Ishani Ratnayake

Ishani Raynayake Reaps the Value of Real-World Experience

2nd Year MBA Student

 Ishani Ratnayake, a highly dynamic and driven individual, is currently in her 2nd year of Master’s in Business Administration, at The Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Pursuing an unorthodox dual major in finance and supply chain, Ishani has taken the best from both fields to stand out as a strikingly analytical business leader. In an interview recently conducted with her, Ishani humbly recounts her experiences at Whitman, and how this environment of partnership has prepared her for success in her primary field of supply chain management:

 “Two of the main reasons I chose Whitman, was the alumni and the faculty. Before I came here, I had no idea what field I wanted to get into. In my first year, the diversified curriculum provided me with the breadth of business knowledge. My esteemed professors and alumni were able to shine some light on the respective fields that they excelled in. I also audited several courses in my first year such as Accounting.  The course ‘IT for Decision Support’ sparked my interest in excel. By the time I reached second year, I knew exactly what field I wanted to deep-dive and refine my skills in.”

Whitman has a very international environment. How has being surrounded by this diversity changed your perspective towards working in global business and help advance your career?

“Any environment that promotes diversity molds you into an individual who is more and more at ease working with different people with different set of ideas. Having been at Whitman for over a year, I am more confident about my communication skills and ability to convey messages effectively to an assorted audience.”

Textbooks are just one of many sources of knowledge.  Experiential Learning is integral to a well-rounded business education. Describe how experiential learning, or practical application of classroom topics you’ve gained through Whitman have transformed you into a more confident business leader?

 “For several of the courses, I am currently engaged in real work with a company. For example, for Lean Six Sigma, I’m working with Cooper Crouse Hinds, in understanding one of their pricing processes, and reducing the cycle time for this process. The benefit of working outside the classroom is that we get hands on experience in the field and learn a lot from the mistakes of the various companies. A good brand like Cooper Crouse Hinds, which is known globally, also gives you the necessary edge to be recognized as a confident business leader. Experiential learning helps to bridge the gap between what is taught in the classroom, and what goes on in the business world outside.”

It’s great to be that person who does what they love and loves what they do. Tell us how you have incorporated passion into your career path.

“As a numbers oriented person, the field of supply chain management incorporates all the knowledge I have gained over the course of my professional life. Whitman helped me discover my niche in the job market. I followed up on that, and gained expertise through professional certifications like APICS. Finance helped me hone my analytical skills. So for me, mastery precedes passion. As I get better and better at something, my sense of passion grows.”

“Digital”, “Business Analytics” and “Social Media” are a few of the new buzzwords in business. How has the Whitman MBA curriculum prepared you for the fast pace of change in the world of business?

“The curriculum at Whitman requires you to be updated about what’s happening in the professional world. For subjects like Corporate Finance, it is imperative to read the Wall Street Journal. As mentioned earlier, the experiential learning which takes place by working with companies outside the classroom keeps us informed about the latest professional practices in the world of business.”          

What role have clubs and student organizations played in your professional development at Whitman?

“I opted to be a part of the consulting club at Whitman, and was working on a year-long project for The Sheraton. I found this opportunity to be extremely valuable to me because I gained an American experience in the field of supply chain. We were given the task to cut down on Sheraton’s costs on the free transportation service from the airport to the hotel. Sheraton hadn’t maintained any records of this service; we had to collect all the data, analyze it, and provide solutions. Working with The Sheraton, a globally recognized brand, was a great resume builder. Moreover, this project proved to be a solid talking point while I was applying for summer internships.”

Which company did you intern with in the summer? Highlight your main takeaways from this internship.

“I interned with Bristol Myers-Squibb, a global pharmaceutical company. I had to automate the cryogenics process they used to preserve their products. This process was very important as the biological products were highly perishable and very expensive. Initially, all they used was a whiteboard for their scheduling process. I set out to tackle the problem using Excel and Microsoft Project, but when I realized the variables were too many, I had to learn Visual Basic programming language to make my model more dynamic. Even now I am using Visual Basic, in the experiential project for Corporate Finance. I was advised by Dean Harter throughout and he helped me create milestones for every stage of the project. At the end of it, I was confident of my ability to learn and deliver value even in an unfamiliar situation.”

Name and elaborate upon 3 courses in your field of study that you have greatly benefited from.

“I would highly recommend Principals of Management Science, because I was very comfortable working with excel after this course. It helped me a lot in solving real world problems during my internship. Additionally, Professor Webster, who taught this course, but is no longer at Whitman, was a great resource and very knowledgeable in his field.

I am also currently taking Lean Six Sigma. Throughout the course you are working with a real client, tackling real world problems and meeting tight deadlines. You are in the midst of a high energy environment to keep you motivated to deliver quality work.

Corporate Finance definitely makes the list. Finance and supply chain are synergetic in the manner that both develop an analytical frame of mind. Also, as an international student, finance taught through an American perspective, proves highly beneficial for general knowledge of how things work.”

Describe one eye-opening epiphany you have had at Whitman.

“I have spoken to many Whitman supply chain alumni, and the one thing they have told me is that if they could go back to do their MBA, they would focus on finance more. I think the decision to take up finance has been pivotal, in that it has helped me develop a different sense of creativity and perspective when looking at data and making sense of it.”

Have you taken up any professional certification courses outside of the curriculum at Whitman? How do you think it has benefited you?  

“I am in the process of completing an APICS certification in supply chain management. If you look at job descriptions, a professional certification always gives you leverage. Even at the internship at Bristol Myers- Squibb, every person in the supply chain department had a supply chain certification. I think you cannot just stop with the MBA, but you always need to go one step further, to be a competitive business leader when you enter the job market.”

Whitman provides many resources to create a network of peers, professionals, and alumni. In what way did you go about utilizing these opportunities? 

“The Career Centre at Whitman has always guided me with a personal touch. They know my story, and my ambitions. I have constantly been in touch Angela Petrucco, Assistant Dean of Whitman Career Services, who despite her busy schedule, always makes time to provide advice.

I have also made use of the groups on LinkedIn like CuseConnect to connect with Whitman alumni. Events like the Salzburg program for supply chain have provided me with additional opportunities to seek out insight from top professionals in the field of supply chain management. In fact, the internship that I landed in the summer with Bristol Myers- Squibb, took place through a formal application as well as a referral by a Whitman alumnus.”

Who is your role model?

“Through different phases of my career, I have had different role models. Anyone who knows more than me, and from whom I have an opportunity to learn, is my role model. For example, at the Bristol Myers- Squibb internship, my role model was the planning manager, Jeff Axline. At Whitman, Professor Webster explained to me how my dual major in supply chain and finance would set me apart, and he was my role model at this stage of my professional development.”

In today’s world, brands rule. What would your brand tagline be? Personal or business?  Both?  Either?

“I would say my brand tagline would be ‘Open to Experience’. This phrase represents me personally as well as on a business level. I have done so many things out of my comfort zone that even if you were to send a problem my way, completely out of my area of expertise, I would find a way to solve it.”

Share a pivotal story from your life that influenced you to come to Whitman.

“I had gotten an offer from iSchool- The School of Information Studies, Syracuse University. However, because of my background as a Business Analyst for WSO2 I decided to do an MBA at Whitman. Also, an MBA would help me have a broader range of prospective career paths.”  

Tags: Student