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28th June 1998

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Pramukha banks on new style


* Born October 28, 1947 in Panadura.
* Education at S. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia.
* Left school in 1965 at 16 plus to become an Engineering apprentice (one year).
* Joined Bank of Ceylon as junior clerk at 18, on a salary of Rs. 212 on April 1, 1966.
* Completed all parts of Chartered Institute of Bankers, U.K. by 1969 and was placed 12th in the world in the final examination.
* In the same year he married Shirani whom he knew from childhood.
* When he left BOC he was Assistant Manager, Panadura branch.
* Joined the HNB in 1973 as Manager, Gampola branch.
* Joined Commercial Bank and was the Manager of Jaffna branch in 1978-1979.
* Joined European Asia Bank (the present Deutsche bank) as the Chief Local Executive in 1980 to set up the bank here.
* Joined British Bank of Middle East in Dubai as facilities controller.
* Joined Union Bank of the Middle East.
* Came back to Sri Lanka in 1987 to join the Seylan Bank.
* Served as General Manager until leaving them in 1996 to start Pramukha.

It's easy to live on a salary for a life-time or to live on what your, ancestors left you. But the real achievement is to build on your own and to dream the daring. Of course, it could mean a lot of risks and enemies. And it's not everyones dream to set up his own Bank. But Rohan Perera dreamt exactly that. Clutching on to a wealth of experience of over 32 years in a wide array of banking activities, both locally and internationally, a firm belief and self-confidence he seems to be shaking more than just hands of many a tycoon. For a man who started his career as a junior bank clerk and now runs his own bank Rohan's endeavours could have only spelt success.

By Priyantha Gamage

Q: I understand that you quit your former employer, Seylan Bank at a time when you were offered an elevated position of Manager - International Operations and that too after nine years with them from commencement of the Bank. Was there any particular reason?

A: I was the General Manager of Seylan Bank for nine years and I feel that possibly I contributed very significantly to its growth from scratch to ninety branches country-wide. And at that stage I perceived that the ownership of the bank and perhaps the board preferred a different management style to what had worked for nine years. That's the reason I left.

Q: I gather that you had to face a lot of difficulties initially at the setting up or this enterprise.

A: Oh, yes, as you'd expect starting a new venture, particularly a bank, and specially with about 125 of my colleagues who joined me to start this even before we had our license (they had that much confidence) there was much opposition.

Q: Has the opposition finally ended?

A: I won't say the opposition has ended. But I have no rows or any bitter feelings about opposition because how I look at it is that, people oppose only when they fear.

Fear brings about attack. Even an animal would bark or bite because of fear. And, personally, I don't hold grudges against those who oppose.

I don't hold grudges against those who sometimes tend to make use of legal forces to block us. Because as long as you know that you're doing the right thing, as long as you're doing it the right way, I don't think you need to fear.

And if we also opposed in return it would indicate that we too, fear.

I say I am without fear not because I am extra-bold but as I said earlier because I feel that if you do something which you think is right and if you think you are doing it the right way you don't need to fear.

So, we are really not unnecessarily overwrought by attack or by various blocks which are put in our way. We are used to that now.

Q: Is litigation still going on?

A: Well, yes, Those things are there. But they will take their time. They will take their course. It doesn't worry me very much.

Q: Was it your dream to set up your own bank?

A: Well, I had absolutely no such intention until August 1996. And then particularly I must say some of my colleagues who worked with me requested me to set up a new bank.

It was too gigantic a task to think of at first. But they had such faith and they were so certain we could do it that I thought why not?

If we had the skills, the goodwill of the public, faith of shareholders who raised the capital.

Q: How has the public responded?

A: You must bear in mind that we still haven't gone public on a public share issue. But, by private circulation we have raised a substantial amount of capital of nearly Rs. 240 million whilst the required amount was only Rs. 100 million, within a very short period.

That itself signifies a tremendous public confidence on the part of shareholders. It was truly encouraging to see that at a time when the share market is having a bear run, when people say that the economy is having a down-turn, when share prices themselves are collapsing, that share holders were prepared to put in that much money into the bank.

