Looking back on my “MBA on Steroids” as a JKHMT

The first JKHMT meetup

It was July last year, I was about to apply for the John Keells Management Trainee programme, after many recommendations on it by my peers and mentors. I had the page loaded up on my screen, where I was going through featured endorsements for the programme by past MTs.

An “MBA on steroids”, read one endorsement that truly stood out. In hindsight after completing the programme myself, I couldn’t have summarised the experience any better.

The past 15 months were quite the journey. I couldn’t think of a time I was more occupied. Or a time I’ve felt more rewarded, both by people and experiences. After a lengthy and rigorous selection process, interviewed by business heads and the Chairperson, I entered the programme with nothing but curiosity. Along with my fellow MTs, I was gratefully received by our amazing supervisors. Since we joined during the height of the pandemic, we were put through a virtual induction, which hinted at us of the journey of adaptability that lay ahead.

Right from my first stint, what I learned throughout this programme in various departments and businesses, was that it all boiled down to one factor. People.

At John Keells Office Automation (PVT) Ltd., I was not just looking at optimising the execution of service providers, I was putting together the arrangement that would best align the motives of the company and the external service providers.

At John Keells X, the Group’s venture capital arm, I was not simply driving applications for the startup accelerator programme, I was trying to captivate the attention of creative disruptors for a programme that would create collaborative value.

At John Keells Properties, my projects were not simply about marketing, communications, or new business development, but to understand what satisfies the needs of the target group for luxury real estate.

At Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts, my project was not only to create standards for brand quality, but to guide our people in delivering consistent service value to our clients.

At Lanka Marine Services, the Group’s bunkering arm, my learnings at the commercial department were not only to initiate a petrochemicals operation, but to work with people across the globe.

My final project at CEYLON COLD STORES PLC was not only to handle new product development, but to understand what the Sri Lankan consumer wants for excitement, indulgence, and refreshment.

After all, aren’t people what a manager fundamentally manages?

The programme, through its projects, gave me the opportunity to build these people skills in many diverse settings and contexts. The insights gained through projects in each sector enabled me to bring in a new perspective to the next sector I was placed at. As a person who believes in the power of generalists in a specialised world, I was truly grateful to have my chance to exercise lateral thinking for business problems.

A quick snap after our interim GEC presentations.

Also relating to people in a much larger sense, we were given the chance to give back to valuable causes as volunteers at the John Keells Foundation. The ability to give back to undergraduates by organising a well-received soft skills webinar series was truly gratifying as a recent graduate myself. As JKHMTs we were also given the responsibility to create a strategy for including persons with disabilities in the Group’s workforce, in line with the Group’s DE&I brand ONE JKH which focuses on increasing female participation in the workforce, ensuring inclusivity of the LGBTIQ+ community, and increasing career opportunities for persons with disabilities.  
This would be a landmark move in Sri Lanka to integrate an under-represented part of our population into the workforce.

To me, the relationships I gained in the form of mentors and friends, were the most valuable takeaway of the programme.

My mentor, assigned from the programme, made time to meet with me every month, to understand my growth needs and provided thoughtful guidance and direction to meet said growth needs. Many of my project supervisors are still in touch with me long after my stints, as mentors who I can turn to for feedback at any time. The teams I worked with in the sectors, played a vital role in my success in the programme. With each stint rotation, I was a newcomer in a new business every couple of months. They took me into their teams and provided me friendship, along with the support needed to complete my projects.

Last day with team JKX

And last but not least, the whole experience was a ton of fun. Each project allowed me access to exciting new places I hadn’t been before. From tours to Colombo’s biggest leisure project Cinnamon Life, factory visits, and tours to exclusive areas at the Colombo Port and the airport, we were given the chance to travel and experience all the Group had to offer. Together we had countless parties and had fun both in and out of work. The programme also gifted me with an amazing group of friends in the form of my fellow MTs, who were a crucial support network throughout the program.

One of the many MT excursions

All in, I consider joining the programme to be the best choice I could have made right after graduation.

I was given the opportunity to take an accelerated journey through the diverse industry verticals of Sri Lanka’s largest listed conglomerate, with the visibility and support required, in my opinion, with the best corporate culture in the country. As I step into my placement as an Assistant Brand Manager at Ceylon Cold Stores, I can look back at the journey so far with nothing but gratitude. I would recommend the programme for any aspiring learner of the corporate world.

JKHMT batches 21/22 and 22/23