ICE Professionals' CEO on why graduates need to start at the bottom, and why entrepreneurs must not use money as the sole measure of success

Nuwanthie Samarakone talks to Henri Eliot about being an entrepreneur in New Zealand. Nuwanthie is the CEO of ICE Professionals, an innovative business which connects young graduates with career opportunities.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

I have always had the personality to be driven and lead others, therefore it’s not my life experiences but my disposition. Seeking leadership positions from high school to university have all contributed to the skills, confidence and learnings you gain. I cannot think of any specific life experiences that had led me to create my own journey and be a leader. Personally, I think to be a leader you need to have a drive to succeed, work hard, and earn people’s trust and respect along the way.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at ICE?

Like every young student, I have had my fair share of part time jobs and learnt many life skills along the way. However after I graduated from the University of Auckland I was selected on a graduate programme and it was there that there were two important graduate positions that helped direct and focus my interests. I was also exposed to some amazing senior managers who truly believed in me and supported me throughout my journey (and they still continue to do so!).

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?

Picture from ICE Professionals website. CEO Nuwanthie Samarakone -  "The life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone."

My advice is 3 things – passion, commitment and values.

Passion is something you cannot learn or purchase – it’s you and your instincts. It’s what you believe in – a key purpose or vision. You need this if you are wanting to be an entrepreneur.

The commitment is what is needed to drive the passion and that vision, and making it your mission to get it working. Being successful is not the end game – it’s about knowing that you have committed to a journey and that journey takes time, effort, energy, and sometimes failures along the way. Success today can sometimes just be a numbers game – I reckon you should remember to consider the actions and the results of what you are doing.

Values is about ensuring that when you set yourself that mission and are committed to succeeding - you hold on to your values. Personally; integrity, aspiration, responsibility and accountability are what I hold on to the most. Know you values, and live by them.

Overall, be honest with yourself as to the reasons you wish to pursue your own path in the world – it can be sometimes lonely and tiring – but if you know what you want – you just need to go and do it and give it a 110%. I believe that the greatest impact of success is always personal. It comes down to one person at a time wanting to aspire to something greater than themselves.

The only thing I will add, however, is that the life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone – you make a choice early on in the game – and your success is determined by the work you put in, and the core team around you. You need to be on a learning journey, recognizing the need to be agile.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

It helps to love what you do – so I never feel like work is a chore! However, maintaining work/ life balance can be very challenging at times especially with the pressures of the job and the travel! You have to be disciplined and know the importance of looking after yourself. To stay focused on the job and be at your peak performance, I believe, you need to eat healthy, engage in plenty of exercise and surround yourself with positive people!

A very important learning is – the art of knowing what is ‘not’ important and what not to do. If you prioritize your tasks – you can maintain that balance.    

What do you think is the biggest issue for graduates in the workplace?

For all graduates, the time leading up to university graduation and the start of a first job is often chaotic and stressful. You are trying to complete your university degree whilst dealing with the demands of job-hunting, interviewing, and facing the reality of the end of university! Some of the common themes we see across the different markets we operate from are:

  • Time-related factors
  • Professionalism in the workplace
  • A job or true calling (job versus your passion!)
  • University has not prepared you for everything
  • Finding employment isn’t always easy
  • Don’t be full of yourself or feel like you know everything!
  • Accept that you are a new graduate, you don’t know what you don’t know and we all start at the bottom of the heap – most likely in an entry level grad role.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have a long list of female leaders I admire but Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Margaret Thatcher – just to name a few. I admire them for building such successful careers in the business and political world. I reckon it’s not what you do; it’s how you do things.

Success evolves when you set higher aspirations for yourself.

Henri Eliot is CEO of Board Dynamics, a consultancy which provides strategic advice to directors and boards throughout New Zealand and Australia.