And since we started our bank on July 17 last year we have been truly surprised at the growth of our deposits. An extremely good growth.

I am very happy with the way it is growing. And we are very happy with the way we have opened accounts for customers. We have nearly 5000 accounts already.

Q: Any particular reason as to why your Bank is known as 'Pramukha'?

A: We had the distinction of being the first specialised bank to start under the Banking Amendment Act. That Act registered certain existing specialised banks but we were the first new bank to start as one.

And that is the reason I call this bank 'Pramukha' meaning the 'first'.

Q: When did 'Pramukha Bank' officially kick off in business?

A: We opened on July 17, 1997. I think it must be a record that we got our license on July 17, '97 at 10 a.m. and we opened the bank at 1 pm.

That would give you an indication as to how we get about our work.

Q: When did the other companies of the Pramukha group commence business?

A: Pramukha Management and Financial Services Ltd., opened for business in late March 1997. The other Pramukha companies also started business in 1997, before the bank.

And we are very keen and particular that Pramukha group companies should be strictly independent of our bank.

Q: What makes you tick?

A: Well, its a belief in a God of righteousness, a lot of faith in my directors and my colleagues and a lot of happiness at the enormous support offered by members of the public.

Q: What is your ultimate objective?

A: Well, the ultimate objective is to develop a specialised bank which will have some means for the overall development of our country and develop our other companies so that they stand as examples of good ethical business houses.

Sure, they'd aim at profits, but they would not aim only at profits. They'd aim at providing good service, good customer relationships and high professional standards.

Q: Does your bank plan to tread on the same paths of existing banks and conventional banking or do you dare to be different?

A: We don't hope to travel on the same beaten track. We are hoping to have a different approach because we feel that the time is right for a different approach. And whatever we do we'll be doing in consultation with the Central Bank.

And as the first new specialised bank opened, we aim to do everything that a specialised bank was meant to do within the Banking Amendment Act, particularly develop new saving instruments for short and long term, bringing a new dimesion to Savings Accounts for the public of the country by giving better terms, better services and new ideas. And also on the development lending side we are planning to take banking to the grassroots levels.

We are already constructed the 'Pramuka Village Centre' at Rukmale in the Gampaha district. We are hoping to start it soon. In fact we have drawn all our blueprints to take banking to grassroot levels but we're waiting for the Central Bank to give us the green light to appoint Banking Agents which would be a very big necessity for a specialised bank in taking banking to grassroot levels.

And we have developed quite a lot of new savings instruments and systems like the 'Flex Account' we have and the Pramuka Bond 2001, Fixed Flex Account 'Mihri Accounts' for children and the 'Mihiri Family Bond'.

Q: What are your branching out plans?

A: Well, we are planning to open branches but we don't plan to open a large number of branches across the country. Our aim is to have more sales offices and to aim at 'Virtual Banking Situations' where people could bank through our sales offices using the information technology in our bank.

We are fully computerised. We have tele-banking where you can do banking by phone plus we have our ATM (Automatic Teller Machines). But we are hoping to develop on those and we are also planning to have a network of bank agents.

Q: Mr Perera, Dr. N. M. Perera actually got the public involved in banking by his Budget proposals?

A: Banking has come a long way. But still we come across many a talented youth who is unable to use his talents due to lack of finance.

Future potentials and personal talents are still not bankable in this country.

Q: Do you intend doing anything about it?

A: Well, we do intend and we wish to, and I think it's a very important area for specialised bank to be involved in Venture Capital.

But unfortunately we have to work within the regulatory framework. And right now almost all the restrictions which apply to commercial banks apply to specialised banks. Specialised banks come under the same liquidity ratios, same capital adequacy ratios, and same restrictions on investments.

Now this is an area which needs very close attention by the regulatory authorities at planning where they should ask why are the specialised banks necessary? And I think specialised banks are necessary precisely for what you said that specialised banks should be engaged in Venture Capital.

