Dharshana De Silva, Assistant Group General Manager at Prima Group and Deputy General Manager at Prima Ceylon (Private) Limited, reflects on the weight of expectations that come with demanding roles. Despite the demands of his position, he remains grounded, finding solace in humility and authenticity.

With a diverse background spanning Internal Audit, Risk Management, Human Resources, Logistics, Sales & Marketing, Corporate Communications, and Business Strategy, and close to 3 decades of experience navigating various corporate entities both locally and internationally, Dharshana offers a wealth of experience and strategic insight to navigate the complex landscape of the business challenges faced today.

Having commenced his career at Ernst & Young, where he rose to head the Business Risk Services division, he transitioned to Prima Group Sri Lanka as Group Internal Auditor. Through his dedication and expertise, he ascended to his current leadership position, providing strategic direction across all facets of the business, and navigating economic fluctuations, competitive markets, and environmental concerns.

Dharshana’s influence extends beyond his corporate roles. He is a founding member and past president of the Institute of Internal Auditors Sri Lanka and currently serves as Director/Governor. He played a pivotal role in enhancing the Institute’s international reputation. Notably, he made history as the first South Asian to be elected President of the Asian Confederation of Institute of Internal Auditors (ACIIA) in 2013, a body representing over 20 countries in the Asia Pacific region. He still holds the distinction of being the only Sri Lankan ever elected to this office. In 2014, he was appointed Chairman of the inaugural Asian Awards for Internal Auditors, demonstrating his commitment to advancing professional standards beyond national borders. He was presented with a special medal of appreciation by the IIA Global President for his dedication to advocating the internal audit profession in the Asian region. In 2015, he successfully lobbied and served as Conference Chair for IIASL to host its first-ever international conference on internal audit in Sri Lanka.

A truly international-level speaker, Dharshana has addressed audiences in 24 countries across all continents, establishing himself as a sought-after speaker in the fields of internal audit and risk management and spoken at some of the most prestigious international conferences.  His expertise has earned him accolades both locally and internationally. Additionally, he is a renowned corporate trainer and played a key role in developing the communication workshop for CA Sri Lanka training over 1000 Chartered Accountants.

In addition to his corporate and professional endeavours, Dharshana’s contributions extend to advisory roles appointed by governmental bodies. He currently serves as an Advisory Committee member to the Export Development Board of Sri Lanka appointed by the Ministry of Trade. Most recently, he was appointed by the Ministry of Transport and Highways as the Co-Chairman to the ‘Steering Committee for the Development of Railway Freight Services and Logistics’ in Sri Lanka, a pivotal role in shaping the future of the country’s economy through enhanced rail infrastructure. Through his multifaceted engagements, he exemplifies leadership, innovation, and dedication to driving positive change in both business and society.

In response to probing moments of feeling overwhelmed by societal pressures to maintain a particular image, Dharshana offers a perspective deeply rooted in humility and self-awareness. He acknowledges the weight of external expectations but underscores the importance of staying true to oneself and recognizing personal limitations. For him, the key lies in maintaining perspective, and understanding that professional success should not overshadow integrity or inflate one’s ego. Even in scenarios like addressing international conferences with diverse audiences, he grounds himself with a simple yet profound mantra, reminding himself of the transient nature of each moment. This mindset empowers him to focus on the task at hand while relinquishing concerns about meeting others’ expectations, recognizing that tomorrow brings new opportunities.

“True respect is not earned solely through your titles and accomplishments. While people may admire you for them, genuine respect is garnered through how you conduct yourself in interactions with others, regardless of those titles & accomplishments.”

Moreover, Dharshana’s approach to managing his image is characterized by authenticity and integrity, rejecting the notion of constant image maintenance. Instead, he advocates for a life guided by genuine humility, where the pursuit of peace stems from staying true to oneself rather than perpetuating a facade. Through his philosophy, he navigates societal pressures with grace, finding liberation from the burdens of upholding an artificial image.

