Sysco LABS’ Managing Director, Shanil Fernando Emphasizes HR’s Role in Retaining Local Talent

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Insights shared at ‘The CEO’s Perspective’ panel discussion organized by the Association of HR Professionals

Shanil Fernando, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Sysco LABS Sri Lanka, recently spoke at the ‘Employing Tomorrow’s HR Today: The CEO’s Perspective’ panel discussion organized by the Association of HR Professionals Sri Lanka (AHRP).

Shanil Fernando, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Sysco LABS Sri Lanka speaking at ‘The CEO’s Perspective’ panel discussion organized by the Association of HR Professionals. 

Representing the ICT industry, Shanil shared his insights on retaining and developing talent, unique people initiatives at Sysco LABS, and how emerging technologies like AI are transforming HR processes.

An industry veteran with more than 25 years of experience in technology and innovation, Shanil highlighted the importance of HR’s role in transforming the workplace into a sanctuary that gives employees peace of mind to do their best work. Speaking about people challenges, he focused on the local tech industry’s current issue of attrition and emphasized the necessity for crafting a sound employee engagement and retention strategy that addresses both financial and mental well-being.

L-R Fahad Farook, Bingumal Thewarathanthri (CEO, Standard Charted Bank Sri Lanka), Suren Fernando (CEO, MAS Holdings), Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson (Group CEO, Hemas Holdings), and Shanil Fernando (Co-Founder and Managing Director, Sysco LABS Sri Lanka). 

 Alluding to the present economic crisis, he said: “The country’s key industries, including technology, are experiencing significant attrition at the moment. Collectively, retaining talent has become a major challenge. The primary reason for this migration is the socioeconomic impact of the current economic crisis. In order to mitigate this, the economic situation must be addressed urgently. High public taxes will also compound the problem. The government must take the necessary steps to reduce the burden put on the private sector by introducing significant reforms to non–performing State-Owned Enterprises, avoiding public funds being used to keep loss-making SOEs afloat. Privatization or listing such enterprises on the stock exchange will allow them to be scrutinized in the same manner as a well-run private company, ensuring true transparency and accountability. As organizations, what we can do is build mechanisms that insulate employees, as much as possible, from the impact of the current economic crisis. For example, if the company is at an advantage as a FOREX generator, they can share this advantage equitably with their employees.”

Shanil emphasized the importance of transforming modern-day HR professionals into strategic business partners who are creative, innovative and able to proactively deliver solutions. Elaborating on vital steps taken at Sysco LABS, to transform its people operations to be more strategic in identifying talent needs, he said: “We are a strong, culture-oriented company. The pandemic dampened our culture efforts in the last 2 years, but we’re now focused on rejuvenating this culture and HR must be a flexible change agent that works together with other business functions to enhance the workplace experience for everyone. At Sysco LABS, every associate is allocated an HR Business Partner who will support them throughout their entire journey at the company and ensure all their needs are met. This enables us to deliver a more wholesome work experience to our associates.”

Shanil also spoke about how emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can transform the HR function, noting that AI creates opportunities for greater efficiency and more intelligent decision-making. He suggested that HR leaders must adopt AI as it gives businesses a critical edge when gauging future talent needs and understanding how to better create a compelling people experience. 

Summing up the impact of initiatives implemented at Sysco LABS, Shanil said, “Sysco LABS is impacting a Fortune 100 company and a trillion-dollar, global industry from here in Sri Lanka. Our people are our most precious resource, and we strive to make the workplace a sanctuary for all of them. We want our associates to feel supported and cared for, with our initiatives driving engagement and camaraderie reflecting that. It’s these initiatives that have enabled us to maintain a purpose-driven, world-class workspace exposing our associates to global experiences and opportunities.”  

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