I fully agree with you. And I do hope that the persons who are in anthority will decide on this and will see the need for regulations which would help the country to achieve its ultimate goal.

Q: What do you think about the present infrastructure?

A: Well, you have seen a drop in our interest rates, perhaps not as much as some may like whilst on the other hand we may have those who were depending on interest on their savings mourning that the interest rates have come down too much.

But I think the Central Bank is playing a role in bringing about order into interest rates. And I think we should appreciate the work the Economists and the management there have done in reducing our interest rates to reasonable levels.

But I don't know whether we could aim at further reductions. I think the Central Bank is looking into those and I think they are doing a very good job on that.

Q: Do You think the present structure is beneficial for the economy?

A: I think so, given the very high interest rates we had in the past I think we have brought about a reduction and the Central Bank has had inflation in check that all in all I think the Economic planners have done a good job where interest rates and inflation are concerned.

Q: Do you welcome any further moves to reduce interest rates or do you think that this is the optimum-level

A: Well I cannot say that I would welcome. I think given the situation in our country and the prospects of various currency fluctuations you have to take an overall view of things given the fact that the CB will want to contain inflation at the same time to promote development, at the same time to promote savings levels.

I think the present interest rates are about right for our times.

Q: What do you think about the general economic conditions of the country?

A: The economic indicators suggest that we have had a growth. But what I'd like to see is a corresponding growth in employment levels.

Because I think that we have a great duty to see that we create enough jobs for all the youngsters who are coming into the job market. So if you speak of the economy, I'd also look at the employment levels. So I am hoping that our economy would be such that we will be able to create more employment, particularly for our youth. But you know that our economy has to be viewed in the light of the on-going war and given the destruction we have seen by various terrorist forces and given the bitter war that is being fought, could you expect us to do much better. So, I think we are doing as good as it could be expected. So that it's important for us to see whether this war could be sorted out?

Q: On the other hand, although there is a growth on paper we hear from various quarters that it is not a growth people have felt?

A: I've also heard many people say that. That is why I said that when we have a growth we should also make sure that growth is accompanied by higher employment levels.

Because in a country like ours or for that matter even in a developed country employment matters. And I think when we look at growth and when we planned for growth we should take great care that there is employment created with that growth. It's a key thing.

Q: How do you see the future of your own industry, banking?

A: I think worldwide banks are growing. It's not going to be easy. We have to contend with various factors when you look at the growth of banking.

But nevertheless, I am hoping that the specialised banks particularly would play a key role in development. And that opportunity would be given to play that role. I am hopeful that we have a role to play and that we will be able to play that role and that the banks that are there will be shouldering their responsibilities very well.


Good relations at work place

Nestle' Lanka Limited Human Resources Development Manager Sarath N. Jayasinghe, in an exclusive interview said an employee should be treated as an equal part in the work place. Excerpts of the interview with Deepal V. Perera.

First we have a wrong impression of Industrial Relations that is the relationship about a legal contract between the employee and the employer. In this case one's mind will be narrowed to do only what is ordered to do and not anything beyond. And it would result in lower productivity

On the other hand the employee relation is a core word in productivity. "Here we try to tap the best potential from the employee". That is the employee is given an opportunity to participate in the managerial decision making activity. Everybody is capable of coming out with something unique.

The classic example we can take is that in a particular company we had a problem of cutting down the cost of operating the boiler. This was discussed with the employees and one employee came up with the bright idea of using the paddy husk rather than fuel ,which is abundant in the area. This resulted in the company saving seven to eight thousand rupees every year.

On the other hand thirty decades ago people didn't have any hope or aim about their future. They hardly gave their children higher education. They didn't have any sort of secured future and they were paid on a daily basis without any leave. And because of that children used to help their parents in the fields.

It is because of these shortcomings that the concept of trade union came into being. The improvements in the standard of living and recognition in the society are the things that modern employee is looking for these days. Besides if you look at the university students 20-30% are from lower level families. That shows their aspirations are changing than ever before. That is why an employer should treat their employees as an equal.