When it comes to making decisions that diverge from conventional norms, Dharshana is anchored in a steadfast commitment to ethical principles and integrity. When faced with challenging choices, he remains focused on the objectives and potential outcomes, ensuring that the path chosen aligns with what is right and yields the best possible results.

Dharshana’s commitment to integrity and ethics not only guides his decision-making but also fosters personal growth and professional development. By prioritizing ethical considerations above all else, he demonstrates a resolve that upholds the integrity of his work and contributes to the broader ethical fabric of the organizations he serves.

When highlighting his strategies for prioritizing self-care and avoiding burnout, Dharshana emphasizes the importance of having a holistic perspective on life and work. He refrains from participating in the relentless pursuit of success that characterizes the rat race mentality, preferring instead to set his own pace and objectives. He often finds himself in competition with his achievements rather than with others.

For Dharshana, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is paramount, with family, travel, health, and fitness taking precedence alongside professional responsibilities. He attributes a significant influence on his personality to his father, whose wisdom helped him eliminate jealousy and hatred from his mindset. Recognizing the effects of stress, he actively avoids situations that may contribute to a cluttered mind, opting instead for faster, smarter solutions that mitigate damaging stress. Regular exercise and breaks serve as essential components in his strategy to prevent burnout, ensuring that he maintains both physical and mental well-being.

Central to Dharshana’s self-care regimen is his passion for travel. Having explored 53 countries and counting, he views travel as an opportunity for personal growth and understanding. Through exposure to diverse cultures and perspectives, he expands his knowledge and perceptions, gaining insights that inform his personal and professional life. Dharshana credits his extensive travels with providing him with a broader understanding of global issues and fostering innovative solutions to challenges.

Dharshana’s proactive approach to self-care encompasses physical activity, mental clarity, and exploration, all aimed at avoiding burnout triggered by the demands of corporate life. By prioritizing holistic well-being and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, he ensures resilience and fulfillment in both personal and professional endeavours.

‘’Global travel continuously opens your mind and changes perceptions of what you think you know. It gives you a sense of accomplishment that is very personal. Investing in travel is investing in life experiences.”

In navigating the balance between ambition and humility, Dharshana emphasizes the significance of ego management. He believes clashes between these two aspects often arise when ego dominates the pursuit of ambitions, overshadowing humility. Drawing from personal experience, he highlights his commitment to maintaining humility alongside his ambitions. Grounded in an understanding of his skills and limitations, he embraces opportunities for learning from others, regardless of their background or expertise. For Dharshana, humility is a core value he admires in others, irrespective of their position or achievements. He stresses the importance of recognizing shared humanity and remaining grounded, regardless of success or stature. This perspective is deeply rooted in his belief that acknowledging one’s beginnings and being grateful for one’s journey is essential for maintaining humility in the face of ambition.

Dharshana’s humble approach is deeply rooted in his family upbringing, which played a pivotal role in shaping his values, especially in corporate life. His upbringing instilled in him a profound appreciation for humility as an essential trait for navigating professional responsibilities with grace and integrity. By prioritizing humility alongside his ambitions, Dharshana exemplifies a balanced approach to leadership and personal growth, firmly grounded in self-awareness and respect for others.

Reflecting on a transformative endeavour, Dharshana recalls a project that initially encountered resistance but ultimately emerged as a success. The project involved pioneering innovation in the rail cargo operation between Sri Lanka Railways and Prima, demanding a bold approach in methodology, strategy, and execution. He approached this initiative with a deep sense of commitment, recognizing its potential to benefit both his company and his country on a substantial scale. Despite facing numerous challenges and bureaucratic hurdles in embarking on a project on an unprecedented scale, he remained resolute in his determination to see it through to fruition.

This narrative exemplifies Dharshana’s exceptional ability to introduce innovative ideas and strategies within his organization, even when met with initial resistance. His unwavering determination, coupled with a clear vision and commitment to his country’s development, underscores his remarkable leadership prowess and capacity to drive meaningful change. Through his efforts, Dharshana has not only achieved significant organizational milestones but has also positioned himself as a driving force for positive economic transformation on a national scale.

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