Finance and people. These are the key ingredients to ensure that any business runs smoothly. 99X Technology is no stranger to this. The company recently made two top-level appointments to its core hierarchy. Sherman Gunatillake was appointed as Chief Financial Officer whilst Damitha Jayasinghe was appointed as Chief People Officer. We sat down with both Sherman and Damitha to get their view on things and to learn about what plans they have in store for 99X Technology.
The Tale of Sherman Gunatillake
Sherman began his career as an investment analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase specializing in the banking sector. He has subsequently moved into the investment banking arm of J.P. Morgan Chase where he was based in Colombo and Singapore. From there, Sherman was invited to be a part of the National Council for Economic Development (NCED) under the Ministry of Finance, which was the highest level of policy-making body of the government during 2003 to 2007.
He served as the COO of NCED. Here he got the exposure to the macro picture of the country. This experience enhanced his knowledge in the variety of sectors in the economy. He explained that through the process and the mechanism introduced by NCED, “We managed to set long term industry targets.
This was together with industry domain expertise for the key sectors of the economy. We then facilitated the industries by implementing the necessary policy changes to achieve the set targets.” With changes in the political landscape in the country, Sherman opted to move back into the private sector.
He then served as the Chief Financial Officer for Brandix Group from 2007-2013. “It was the first time that I wanted to get my hands dirty,” Sherman explained, as he spoke about being a ‘corporate guy.’ In that time, Brandix set up new factories in the Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka following the post-war period.
From there, he took the opportunity to join the Nelna Group of Companies. “What excited me was that the company was making continuous losses,” says Sherman. He said that this is a good real-life case study. One where the group turnaround and graduated to the profitability path. All within 6 months with the introduction of a new business strategy. The group continued on an accelerated growth and profitability path during the 4-year tenure of his career.
99X Technology is growing in more ways than one
As the new Chief Financial Officer of 99X Technology, Sherman has an ambitious plan for the company. Currently, the company is 7 months into the financial year of 2019. Sherman shared that already almost 70% of the revenue target set for 99X Technology has been attained. The company achieved a turnover of LKR 1 Billion for 2018. This marks the first time that 99X Technology had done so. “We will be passing the LKR 1.5 Billion mark by the end of this year and reaching the LKR 2 Billion mark by 2020”, says Sherman with utmost confidence.
“Our recurrent revenue is what drives us. 75% of our revenue is from recurrent business”, Sherman shared. Over time, customers of 99X Technology will have amplified requirements. These requirements also tend to be characteristically more complex. To cater to this, more developers are conscientiously hired to tackle these demands.
These evolving conditions have also allowed 99X Technology to expand into a contemporary new office inside Lee Hedges Tower. The new office can accommodate around 200 developers and has enough space to add 100 more by the end of 2019.
Sherman also shared that unlike other industries that were negatively impacted after the Easter Sunday Attacks, 99X Technology launched several initiatives that made them relatively immune to these effects. One example he reminisced was that the company implemented a work-from-home policy, replacing their desktops with laptops.
No matter how big or small you are, finances are key
During the period from 2005 leading up to 2015, 99X Technology went from being “just another software company” and worked diligently to establish its footprint in the industry. Following this period, the company phased into a growth stage. Fast forward to 2019, the company is achieving revenue growth of 50% YoY in 2019.
However, the revenues don’t roll in without its fair share of inputs. “People Cost”, according to Sherman, is the biggest expenditure of all. Once an employee is part of the organization, the utmost is done to ensure that they are a part of the 99X Technology ecosystem ensuring their long term retention.
“As a CFO, my primary challenge is how to value creation to all stakeholders in the company while supporting the overall growth strategy and the sustainability of the company,” Sherman shared that the biggest challenge for 99X Technology to grow is getting the right people and retaining them. Although the company will be implementing sustainable schemes to retain employees, the macro environment of the country has a bigger role to play to limit Sri Lankan brain drain to other countries.
“It’s all about the people”, says Damitha Jayasinghe
This is where Damitha’s appointment as Chief People Officer plays its part. The role of Chief People Officer is not something commonly seen in Sri Lankan companies. Damitha’s appointment as CPO of 99X Technology accentuates that the company is taking its people earnestly. “The dynamics of the modern workforce are changing. We understood that our approach to investing and building talent too should evolve. The creation of this role aims to strengthen the most important driver of our long-term success – our talented people,” remarked Mano Sekaram – Co-founder and CEO of 99X Technology
“I’ve always had a passion to discover things,” reflects Damitha. Graduating with a Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Colombo, Damitha was always on the lookout to try more things than just coding. He also took part in a number of extracurricular activities. These inculcated in him problem-solving and leadership skills.
