Isuru Gunasekera gave leadership to a team responsible for successfully implementing a new human resources information system across the John Keells Group.
The scale of the challenge is evident by the sheer size of the group, which comprises over 70 distinct businesses and employs over 13,000 people. His team impressively unified multiple industry groups with deeply entrenched cultures, aligning them to a common process.
“I never wanted to get stuck in one area of business, and I’ve never turned down a challenge.”
“The implementation, possibly considered one of Asia’s most complex and comprehensive, was completed in a record 12 months,” Gunasekera says. JKH is betting on ventures in ICT, banking & insurance, leisure, retail & consumer foods, logistics, and property to be the catalysts for the group. However, the group-wide HR system was outdated.
“In a sense, human resources management was lagging behind the rest of the group in terms of efficiency and technology adoption,” Gunasekera says. The group-wide HR system upgrade was the first in ten years. The group needs to appeal to the existing diverse demographic and is conscious of the younger generations entering the workforce. It needs to shed its ‘old school’ persona so it can compete with world-class apparel manufacturers and tech companies for the best talent. “The new system will give the group a new-age feel in the way we engage with people,” Gunasekera says.
The new system is poised to address some critical challenges, he says. For one, it will keep track of all job applications across the group and maintain performance profiles of existing talent. If a vacancy arises for a specific set of skills and competencies anywhere in the group, a suitable match can be found from the existing workforce and external talent community, quickly. This was not possible earlier.
Gunasekera’s career has taken him through multiple industries and disciplines. “I never wanted to get stuck in one area of business, and I’ve never turned down a challenge,” he says. He was a research analyst at JP Morgan Chase, when in 2001 he joined JKH group’s M&A unit. He yearned for an opportunity to be involved in starting and running a business. That opportunity came when he was reassigned to start a brand new venture—John Keells Logistics. As the first employee of the company, Gunasekera was instrumental in setting up the business and was its chief executive for ten years.