Raj Pragasam has decades of experience working in a number of countries across the world. His roles include advising startups and being heavily involved with a number of charitable initiatives globally, particularly a few in Sri Lanka.
You are originally from the UK but you were at Compass Group North America for over 16 years. You mentioned that every young person should work intentionally, particularly in the United States. Why is that? How did you make that transition?
I was born in Sri Lanka, then moved to the UK during my teenage years for school and eventually landed a job at Compass Group PLC. After working in the UK for 21 years, I had the opportunity to transfer to the North American division as a Senior Executive while being based there. My thought process behind taking this leap of faith was the strong economic performance of the US as well as ample educational and employment opportunities for myself and children. Based on my own experience I would strongly recommend young professionals to seriously consider international sabbaticals or transfers to broaden their horizons. Not only for professional aptitude but to expand your knowledge culturally, socially and politically.
You mentioned that it was difficult for you at times balancing family life with work – what advice would you give younger folks about this? Is this just a rite of passage in your career journey or would you do things differently if you were to do it all over again?
First, you have to get your family on board in terms of what to expect so that they can be better prepared for the transition and the way of life (important considering we were moving continents). Secondly, you had to be willing to adapt to the new culture and its values. My mantra for work-life balance was that my family came first, but this didn’t mean I neglected my professional responsibilities. You just have to be better at prioritizing and scheduling your time. There is a temptation as a young person to priortize work over other aspects of your life. But there is a real risk of having regrets including relationship failtures, health issues, etc. Life at the end of the day, is a journey of seasons, so you just have to take things in stride as they happen and enjoy the ride.
You talked about the need to have more diversity in the C-suite and board level – what do you think needs to be done for this to happen?
Instead of diversity, I prefer to call it inclusion. I believe that business organizations could have glass ceilings on senior office appointments by way of history and practice. One way of breaking the barrier is to stand out and work out which is what I did. Fit in but stand out. Once you get in, you can help others up. If you become part of the leadership team, you have an opporutnity to influence their long-term thinking because you’re now at the table.