A winner all the way | Sunday Observer

A winner all the way

Punch and excitement are major ingredients which Sathyani Rajapakse needs to add spice and flavour to her life. A vibrant, strikingly attractive young woman with a tremendous zest for life and great inner strength she certainly is an unconventional personality. Her out-of-the-box thinking sets her apart from the run- of -the -mill people and helps those around her gain new perspectives on life. Her zest for life and challenges is infectious. I for one certainly felt brighter after a while in her company. And these qualities have certainly helped to bring her to where she is today.

As the Tea Procurement Manager for one of the biggest multi-national companies in Sri Lanka and handling tea procurement for a similar multi-national firm Sathyani stands tall and holds her own in what is still an essentially male dominant trade in Sri Lanka.

Having completed her secondary education at Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya, Sathyani opted for the newly emerging field of biotechnology with its vast potential. This little known field with its capacity for enhancing and changing life on Earth was just what Sathyani with her penchant for delving into exciting and fascinating things was looking for. She headed for New Delhi, India to read for her degree in Biotechnology. She returned after a while and completed her degree at Spectrum, Colombo.

Armed with her degree in Biotechnology Sathyani embarked on a job hunt for a post which would give her the chance to use her knowledge, fascinate and excite her.

Initially, she took a teaching job at her mother’s request but left it to take up her present job. Soon after she started teaching, Sathyani learnt of a vacancy at the multi-national company where she is now employed and applied for it.

After a series of interviews the interviewers felt that Sathyani was better suited for the post of a tea taster than any other job involving biotechnology. So, she was recruited as a trainee tea taster. It was by accident that she entered the tea trade but now it has become her passion. Her love for her profession was very evident in the heartfelt way she spoke about it.

Sathyani was very fortunate to have had an unconventional ‘guru’ to train her. She was also blessed with strong leadership skils. She says her inspiration is her current Deputy Chairman cum Country Head. “It is his confidence in me that has led me to take on the challenges that have been thrown at me. He inspires you to take on challenges even if you fear failure. The unstinting support and guidance I get from my mentors has helped me immensely and I know that support and guidance is something I can count on always”.

Sathyani said that her training was an ongoing process as well as being a very structured one and that training is done locally as well as overseas. She also considers the experiments she does as part of her ongoing training.

For Sathyani, her integrity and dignity are of the utmost importance and she has set some stringent boundaries for herself to protect them and her professionalism.

When she reported for work initially, Sathyani found everyone including her bosses were very welcoming and ever ready to show her the ropes. She says there is absolutely no gender discrimination and that there are equal opportunities for both male and female employees. Females are not mollycoddled but guided to enhance their strengths and capabilities. They are treated as individuals with potential .

The management is interested on what is best for the company “It is how you react to any gender discrimination. It’s something the men have and we women shouldn’t make it our problem,” is Sathyani’s take on this issue.–

Tea is the focus and passion of Sathyani’s professional life and she spoke enthusiastically about it. The Sri Lankan tea industry is 150 years old and is extremely important to the country’s economy she said. The Colombo Tea Auctions are the only means of marketing tea for Sri Lanka. Unlike countries such as India, Kenya and Indonesia, Sri Lanka does not have alternative means. More than 20 different grades of tea are sold at the Auctions from three tea growing elevations which are low, mid and high and seven million kilo grams on average a week is sold.

For Sathyani and her team evaluating 12,000 lots of tea before each auction means long hours and meticulous work. They use a specific technique where several parametres have to be met to ensure uniformity in all the lots sent for tasting.(For instance, the water used for brewing tea from all the lots has to have the same temperature). For the tasting all your senses must be alert said Sathyani. The tea tasters taste different varieties by slurping them and check for aroma, taste. colour, viscosity, infusion and several other parameters which are essential for that perfect cuppa. The tea should be slurped into the mouth in a manner so that the maximum intake of oxygen is allowed inside the mouth as it is this oxygen that enables the reaction of polyphenols in the tea to react to enhance its taste and aroma.“A good cup of tea is a party in the mouth,” she said

All observations are noted in a catalogue which is sent with the tea samples and armed with this Sathyani and her team would go to the Colombo Tea Auctions to buy the required tea.It is an amazingly competitive place and people have called the Auctions a ‘war’. Evaluating and buying is a tremendous responsibility which has fallen on Sathyani’s young shoulders but she has risen to the occasion with much professionalism.“I absolutely look forward to meeting the challenges in my job “said Sathyani.

Her job entails travelling and this has given her the necessary exposure to the international tea trade.

Sathyani has recently taken up a challenging new project for her company - that of buying tea for another multi-national conglomerate.

Imagine, working for 50 weeks of the year! This is exactly what Sathyani does! She gets time off only at Sinhala and Tamil New Year and Christmas.

Long working hours are a part of Sathyani’s life but balancing her professional and personal life is very important for her and she handles both with dexterity. Very much a family person, she tries to spend as much quality time as she can with her family and relatives. Two nephews and a little niece are the stars in her family firmament. “Everything revolves around them”she laughed. She also makes time for her friends despite her busy schedule. To have time for family and friends Sathyani ensures that her Saturday afternoons and Sundays are free. Sundays are strictly family days for her.

Religion plays a major part in Sathyani’s life and gives her the strength to face anything in life.” “It is God’s love and grace that has brought me to where I am and I want to live my life in a way it says to the world of God’s love and mercy. Basically I want my life to speak about God’s glory and love for us”.

For relaxation Sathyani watches movies, bakes a little, reads and hangs out with family and friends. She also enjoys travelling. She reads as she likes to gather knowledge and now uses YouTube and other such devices to mostly to gather information.

Being tastefull, well groomed is very important to Sathyani and she follows trends only if it suits her. She loves shoes and spends a sizeable amount on them.

Her cuppa must be just right for this young lady whose passion is tea .Only my mom can make it just so, she said. When she is travelling there are times she does not drink tea at all for then the brew she gets is just not her cuppa.

We asked Sathyani about the Sri Lankan tea industry. “Tea is the second largest beverage that is globally consumed after water. The Sri Lankan tea industry has a history of 150 years and it is one trade that kept the country’s economy going even during the 30 years of war and truly is ‘A trade that made a nation’. However, the tea industry has not changed that much. There is more importing of other teas like the Darjeelings, Kenyans and Indian teas. Blending and tea packaging is more updated. There is also improved machinery and methods but on the whole the industry has not changed much she said.

Sathyani’s advice to youth aspiring to enter her profession is, have a passion for it, be motivated – and always be a self-pusher as if you don’t push yourself no one else would. It is also important to be willing to explore and be enthusiastic about it.

Good luck Sathyani – may you be a winner always!