Entrepreneurial Spirit: ICE Professional founder and CEO, Nuwanthie Samarakone

Nuwanthie Samarakone. Picture / Supplied

There’s no denying Nuwanthie Samarakone is a bright spark. After graduating at the University of Auckland almost 10 years ago, Nuwanthie’s light bulb moment came when she thought to connect new graduates with organisations who were looking to reimagine their people strategies. And so ICE was born.

Developed with the workplace of the future in mind, ICE has since grown to encompass bases across South East Asia, with EMEA next on her list.

Viva chatted to Nuwanthie about her entrepreneurial success, her experience on the board of the Auckland ICT Graduate School, and why the future of the IT sector is female.

How did your time at the University of Auckland help shape your career?
I graduated from the University of Auckland 10 years ago – how time flies. After a stint in pre-med I realised it was not for me, so I went in to health management. I worked in the health sector across New Zealand, before spotting an opportunity to set up ICE seven years ago. The journey that followed has come with some serious lessons and some fantastic successes – and is one I would never trade off. I envisioned ICE to be an avenue to inspire, create and engage a cohesive relationship between individuals and organisations.

Where did the inspiration for ICE come from?
The business model came from my own journey as a graduate and working through a graduate programme at the University of Auckland. I realised there were a few things at play – the intergenerational workforce coming together and what that would mean for organisations, and complex disruptors that will hit the world of work. I figured I'd rather be a part of the solution and not simply part of the conversation.

ICE has a strong focus on the future and the next generation of talent. Why was this important to you?
The workforce of the future is already here and that drives home the motivation behind what I do with ICE. We want to ensure organisations are thinking about their workforce not just long-term but even in the next 2 – 3 years. I believe it's so important that an organisation's people strategies are aligned with their business strategies.

What are some takeaway thoughts from your time at the University of Auckland?
It made me more accountable and aware that success in my degree was largely driven by me and my willingness to learn new things. The skills you learn are largely transferrable. During your study you don't really think about it too much, but when you hit the workplace you realize that research and evaluation, critical thinking, analysis, project and operational management come into play.

You're a foundation member of the board of the Auckland ICT Graduate School, what have you observed during this time?
As a member of the board, I have the opportunity to support not only the students and the various organisations that we engage with – but also help formulate and build the Auckland ICT Graduate School brand. We've found the interns of the ICT Graduate School Internship Programme value the ability to be able to put the theory and skills they learn from these courses into practical environments with real work experiences and projects. In doing so, interns feel as though they are able to develop a learning mind-set and apply this logically and cohesively with their work.

Why do you feel females are underrepresented in the ICT sector? How would you like to see common misconceptions around the industry change to engage women to study ICT?
I believe the lack of female representation within the IT sector begins at the early stages of a woman's development with education in the classroom. A plethora of continuous gender stereotypes regarding strictly male and female professions often seen as the "pinkification" of women sees them directed towards consistently well-represented areas like arts, teaching and nursing. We can certainly change the misconceptions of IT as being a male-centric sector filled with the aptly named "brogrammers" by highlighting the great achievements of women within the sector. Concurrently, we can further support those women already in the industry with professional development and other opportunities to advance.

What qualities do you look out for when hiring a new graduate?
We look far beyond the methodical approach to analysing a graduate based on metrics and facts layered across a standard CV. Now, we place more emphasis on evaluating a graduate's "human skills" – the skills that enable them to interact effectively and harmoniously with others. We believe those who demonstrate strong human skill attributes fall under a high potential category that make them prime talent for leadership positions.

What has been the best business advice you've been given?
Build a business that you are most passionate about, it will continue to be rewarding and yet challenging. Your people are your greatest asset (clichéd but true). I know I would not be here without the amazing team that continue to lead the charge across the markets we operate in. Give back when you can, which is something on the ICE agenda for 2019.

• For more information, visit Ictgraduateschool.ac.nz

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