Moksevi Prelis is candid about his predilections: “My love is really for [the] manufacturing industry because I feel [the]manufacturing industry, agro production and also high value added services are the real generators of economic value, not banking.”
To be fair, he has more than sufficient experience in both arenas – 27 years in banking and 17 in the manufacturing industry – to be able to make a distinction convincingly.
He had graduated with an upper second Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering and found employment first at the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) and later, as a management trainee at the Ceylon Steel Corporation.
By 1975, he occupied a managerial position at the Ceylon Steel Corporation and was very enthusiastic about working in the industrial sector because he believed the steel industry was the foundation for industrialisation.
But government policies and attitudes were not focussed on improving productivity and profitability of public corporations, as these were tightly controlled by ministerial bureaucrats and highly politicised unions, which Prelis found galling.
An advertisement by the Bank of Ceylon gave him pause: despite options of employment in the United States, Prelis responded to it on an impulse and was soon to be its Additional General Manager (Industrial Credit).
It was a turning point is his life – he would work to effect change from a more receptive career.
He saw that banks could play a vital role in industrialisation and economic development, by financially supporting long-term loans and equity finance in major sectors. And he believed that particularly in developing countries, banks per se should not in themselves be considered as an end business; but that instead, are necessarily intermediaries whose main objective should be to support the real productive sectors of an economy.
And so he invested his time and talent in banking.
Prelis has the undoubted honour of being the longest serving chief executive in the banking sector. He was Director/CEO of DFCC Bank from 1981 until 2000. He led the bank to local and international acclaim, pioneering ventures such as the first unit trust, the largest venture capital company and a private sector industrial estate.
This sentiment from an interview will everlastingly ring true: “It’s important to realise that banks, even development banks, cannot by themselves create industry since these projects have to be started by entrepreneurs or by the public sector… Banks are financial intermediaries whose function is to mobilise savings and finance productive enterprises.”
Moksevi Prelis: an industrial mindset for a financial outlook.