“Ichi-go Ichi-e” (one opportunity, one encounter) – this Zen-inspired philosophy asks us to extract the most out of every interaction we have. It is the antithesis to boredom and the antidote to time lost – because it requires us to appreciate the value of each encounter. Each one is unique (even if it is something we do all the time). And so, in this notion, Ana Senanayake, Group Managing Director of Lanka Shipping and Logistics practises this adage in his life and his business meetings, where he attempts to remain as focused as possible. 

Despite being born in the United Kingdom, Ana spent the majority of his life in Dubai before returning to the UK for further studies. He graduated from Warwick Business School with a BSc in Management Science. Subsequently, he worked in Investment Banking for six years after graduating, representing Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and The Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK and Singapore. In May 2013, he returned to the family business, Lanka Shipping & Logistics. Apart from his current role, he is also a Chartered Member of The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and a Member of the Institute of Chartered Ship Brokers (MICS) (CMILT). Ana’s commitment to the sector was recognized when he was named “The Maritime Standard – Young Person in Shipping – 2019” at the annual Awards ceremony in Dubai. How formidable is that!

One may not think of Napoleon Bonaparte as a logistician. But his hypothesis that “an army marches on its stomach”—that is, keeping forces well-provisioned is fundamental to success in war—launched logistics as a field of military concentration. Without efficient logistics, a business cannot win the profitability war. That being said, it is no surprise that Ana ventured into the logistics industry. Delving deep behind the backstory, Ana recalls that in 2013, while working at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore, his father approached him and asked if he would accompany him on his escapade. His father founded Lanka Shipping & Logistics in 2010 in a highly volatile market, but he had always envisioned himself as a significant player in the logistics industry. Despite Ana’s lack of experience in the sector, he decided to commit himself. As they say, “the rest is history,” as he confirms, “Shipping and Logistics is very much a people’s business, and I enjoy meeting individuals and attempting to solve their supply chain difficulties.”

It is tempting to react to the latest issue and manage today’s complex, uncertain, and fast-paced business environment. However, in addition to responding to the current situation, the best leaders can create something new. What often separates the best leaders is their ability to be visionary and creative, not just vigilant and reactive. Rather than react to situations and manage what is, visionary leaders—ones who bring broader awareness and ability to show up with a sense of humanity—focus on creating what is not, but what should be, in service of a greater purpose. Questioning Ana on what personality traits make him a good leader, he pointed out, “I am a good listener, which allows me to hear the views of all my staff.” By doing so, he is able to make strategic judgments based on their advice and ideas. Consequently, he feels that a good leader must not be afraid to make decisions, and this is one of his strong characteristics, affirming, “I trust in my ability to make a decision and adhere to it. I also give my employees the authority to make decisions and back them up, even if they get it wrong.”

Ana’s assessment of the most considerable difficulties confronting the logistics industry today is as follows: “The entire world is talking about freight rates skyrocketing. It’s all about supply and demand.” Recognizing this fact, more consumers are working from home and purchasing an increasing number of things online. This has increased demand. Furthermore, Covid 19 has impeded supply chains all across the world.

Similarly, he stated that most ports are still not operating at full capacity, resulting in supply-side restrictions due to the demand boom, which has resulted in a freight rate imbalance. According to him, the freight pricing disparity will persist for at least another year. He noted that one of the positives of the Covid-19 pandemic, like with most sectors, is that new technology innovations have been accelerated. Customs, ports, shipping lines, truckers, warehouses, and other entities are now seamlessly communicating, which was not the case previously. Customers will track their shipments in real-time, and services and prices will be more transparent.

Odysseus had one to whom he entrusted the safeguarding of his son while the hero went on his peripatetic way. Oprah is one, and if you’ve ever had one, you probably know the good that they can do. Mentors, that is. Guiding other individuals’ knowledge and experiences to nurture their promise through mentoring is intrinsic to leading and a critical element in a leader’s development. In this context, questioning Ana if mentorship is critical, he commented, “Absolutely yes. The definition of mentorship says it all. An effective mentor will explain the mistakes so that you don’t have to go through them yourself.” He elaborated that Deepal Sooriyaarachchi, the Chairman of Lanka Shipping, is a great advocate of mentorship. He guides and mentors a lot of the company’s key staff, affirming, “Mentorships create our next generation of leaders.”

Ambitious professionals often spend a substantial amount of time thinking about strategies that will help them achieve greater levels of success. In this precise context, Ana strives to contribute to his own development, although he has his own set of flaws that he continues to work on. Shipping, as he puts it, has many diverse aspects and accordingly, he will learn how to manage his time better as his company seeks new prospects and diversifies into sectors apart from shipping and logistics.