A Journey that made History… – McLarens Group – Rohan De Silva and Shehara De Silva

McLarens Group, a company with a rich history of over 70 years, has grown to become one of the leading conglomerates in Sri Lanka, representing a wide range of sectors. With Maritime and Logistics at the core of its operations, the Group also has a strong presence in Petroleum and Energy, Manufacturing and Distribution, Property and Strategic Investment, and Leisure industries. Incorporated in the year 1949 by founder J.D McLaren, the company, formerly known as J.D McLaren Co. Ltd embarked on an ambitious expedition into the Shipping industry by transforming into an all-encompassing vessel agency service provider for a number of international liner shipping companies frequenting the port of Colombo. In the year 1972,. Hubert De Silva, father of Rohan De Silva, the Group’s Chairman at present, joined J.D McLaren & Co, expanding its business horizons. Following his father’s footsteps, Rohan De Silva stepped into the driving seat and continues to steer the company to unprecedented success.  

An influential entrepreneur and acknowledged business practitioner with five decades of experience in varied business activities, Rohan De Silva, since 1992, served as  Chairman/Managing Director of the McLarens Group, where he is responsible for group profitability as well as corporate development through innovation and new venture investment. In his career, he has excelled in developing new concepts with commercial viability, and he has been heavily involved in promoting large-scale foreign investments as well as the execution of new services and infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. 

Rohan pioneered the start of a new ship supply service off Sri Lanka’s southern coast, spawning a  new industry in the field of shipping in the country, as well as off-shore shipping services in the Port of Hambantota. Today a thriving industry has been created by many service providers serving vessels off the coast of Galle. Rohan also pioneered the manufacture of Polyethylene Foam insulation products in Sri Lanka, laying the groundwork for the country’s new thermal insulation sector. 

Rohan currently serves as a Director of Sri Lanka Ports Authority and  is a member of the Advisory Council to the Minister of Ports & Shipping. He is a member of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission and is also a member of the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents Advisory Committee and a Member of Expert Committee to Evaluate the Environmental Impact of the X Press Pearl Vessel Fire. Rohan also holds the title of the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia in Sri Lanka. He was named as one of LMD’s top 100 business leaders in Sri Lanka. 

Rohan Has been instrumental in rapidly growing the areas of business within the McLarens group by further expanding the range of services and continued investments within the shipping and logistics sectors and firmly positioned the company as the leading shipping agency house in the country. He lead the team to enter the petroleum services sector buy investing in bunker barges and operating them to become of the country’s leading bunker suppliers to vessels calling all ports of Sri Lanka. 

Rooted in empowerment, gender equality, and the endurance of education, Shehara De Silva,  daughter of Rohan De Silva, is the Group Managing Director of McLarens Group. One of the country’s youngest female game-changers in the shipping and maritime business, she is making ripples in both local and worldwide markets as she leads the McLarens Group. She was key in transforming the Mclarens group into a powerhouse and effectively positioning it as a premier diversified conglomerate. 

Shehara is backed by extensive formal education in cross-curricular areas of business and holds a Masters Degree in Shipping, Trade and Finance (Honors) from City University, CASS Business School in London, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics (Honors) from the London School of Economics (LSE). She is also a Chartered Member (CMILT) of The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport.. 

Her professional career began in 2002 when she worked in corporate banking at HSBC  Colombo. Her natural affinity for the shipping sector led her to work for Wan Hai Lines in  Singapore and GAC Dubai, where she mentored in liner and breakbulk shipping documentation, operations, information technology, marketing, and offshore shipping supply services. She envisioned creating an innovative brand with worldwide market diversification there. 

Thus began Shehara’s journey with the McLarens Group in 2003. Appointed as manager of Business Development she was instrumental in streamlining shared services for the group in the areas of finance, human resources, corporate planning, compliance & audit, legal, and digital transformation. Her vision of modernizing the company also saw her drive the areas of corporate social responsibility and corporate communication. By 2010, Shehara was serving on the board of over 40 subsidiaries within the McLarens Group, steering business direction and strategy. Her business superpower is developing ideas that disrupt the status quo and challenge the company and its people to think, inspire and grow. Appointed joint group managing director in 2015, and group managing director in 2021 Shehara’s focus has been on the strategic vision of the company as a whole, driving business strategy, operations, administration and new business acquisition & mergers.  

When Shehara was implementing modern business processes, she realized that her family’s values were the foundation of McLaren’s success and that new structures could not replace them. Her father and grandfather instilled in her a culture that emphasizes flexibility, loyalty, and going above and beyond the call of duty to look after the team, while implementing adequate checks and balances as the number of transactions grows. As a result, she tries to establish a balance between the two tendencies in order to encourage innovation while being profitable. 

In 2014, Shehara formed the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) in Sri Lanka and was appointed as the Founding President. Meanwhile in 2017, Shehara was appointed as the first female office-bearer in the 50-year history of the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA) – the leading voice of the shipping industry in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, in 2019 & 2020, she served as the vice-chairperson, following which she was appointed as the first female Chairperson of CASA in 2021. 

From 2016 to 2019 Shehara served as a member of the National Agenda Committee on Transport & Logistics of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Convener of the National Maritime Policy Steering Committee, was appointed as a member of the board of Caritas – SEDEC and member of the Diversity committee of the international chamber of shipping. She also served as the Advisor to the Hon Minister of Women’s & Child Affairs in March 2016. Shehara served as a board member of the national savings bank in 2018 and currently as a director of the Ceylon Shipping Corporation Ltd. (CSC) 

In recognition of her outstanding contribution to the industry, for her role in female leadership and for her vibrant personality, Shehara has won many an accolade. She was named as one of the Most Powerful Businesswomen in Sri Lanka by the Echelon magazine in 2013 and 2014, whilst WISTA Sri Lanka presented her with the ‘Personality of the Year Award’ in 2018 Shehara also won the Silver Award – under the supply chain category at the Professional Career Women Awards 2016 and for Best Corporate Leader of the Year at the Top 50 Professional and Career Women’s Awards 2020 organized by Women in Management (WIM). 

McLarens is now investigating further diversification within manufacturing into specialist products for global value chains, which may be a component in a car or other comparable sophisticated gear or devices, as Shehara continues to push for the group’s strategic change.  Aside from her confounding role, she effectively balances her life as a mother, mentor,  businesswoman, and community leader while continuing to push herself to her full potential.

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