Damitha joined CodeGen International as a software engineer. He was part of a small team responsible for a microfinance service. When his project manager left the team, Damitha took up the reigns. Basically doubling his responsibility of making sure his work and his team’s work were on point.
From managing code to managing people
Damitha’s hard work did not go unnoticed. Especially not his project management skills, which were something that even he didn’t realize he was good at. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of employees at CodeGen International increased twofold. It became apparent that having an individual who could relate to employees was vital.
The prospect of someone like Damitha with a technical background going into an HR background was an uncommon sight. He admits that he had doubts about diving into HR. Reflecting on the experience, Damitha shared, “Being early is always good. When you make a mistake, you always have time to recover.”
Understanding the Human side of Human Resources
2007 saw the establishment of an official HR Department in CodeGen International. It was a 3-man team with Damitha serving as the Head of HR. In this role, Damitha reduced the attrition rate of the company from 18% to 7% at one point and managed to have a consistent level of attrition throughout. “This came as a result of great teamwork shown by all department heads and my team. You can’t do such things single-handedly. But your leadership is essential to the point where you can spark the transformation,” said Damitha commenting on his success.
He emphasizes that the most important characteristic of a “people person” is empathy. It comes down to clear communication to connect with people. Even if you were to ask a question, the way in how it is asked can be the difference between forming a connection or just simply getting a reply.
Damitha draws inspiration from Dunbar’s Number. This is a concept that he believes can help large companies keep a strong corporate culture. It states that the number of people an individual can maintain a social relationship with is approximately 150. Beyond that, it’s somewhat a challenge.
To overcome the challenge of Dunbar’s number, small groups of people are created based on similar interests or skills. “These skills do not necessarily have to be technical ones. We used music, drama, sports, etc. to make those connections,” explained Damitha. Each of these groups is appointed a leader. These leaders are tasked with achieving goals and communicating any feedback to the management. It was by taking this concept to heart, Damitha crafted strong HR policies addressing the needs of employees.
Besides being aware of what your employees are doing, it’s also important to build a strong work culture. 99X Technology is no different. The company has won the Great Place To Work award for several consecutive years. “I came to 99X Technology because of its culture and people,” admits Damitha. But as the company grows, he believes there is room for improvement.
Knowledge is only a portion of the battle
Three things that are the foundation of Damitha’s HR strategies are “Knowledge, skills, and capabilities; these are three components. It all comes down to these three,” emphasized Damitha. Focusing on these three is how an organization can better lead its employees. By extension, this focus is what allows the employees to grow. Yet, this growth occurs only if initiated at the very beginning.
Another practice Damitha keeps a watchful eye over is selective hiring. Knowledge is essential, but what use does it have, if it cannot be applied? Hiring someone who can effortlessly blend into the company’s work structure and perform seamlessly is more favorable.
As 99X Technology grows towards hitting its target of LKR 2 Billion in 2020, there are a few challenges that Damitha faces as its new CPO. Among these challenges are hiring skilled recruits and developing existing talent. The company must also ensure that all employees have a positive atmosphere to work. But Damitha is fairly confident that he can balance these expectations and overcome them within the next 3-5 years.
99X Technology is gearing up for an exciting future
In short, having achieved a turnover of LKR 1 Billion for 2018, 99X Technology has set its sight on hitting the LKR 1.5 Billion by the end of 2019 and LKR 2 Billion by 2020 respectively. To meet these targets, 99X Technology needs to keep hiring enterprising individuals in the likes of Sherman and Damitha. One only needs to walk into their new offices to be a testament to this.
Damitha’s appointment as CPO also brings to 99X Technology years of experience in HR. These policies, coupled with the numerous Great Place To Work awards that 99X Technology has won go on to show that the company is diligently working on maintaining and improving a positive culture as the company grows.
The collaborated appointments of both Sherman and Damitha at 99X Technology will greatly benefit the company as it paces itself for accelerated growth and the promise of a bigger and better future. With its new CFO and CPO, 99X Technology is all set to keep the fire burning.