Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Deshani Gunathilake, New York University (Stern)

Deshani Gunathilake

New York University, Stern School of Business

“Frequent traveler and foodie, product managing all parts of her life. Multi-continental.”

Hometown: Seattle, WA (I grew up in Colombo, Sri Lanka)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was a nationally ranked javelin thrower in Sri Lanka when I was 13.

Undergraduate School and Major: Lynn University (’16) – BA in Political Science, minor in International Business Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: RoadSync – Senior Manager, Product Strategy

What excites you the most about living in New York City and how do you see it enhancing your learning experience? I’m elated at the possibility of walking just a few blocks from home to get virtually any food from around the world. New York City is such a dense, rich cultural hub — I’m confident that whatever I want to learn and experience, I’ll find people and opportunities all around me. The city has a really robust startup scene and lots of companies have a location here, so most networking opportunities are just a subway ride away.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of NYU Stern’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I knew that I wanted to get into sustainable finance and to explore it through the lens of my product management background, which I discussed in my b-school applications. While I was deciding between my offers, I was stunned (in the best way) when Stern introduced EmpowHER: Career Development Program for Women in Sustainable Finance, Supported by Visa Foundation. The program description was word-for-word what I wanted to focus on during my MBA. Stern and the Center for Sustainable Business had identified this niche, put resources towards it, and assembled such a great group of mentors and advisors — I was immediately sold.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at NYU Stern? Books and podcasts have helped me learn about venture capital and impact investing, and I’ll very likely take a class on VC funding at Stern. However, I learn best through hands-on experience, and that’s exactly what the NYU Impact Investment Fund (NIIF) offers. NIIF leverages industry expertise to support student investors looking to invest in social enterprises. Students source deals, speak with founders, and conduct due diligence. Having worked at a venture-backed startup prior to Stern, I’m looking forward to participating in NIIF and seeing the other side of the coin.

What does EQ (Emotional Intelligence) mean to you and when have you seen its value in your career? To me, EQ refers to being able to understand and aptly respond to your emotions as well as the emotions of those around you — and it’s something that anyone can practice at any level. EQ always comes into play when you work with people. As a product manager, I worked with lots of people in and outside of the organization, and led many teams along the way. EQ empowers teams to disagree respectfully, problem-solve together, and work towards a shared goal. While EQ and direct authority are not mutually exclusive, I believe that leaning on EQ as a leader can create a sense of psychological safety for your team that goes beyond being respectful to each other, allowing for creativity, risk-taking, and innovation that would otherwise seem like too great of a gamble.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As the only product manager to have overseen each of RoadSync’s products during my tenure, I was in a unique position to build a direct payment solution across the RoadSync ecosystem. It delivered a 75% increase in efficiency of payments for truck drivers, who can now pay with their phone number. This product is built on industry payments infrastructure, but simplifies and streamlines several previously long and tedious workflows via automation. It was the first feature connecting RoadSync’s two key payments platforms and it demanded the involvement of almost the entire engineering team as well as a larger than usual cross-functional go-to-market team. Besides benefitting virtually every customer segment that RoadSync serves, this feature is a huge competitive differentiator for RoadSync and its partners.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? My career started in the nonprofit sector. Over the years, I learned what I enjoy doing through trial-and-error. With Fintech and product management, I found an area and a function that, together, interest and challenge me. RoadSync gave me a wonderful opportunity to work on innovative payments products for multiple customer segments within the logistics space – and to even launch two brand-new products into the market. Looking ahead, I would like to stay in Fintech, but explore new and exciting niches such as sustainable finance. I’m confident that Stern will equip me with the education and the resources that I need to do that.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I’m making my way through Fintech Founders by Agustin Rubini. If you are interested in financial technology or entrepreneurship, this is a great book to both learn about the fintech landscape as well as to hear from founders about how they established their ventures and dealt with challenges. It also examines a couple of ventures built by MBAs with the help of their programs and classmates. By covering many different companies, markets, and verticals, this book doesn’t set out to offer a ton of depth, but does provide great breadth.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into NYU Stern’s MBA program? Use every opportunity in the application to highlight a different skill, value, or experience so that the admissions team gets to know you as a person, and not just a 2D resume. The “Pick Six” Stern essay presents a very unique opportunity to highlight different parts of yourself that other applications don’t provide. Use this process to be introspective and reflect on what’s truly important to you.


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