Always Listen to Your Dentist

    Stockholm (NordSIP) – Passion for work is a great thing. Finding the role and the organisation where you can give 110% is a fantastic feeling, and even more so when, in the fields of SRI, ESG or CSR, there is a bigger purpose to the job. When Oshni Arachchi joined Folksam as an ESG Corporate Analyst in August, we took the opportunity to look back at her career so far and talk about some life lessons learnt from losing oneself in hard work.

    “I have always felt that communities need more help from businesses, and I wanted to get involved in making it happen,” Arachchi starts, remembering the idea, that lead her onto the path of working in the field. Raised in Botswana by two Sri Lankan parents (one civil engineer, the other an accountant), who were involved in a range of businesses in Africa and Sri Lanka, this question was often discussed at the dinner table, Arachchi remembers.

    “After finishing my undergrad program, I went to Sri Lanka to explore my roots and took a ‘gap-month’, interning at the UN Development Program. Then, I started my dream master program in Lund. I studied law and the university offered a course, which looked at human rights in the context of conducting business. With the insights from having worked for the UNDP’s, then Country Director, Douglas Keh, I was even more convinced that businesses have a role to play in supporting communities and society as I had already seen that the public sector can’t do it alone.”

    “After obtaining my master which was still mostly theoretical, I wanted to acquire hands-on experience and I looked for organisations within the financial industry. I was fortunate to meet Henrik Malmsten, then on the board of the Swedish Forum for Sustainable Investments (Swesif). He recommended I talk to Ethix SRI Advisors (now ISS ESG). Thanks to him, I found the place and the people I wanted to work for and Ulrika Hasselgren, Ethix’s CEO and founder, decided to give me a chance by hiring me as an intern.”

    After this first encounter in 2012, Arachchi’s career progression at Ethix was incredibly fast. “When I started, we were around 30 people,” she remembers. “I was really fortunate to grow with the company and privileged to have the mentorship and support of Ulrika and Reinhilde Weidacher, as well as Anna Follér who was COO at the time. They saw the value of my skill set and I am grateful for that. I also admire the way these three women grew the company together, helping so many institutional investors at the same time. They were open for ideas and creative input from the team. They made it fun!”

    From intern, Arachchi became an analyst and then, engagement manager. Within 2-3 years, she was in charge of a team, which kept on growing and so were her responsibilities. “I was so proud of the team I was leading,” she says. “After we were acquired by ISS in 2015, we had a fantastic time. We updated our products and we served an ever-growing number of clients!” In 2017, Arachchi was promoted Head of Controversies and Global Norms.

    Somewhere along the line, though, without Arachchi noticing, her balance started to go off-kilter. “I didn’t realise at first that I had gone over a threshold or a tipping point,” she says. “I just wanted to do more, as there was more to do. In practice, I was managing two teams across three continents. It felt like the organisation relied on me for so many things and I was proud of it. I also didn’t want to let anyone down.”

    “One day, I complained to my dentist that my jaw hurt,” Arachchi continues. “After his examination, he told me, point-blank, that I was going to hit the wall. I couldn’t believe it, but after a second, and third opinion my dentist’s prognosis was confirmed. I finally received the explanation for other symptoms like headaches, back pains and insomnia, which I didn’t believe were connected at first. I was only 32 years old. I realised that I had to change something, but it was hard for me to simply “slow down”. Giving up on responsibilities didn’t feel like a step forward. I really had to learn how to pause and reflect on what I could do next.”

    After taking a short break over the summer, Arachchi decided to open up her horizon to opportunities outside the firm that she was so attached to. “I was very fortunate to find an opening at Folksam quite soon after I started looking,” she says. “Not only was I excited by the job description, but I also happened to bring the right skills to the table. A perfect match! This new role would enable me to go one step closer to being part of the discussion on how businesses could not only support the communities they operate in but also create value in doing so.”

    Having started at Folksam a few weeks before we sat down, Arachchi’s eyes sparkled with the joy of having joined a great team. “The Responsible Investment team does an amazing job in terms of active ownership and working to the overall goal of embedding these tenets throughout the organisation. I am surrounded by clever and competent people who really believe in what they are doing, and I am excited to be working with them every day. It feels great to see our entire company standing on the ethical and sustainability principles that I have always embraced.”

    “What brings me round to sharing this story with you, is the realisation that we don’t talk often enough about feeling pressure at work. We should know better how to identify and listen to warning signs before something serious happens. Had I not understood what was happening to me, had I not listened to my dentist, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Slowing down doesn’t mean admitting defeat. To the contrary, I learned that working differently could make it easier to obtain even better results and much more sustainably. So, this is what I would like to share with other ambitious women (or men), particularly now as we face the challenges and anxiety of 2020. Listen to yourselves, because it’s okay to pause, take stock and more importantly, to talk about it,” Arachchi concludes.

    Passion and dedication are amazing qualities and taking in the big picture can help refocus and harness your energy to achieve more.


    Picture Credits: NordSIP ©

    Aline Reichenberg Gustafsson, CFA
    Aline Reichenberg Gustafsson, CFA
    Aline Reichenberg Gustafsson, CFA is Editor-in-Chief for NordSIP and Managing Director for Big Green Tree Media. She has 18 years of experience in the asset management industry in Stockholm, London and Geneva, including as a long/short equity hedge fund portfolio manager, and buy-side analyst, but also as CFO and COO in several asset management firms. Aline holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a License in Economic Sciences from the University of Geneva.

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