“There’s Nothing Called a Gender Gap” – Gowri Rajan, Director of Sun Match

Hailing from Kandy the eldest in the family of three daughters, Gowri had to take responsibility without a choice. With the sudden passing away of her legendary father T.R.R. Rajan, Gowri had no option but to pick up the pieces and move on with life. The words of Apple CEO Tim Cook at Stanford University oration echoes in her mind “ you will never be ready for a job, you will have to learn from it as you take on the challenge “ and that’s exactly what she had to do.

Guided by her uncle, Gowri had to swim against the current in deep waters which in return helped her gain her survival instincts and bring out the entrepreneur DNA that was latent in nature. She triumphed over many of her challenges through her perseverance and ability of working with people. She highlights the words of her father on the first day she started working in the family company where she was given a desk and chair and was told  “You must earn the respect to be heard and must never command the respect.” This was the humble beginning of brand Gowri Rajan. 

Today, she is the Director of the thirty-eight-year-old company, Sun Match, where she has diversified the business from a Match Box making company to the home environment enhancement business of Soorya Incense sticks, Soorya candles and now into the disinfectant market with the brand ‘Sun’. Academically graduated with a BA, she qualified herself as a professional Marketer, then read for an MBA, and now a Doctoral candidate in Business Administration which is the grit that brand Gowri has demonstrated.

Gowri went on to create history by becoming  the first woman Governor for  Rotary Sri Lanka & Maldives during which period she took on the challenge to give hope to 3500 children in Sri Lanka who do not live to see their 1st birthday due to congenital heart disease . She was instrumental in setting up the first human heart valve bank in Sri Lanka. Thereafter she  invited  Miss World Rolene Strauss to Sri Lanka in partnership with Sri Lanka Tourism and launched a signature project “ 1 Million Tree Stories”  which now has an  agricultural partnership with UN Global compact alliance and Rain Forest Alliance company Kelani Valley Plantations. Gowri went on to be awarded as an   ‘Inspirational Woman ’ by World Bank/WIM Top 50 Women awards which is the mettle that she has demonstrated in the real world of business and service to society. 

Outlining her thoughts on these achievements, Gowri who was handpicked to sit on the Rotary global committees based out in USA, stated   “I was exposed to leadership in a voluntary organization of professionals, businessmen and businesswomen who were mostly older than me and far more successful than I was. So, to lead a group like that means I had to sharpen my leadership skills, which later helped me sharpen my business skills to apply at work. What many people forget is that serving society shapes our lives and it makes us better people. Serving has shaped my life. When one gets to this point we realize that positions do not become a priority and serving becomes a way of life

When the deadly pandemic hit in 2020, Gowri  played a pivotal role in the flagship project “ Stop the Spread” which is now a national project linked to the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, National Olympic Committee and the Sri Lanka Standards Institute that is helping the country drive to flatten the curve on the Covid-19 virus. “ We must learn to live with the virus as even after the vaccination the world will take almost five years plus to be fully vaccinated. Sun Match as a company has donated Hand washing Stations across the country to schools, Hospitals and Government entities” she voiced. 

Speaking of the successes reaped in  her professional life Gowri went on to explain how her father introduced safety wax matches to Sri Lanka, and after his untimely death, how his younger brother further diversified the business into other areas, including education and haulage which is driven by her cousin. As a businesswoman, she understood market changes during the pandemic The latest new product The Sun Hygiene range was born during the lockdown of the first wave of the COVID-19 has got strong traction on the market with its four product formats and four distinctive variants. In today’s market we must learn the skill of understanding the changing customer requirements and making organizational changes to cater to the market changes. One must be agile and fearless to pursue the entrepreneurial ventures to survive in today’s world.. 

“Latest research by Kantar Sri Lanka, said Quarter 2, 2020 saw a spike of 24% on Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) volume and then plateaued to a 17% volume increase in Q3 and Q4. The total volume had increased to Rs. 310 billion with FMCG growing by 14%,  F&B at +15%, Personal Care +12% and Home Care by +11%. A point to note is that all segments other than the last have been registering a negative growth of -3% which is the direction change that has happened and we  were ready for this change said Gowri. “We must have our ear to the ground and if we do not adapt we are left behind, ” she said. We capitalized on the trust that housewives have on the lead brand Soorya match boxes with the launch of the Sun Hygiene product range.  I also saw an opportunity during the pandemic to quickly switch to an E-commerce platform as shopping online was getting very common. Therefore, we launched Sun Online”. Research revealed later that there was a 233% growth in E Commerce in the recent past.

Speaking about bridging gender gaps in the corporate sector, Gowri exclaimed, “There is nothing called a gender gap. It’s about understanding the skill required and ensuring that people hone their skills to be relevant and engage at the place of work.  This might contribute to reducing the gender gap or even further expand the gap. Focus on the task you have to do and train yourself to be relevant to the new environment.”

In continuation, she stated on the subject about gender diversity at Sun Match: “63% of our staff are women and 12% are well over the retirement age. I come from a strong service oriented DNA, getting ideas from people irrespective of their social status or strata that they belong to at work are part of our work culture. I grew up in this culture that believes in making people included for decision making at different levels. We don’t have power distances in our company and I’m happy to state that even the Chairman of the company is only a call away if there is ever a need to reach out.”

The Sun Match factory is based in Digana, and most of the employees are rural Sri Lankan women. She said, ” Over the last five years, our staff turnover has been below 1%, and  I think there’s something right about what we do. We empower them and treat them with respect and honour.”

Gowri, who serves in international organizations, values diversity and inclusion, and does not practice gender preference due to her experience which is not confined to Sri Lanka  “We search for the best talent and we empower and give responsibility for them to enjoy the job/ experience so that the best comes out in a person. However, when it comes to private sector boards of management research reveals that organisations where females are present on the management boards the bottom line is better than its counterparts. Hence, I do share this research whenever it is appropriate. I feel the exposure the leadership gets exposed to is when we see companies becoming embraced to the concept of DEI.” 

Research has shown that women can multitask more than male counterparts. In addition, I believe that men and women have different decision-making processes, thus identifying the need for a proper balance within the organisation. She also stated that productivity increases as diversity and inclusiveness increase, which in turn has an impact on the top and bottom lines.

In conclusion, when asked about her vision for a corporate young woman, Gowri said, “Be educated. Not only a degree or an MBA, but also continuous learning. The world is undergoing radical change and therefore we must take the initiative as women and get ourselves equipped so that we are competent not only for today’s environment, but also for tomorrow.”

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