Exploring, Engaging, Empowering – Thilanka Abeywardena, CMO Lead of SEA Emerging Markets at Microsoft and President of SLIM

An exceptional marketer, Thilanka Abeywardena, the CMO Lead of South East Asia Emerging Markets at Microsoft and Honorary President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing, holds 15 years of amicable experience in strategic marketing management specializing in the fields of IT, telecom, digitalization, and is geographically exposed widely across Asia to the Gulf. Thilanka has been a member at Sri Lanka’s National Body for Marketing, for over a decade, holding various honorary roles such as Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, and heading various national ventures. She is currently the President of the Institute and is the first woman to be elected President of SLIM. At the 6th Professional & Career Women Awards for Leadership Excellence in Marketing (Silver), she was also honored by Women in Management and International Finance Corporation (the World Bank group) in 2016.

Thilanka holds an MBA from the University of Wales, United Kingdom, a BSc Special (Hons) degree in IT, and a postgraduate diploma in marketing from CIM. She has also completed the Kellogg School of Management’s executive education program in Modern Marketing with Distinction. Moving further, she has firsthand experience building multi-country marketing teams, skills, and strategizing consumer and business-to-business marketing campaigns. As inspiring as it is, for her work in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, she has won numerous marketing awards, including the Effie, PR Awards Asia, Brand Excellence, and Manthan Awards. Regarding her exposure to emerging Asian markets, Thilanka expresses her gratitude for the experience she gained from working with cross-national teams who provided her with a wide range of ideas, opinions, and culture considering that understanding consumers from different countries and learning their preferences is a huge advantage for a marketer.

On paper, gender inequality is a long list of statistics showing the imbalance of power between men and women. In real terms, gender inequality is a major challenge on local, national, and global levels. Not only does it affect the lives of individual men and women, but the inequality between genders also stunts economic growth and hinders development. Accordingly, Thilanka speaks on the fact that the McKinsey report states Sri Lanka can add 20 billion USD to the GDP by 2025 by just improving gender equality. She goes on to say that having more women in positions of leadership is about more than just achieving gender equality in society. The economic incentive that gender equality provides is just what the country requires to boost GDP and provide better income to families, ensuring a brighter future.

When asked what inspiring advice she would offer to a young girl, Thilanka elaborates on the importance of knowing what brings pleasure to oneself and what one is passionate about and working for it. She stated, “There can be days you feel like quitting but quitting is easy, and staying is harder. Take one day at a time and do what you love.”

Thilanka discusses long-term goals as a concern during her time at SLIM. Consumers have shifted, and companies are operating in the new normalcy, making the post-pandemic world a radically different environment. As Sri Lanka’s national body for marketing, SLIM can consider the latest dynamics and has devised a three-pronged strategy aimed at guiding the country toward a knowledge-based economy. The first of these tactics is to digitally turn SLIM and assist workers in acquiring new skills necessary for the future, followed by elevating marketing careers and training marketers for future employment. Last but not least, SLIM intends to launch a national campaign to question the country’s dependent mindset and promote creativity and entrepreneurship as this is crucial as we fight the pandemic whilst also strengthening the economy. To conclude, she stated “Having a strategy is one thing. Operationalizing your strategy is everything.”

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