I was called upon to write a tribute to Mr Loganathan on the 25th anniversary of his death which fell on 4th May 2006. As the birth centenary of Chelliah Loganathan falls on 19th September 2013, I was requested to write about him, this time by his eldest son presently domiciled in Malaysia. Is it [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Chelliah Loganathan – a colossus in the Lankan banking sector (General Manager – Bank of Ceylon from 1953 to1969)


I was called upon to write a tribute to Mr Loganathan on the 25th anniversary of his death which fell on 4th May 2006. As the birth centenary of Chelliah Loganathan falls on 19th September 2013, I was requested to write about him, this time by his eldest son presently domiciled in Malaysia.

Is it an overstatement when I say that the horoscope is a sine-qua-non for the Hindus? It is therefore obvious that Loganathan’s horoscope portended well for him who was born in Puloly, Point Pedro, in the Jaffna peninsular, and received his education at Victoria College Chullipuram, and at Hartley College Point Pedro. His tertiary education had been at Bombay where he graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree of the University of London. On returning to Sri Lanka he was one of the earliest to be recruited to the Bank of Ceylon which was established in August 1939 and was among those who were selected to be sent for training at the Central Bank of India; now called the Reserve Bank of India. He was also among the earliest to be sent to Jaffna branch in 1944, and on his return to Colombo he was made the officer in charge of current accounts at the Head Office which was then housed in the City Office Building.

During his training period at the Barclay’s Bank, London, he passed the examinations conducted by the Institute of Bankers in which he was made a Honorary Associate Member in later years. A few hiccups with the British expatriate bankers who headed Bank of Ceylon nearly brought about his resignation, but it was for his own betterment and that of the institution that he heeded good advice, which prompted him to stay on not having the foggiest dreams that he would one day head the institution.

And so it became when he was appointed as the first Ceylonese General Manager in 1953 at the young age of 39 years on the departure of the last expatriate GM A.T. Hunter, and he continued in that position for 16 years until his premature retirement in 1969.

It is no exaggeration that the bank’s achievements during his tenure of office as General Manager are unparalleled in the annals of banking in Sri Lanka. He initiated expanding the branch network by opening up branches in the near and distant suburbs thereby taking banking to the periphery while his foreign counterparts were interested in catering to the business sector in the metropolis and other provincial capitals. His was a step to mobilise more deposits and widen the bank’s clientele across the length and breadth of the island. In the sphere of international banking he was instrumental in strengthening the ties with leading banks in the U.K and other business centres with potential for foreign business thus enabling customers to transact international dealings through their indigenous bank which had by then made a mark in the banking world.

Chelliah Loganathan

Loganathan did not hesitate to negotiate bills under the Rubber/Rice agreement with China with the mediation of the Central Bank, while others were having second thoughts on the subject. For this he was termed by someone as a GM who had a sixth sense.

It was during Loganathan’s tenure as GM that the bank notched its place as the premier commercial bank of the island, and when it was nationalized in 1961, the redoubtable Queen’s Counsel at the time, H.V. Pereira agreed to continue as Chairman on condition that Loganathan was retained as GM.

The concept of Merchant Banking was first introduced to the business community of Sri Lanka by Loganathan with the opening of the Industrial and Financial Consultancy Centre under the aegis of the Bank of Ceylon.

He had his own strategies of studying men and matters, and it was told that during the heyday of the Ceylon Turf Club he would send his men not to bet but to see whether his potential borrowers were among those who frequented the weekly races. That was the banker who earned the sobriquet as the Chettiar of York Street.

He addressed several forums in the international arena and authored several publications the culmination of which was the LOGANATHAN PLAN. The book was highly acclaimed by renowned economists. His idea to present the government with a means of energizing the economy by its adoption did not see its fruition sad to say due to a lot of opposition arising from professional jealousy.
“A prophet is not without honour, save his own country.”

The limits imposed by the Bank of Ceylon Ordinance did not permit him to execute all his plans and it said that this resulted in his venturing into the hotel industry by taking over the Grand Oriental Hotel, as a subsidiary of the bank and converting a part of it to be the bank’s headqQuarters.

After his retirement from the bank, his services were obtained by the Development Finance Corporation as a Director/ General Manager. In the 1970’s he was as Advisor to the World Bank and attached to the Development Finance Companies Unit. On his return to Sri Lanka to lead a life of retirement he felt that his experience and energy should be made available to the economic development of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The creation of the Consultancy Finance and Development Ltd in 1978 and later Merchant Finance Development to meet the above need were the outcomes of Loganathan’s efforts.

An ordinary Tamil as he loved to call himself, he was a deeply religious man and was invited to become the President of the Sri Vallipura Alwar Temple Raja Gopuram building committee. He was happily married to Thilagawathy nee Sivasithamparam (incidentally whose birth centenary also falls in 2013) and was the proud father of three sons and an equal number of daughters.
He loved ballroom dancing, and in the sphere of sports he loved swimming and tennis, but his knowledge of cricket was minimal, to which is connected an anecdote. On a Monday morning some officers of the bank had gone to see the GM and opened the day’s work first by telling him about the outstanding performance of a member of the bank’s cricket team during a tournament match held over the week end. Quite pleased with the news he had asked whether the cricketer was a bowler or a batter, to which had come the rejoinder “Sir he is a better batter”. Since the word batter has now come to the cricketing lexicon Loganathan stands vindicated.
On his demise the Bank of Ceylon Staff Officers’ Association issued a fitting appreciation which among many kind sentiments made the following observations. Quote, “His administrative finesse was watched by a not so happy community of expatriate bankers …..And he was a magnanimous loser “. Unquote

Mr Loganathan’s term of service as General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon for 16 years is yet to be equalled.
Merril de Silva

(The writer was a member of the staff of BoC from 1958-1999)

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