and real estate are two sectors that have seen less female participation over the years with a much visible gender gap, as risks associated with both sectors continue to grow. Stock market participation demands higher financial literacy, and the real estate sector demands long and tedious work regimes, as a result, attracting more males than females.
For Minoli Wickramasinghe, however, the risks and demands associated with the sectors have not only challenged her but inspired her to learn and grow. Today she is successfully driving new initiatives that are impacting growth at the Capital Trust Group and heads its Real Estate sector. In an interview with Echelon Magazine, she talks about her involvement in the two most demanding areas of business and how the group has evolved over the years.
Capital Trust has several companies relating to financial markets, real estate, property development, education technology and packaging. Can you give us a brief overview of Capital Trust Holdings and its journey thus far?
Capital TRUST Holdings Limited is the holding company of the Capital TRUST Group of companies with 34 subsidiaries. Capital TRUST Securities (Pvt.) Ltd is the flagship brand of the Group, and a licensed member firm of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) providing fully-fledged stockbroking services since 1991.
The company through its head office in Colombo and branch network covering Kandy, Negombo, Matara, Kurunegala and Moratuwa, serves over 50,000 clients including high net-worth individuals, corporate bodies and both local and foreign institutions. Ranked among the top three Stock Broking firms in the last few months, the company provides state-of-the-art online trading systems, broker-advised execution and portfolio management services supported by insightful Fundamental Analysis and Technical Analysis.
The Company’s shareholders and stockbrokers have been recognized for executing the most number of strategic transactions in the CSE, due to the expertise and professionalism of its highly skilled team of investment professionals combined with insights of the shareholders of the group. Capital Trust Securities have earned a legendary market position forging lasting relationships with foreign fund managers and investment institutions.
Tell us how you progressed in your career both before and after joining the group?
I studied abroad for most of my life, and hence I guess I look at things from a different lens. Ethics in business is a must for me. I started my career as a trainee at DFCC and I do remember finding it quite bureaucratic at the time and I might have been instrumental in changing a part of the company’s culture.
Thereafter, I moved on to Maersk Logistics, where I was the youngest team member in the entire organization, and the only Finance Executive at the time, which meant that I had to do everything from reporting to Denmark to liaising with the regional office as well. Next, I joined my father Sarath Rajapakse in forming Skills Lanka Limited, the only public limited Corporate Trainer. to train companies like Brandix, MAS Holdings, CIC, Baurs etc.
I was privileged to have parents who believed in me and encouraged me to grow and achieve my potential. Setting up and being a part of Skills Lanka enabled me to gain valuable corporate skills as I was involved in every aspect of the business, and it gave me exposure to be able to manage in the toughest of times., especially during President Chandrika Bandaranayake’s era, where interest rates hit a peak at 25%.
After marriage I joined Lanka Orix Securities and supported my husband, mostly automating the online platform and overlooking the marketing aspects. I was already familiar with the capital markets since both my parents worked in the Stock Market in Hong Kong, which was a very dynamic market. I was quick to pick up the trade. Following some shareholder changes, the company was renamed Capital Trust Securities.
In 2010 we saw the opportunities in the real estate sector. We initiated the Real Estate arm of the Capital Trust Group and formed Capital Trust Properties (Pvt) Ltd. With the transactional arm taking off ground, we launched the development arm, Capital Trust Residencies, which has won several international awards. We pride ourselves on being the only Developer in Sri Lanka to have started and finished all three condominium projects we initiated to international standards.
What are your most memorable achievements?
Capital Trust Properties started as a Property brokering company just as the war ended. I firmly believed in the potential in the sector and I believed that this would be the sector to appreciate most when the three decades-long conflict came to an end. The market had been suppressed for too long and the pent-up demand combined with the end to the conflict had to see an uptick in the market, so, the company acquired many properties ranging from apartments, commercial properties to strategic lands.
We were also one of the first to enter the condominium space in the heart of Colombo with apartments combining our vision of quality with affordable prices. The biggest accomplishment for me was that we managed to provide world-class apartments at affordable prices, winning international awards such as the Asia Pacific Award for the Best Boutique Developer, Best Condo, Best Mid end Condo competing with the world’s top developers, like Shangri-La. Such recognition coming from international bodies reinforces our product quality which is on par with international projects, and this is something I am extremely proud of.
What were some of the challenges you had to overcome along the way to be heard and assertive in business areas that are very much male-dominated?
I am deeply passionate about my work no matter how challenging it has been and continues to be. Property Brokering for instance is not regulated,
but I was determined to maintain a very high code of ethics no matter what, and I abide by this at all times. That has enabled us to outperform many male-dominant companies. When we started the development sector, Capital Trust Residencies was determined to offer a product of value.
It was quite a challenge since labour was scarce, so we put our heart and soul into the business to make it work. Although we were worn out in the end, we learned the nitty-gritty in perfecting this industry. Despite having many leading consultants, we were totally involved, even to the extent of importing the world’s best fittings. Our total commitment and passion are the secrets of our success.
How do you define your current role and what is the legacy you want to build for yourself?
I am passionate about the Real Estate Sector and also actively involved with my husband in expanding and innovating other major subsidiaries of Capital Trust Holdings. We have faced a lot of challenges during the years, but we have always been hard working and not afraid to explore new opportunities and methods. This approach and outlook have helped us take the Group to new heights.
The Real Estate arm has turned out to be one of our successes since we moved into this sector at the right time. Our vision was to offer luxury housing at affordable prices, which we did, and this has benefited those who bought our apartments. In addition to having a home on par with projects of international standards, they have also seen their investment grow with the apartments appreciating significantly. This gives me fulfilment since all this has been achieved with a lot of hard work despite extremely challenging times.
What should companies do to give women more opportunities and why should they do so?
Companies should recruit more women to their top-tier Management and also be open to listening to them. Most of the time women’s voices are unheard or unheeded and as a result, talent is wasted since often women end up doing routine jobs dictated to them by others. I always voice my opinion if I think it benefits the company, society, and the country and this has been the secret behind my success.
What advice do you have for young women aspiring to be all they can be?
Pursue your dreams no matter what. There may be pitfalls on the way, but never give up!