The employees should feel that they are important to an organisation. That is why I vehemently insist that the word worker should be removed and they should be called employees. This will give them self esteem in the society and in the workplace.

Like the parent and child relationship the employer employee relations should be considered on a different basis. For a parent the child will always be a child even though grownup. But in the case of the employer the employee has to be treated as an adult. They should be given responsibilities and allowed to take decisions.

Giving them the responsibilities like engaging in canteen and sports committees the employer can involve employees in running the organisation. In these activities the employee will get an opportunity to stick to their budgets and control their expenses in a responsible manner.

In most of the companies the unions are considered as being strong. And that reflects on the fact the company's management is very weak. The main reason is that there is no trust between the employer and the employee. Errors by managers benefit the trade unions; mistakes by the trade unions benefit the management. Therefore actions of everyone should be transparent when discharging duties in respect of trade union or management.

Employees should be given good recognition and self esteem in the organization. Then they will strike down unwanted things. The human resources manager should be able to identify the potential of the employee.

As the saying goes that the trust is good but the control is better , the trust come with long term process. Because of this I feel managing humans is the easiest thing in the world. It is we who put them in a spin. ; not them. Therefore a good human resources manager can help mankind so much. We should extend our concern to the employee and their families. Giving scholarships to the employees' children who are doing well in their studies is another step we can talk about in employeremployee relations. Therefore this relationship is something greater than the industrial relation. An organisation with good employees will work without a collective agreement. And because of that the management should maintain a good rapport with employees at all levels to maintain these standards. Beside the management must maintain that human resource mangement practices, good relations should interact closely with the employees and bring about the results that brings harmony to the organisation. That is why today the human resource management is defined as "Line Management". Earlier this was treated as the star function and this alone is a good indicator. A good employer employee relationship could be maintained if all the management levels across the horizon practice good human values.

Industrial Relations Forum

I have employed 12 workers in my engine re-boring work shop and they are engaged in operating heavy machines most of the time. What I want to know is when is an employer liable to pay workmen's compensation in case of an accident?

The employer will become liable to pay workmen's compansation for an accident under following circumstances.

* The accident should have arisen out of employment .

* The accident should occur in the course of employment. That is at the time of the accident the employee should have been engaged in performing work he was employed to do.

* The employer is also liable to pay compensation if the accident has occurred due to negligence acts of the employee such as under influence of liquor,willfull disobedience or failure to wear safety guards by the employee concerned.

I have several drivers employed in my newly formed transport company. My question is how many days of leave an employee is entitled under the wages Board ordinance?

Under the Wages Board ordinance every employee is entitled 14 annual days of leave provided he has worked the required number of days during the previous year.

Can an employer deduct any payment due from the employee from the gratuity?

Under the payment of gratuity act it is illegal to deduct any payments from the employee's gratuity.This applies even to frauds, misappropriation of funds of the employer and willful damage of property by the employee.

Evergreen's chief to open Greenlanka's new home

George Hsu, President of 'Evergreen Shipping Lines' of Taipei, one of the leading Shipping Lines of the world will arrive in Sri Lanka next week.

He visits Sri Lanka for the first time to participate in the ceremonial opening of the 'Evergreen Tower' at Nawam Mawatha, as the Chief Guest.

Evergreen Tower is scheduled to be opened on July 1.

Greenlanka Shipping Company has established a record for the past few years as a company that handled the largest number of containers.

Evergreen's first entry to Sri Lanka was in February 1989 and since then Evergreen's vessels have called at Colombo. With the recent entry of Uniglory which calls on their Far-East Upper Gulf service, the total vessel calls per month exceeds 30.

Evergreen continues to be the top customer of the Colombo port, and the combined Evergreen/Uniglory volumes will place Greenlanka as the agent providing top volumes and revenue to the port of Colombo.

Evergreen being the largest port user is naturally keen and supportive of the Colombo port and is closely following the developments proposed for the port.

They have confidence in the management and capability of the port which in fact is endorsed by their decision to increase their service to Colombo from the initial eight callers to current 30.

As Greenlanka celebrates the inauguration of the Greenlanka Towers, so close to their 10th anniversary, they have invited their friends and well-wishers to join in the ceremony.

Arnold Wang, Executive Vice Presidnet of Uniglory Marine Corp. will also participate in this event. Mr. Wang last visited Colombo in March this year to inaugurate the Uniglory service to Colombo.

Mr. Hsu was invited by Ms Norma Nanayakkara and Capt. Gamini Nanayakkara, Chairperson and Managing Director of Greenlanka Ltd.

Standard Chartered gets new CEO in October

Rana Talwar will succeed Malcolm Williamson as Standard Chartered PLC's group chief executive on October 1, Mr. Talwar is 50 and joined the bank in 1997. He has had an outstanding career as a banker including very broad experience in the group's key Asian markets, a company release said.

Mr. Talwar is a group executive director of Standard Chartered PLC. Based in London, he is currently responsible for all of Standard Chartered's banking operations in North America, Europe (including the UK), Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, and for human resources.

Talwar joined Standard Chartered from Citicorp where he held a number of senior positions in Operations, Treasury, Corporate and Institutional Banking and the Consumer businesses. He has been based in India, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brussels and Chicago.

Two Ceylinco life men sit at $ 1M. Round Table

Two life insurance salesmen from Ceylinco Insurance Company have qualified to be admitted to the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) an international forum represented by the world's best life insurance salesmen.

The two sales consultants G. Vijeethaas and U. H. Kulasiri, are the only salesmen to sit at the exclusive forum from Sri Lanka this year, which is to be held in Chicago, USA, at the end of the month.

Ceylinco Insurance is the only Sri Lankan company todate to be represented at this presitigious forum, said R. Renganathan, Director/General Manager of Ceylinco (Life), in a press release.

"Ceylinco has been represented at the MDRT in the past four consecutive years. These MDRT applicants are part of the top six per cent of life insurance salesmen worldwide"he added.

Fedex awards for best agencies

Federal Express recently made presentations of "gold kilo" and "silver kilo" awards for the outstanding forwarding agencies who supported them during 1997.

The "gold kilo" Award winners were Pership Clearing & Forwarding (Pvt.) Ltd., Hecny Transportation (Pte) Ltd. and Expolanka Freight Ltd. and the "silver kilo" Award winner was Kuehne & Nagel Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd.

Rival bids for forum divide shipowners

Plans for a permanent location for the headquarters of the Asian Shipowners Forum have been delayed for a further 12 months.

Delegates at the seventh annual meeting of the leading Asian shipowners' organisation decided to delay a decision on a permanent home for the forum because of rival bids from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

All three shipping centres have offered to house the permanent secretariat but there has been no consensus as to where it should be.

Under the forum's informal constitution, all decisions can be passed only when they are supported unanimously.

Current forum chairman John Hurlstone of the Australian Shipowners Association said a decision on the location would certainly be taken before the next forum meeting set for Tokyo in May next year.

Hong Kong's bid for the secretariat appears to have gained ground among members since last year's meeting.

A suggestion supported by the Hong Kong Shipowners Association says the territory could be its home on a free basis.

This has the support of the China Shipowners Association and other delegations. But Japan and Singapore have also said they wish to host the permanent secretariat for flat amount fees.

Singapore has the backing of the seven country strong membership of the Federation of ASEAN Shipowning Associations.

In other developments during the first day of the gathering, the forum insurance committee unanimously supported the go-ahead for plans to create a marine hull underwriting facility in Asia. The format, capitalisation, location and other details will be thrashed out this year.

The conference heard the concept had the backing of ASIAN underwriting markets, particularly in Hong Kong and Singapore.

In a joint communique, the forum expressed its continuing support for the International Group of P&I Clubs in its discussions with the European Commission Competition Directorate.

It noted the provision of combining competitive cost with high serve levels was indispensable for the proper operation and stability of the shipping business.

The forum which met against the background of Asia's continuing economic difficulties, also urged member countries and their lines to be more responsible towards the pricing of freight rates. (Lloyds List)

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