Rienzie Wijetilleke

Hatton National Bank

In his own words quoted in the preface to a book written about him, Rienzie Wijetilleke has said: “I do believe that every person is placed on this Earth for a purpose. The path is not always easy but the purpose is always clear.”

To many who are familiar with leaders who profess altruism and ‘country before self’ at every turn, the next thought – “To me, it was simply to do my best for myself, my family, my workplace, my industry and my country.” – was unfamiliar territory.

But his priorities have always been in that order as he has admitted; because to him, each one is interlinked: “The nucleus to it all is oneself.”

It is a view that springs from his deep understanding of the Buddhist philosophy and in accord with the meditational process involving compassion, and so he says that “if one does not develop oneself, one cannot help all others in the chain.”

Wijetilleke has lived by this creed diligently and his banking career, which spanned over five decades, demonstrates it in numerous ways.

Inspired by the Confucian approach to a man and a fish, he was instrumental in introducing the novel scheme of Gami Pubuduwa – credit facilities to impoverished rural folk especially women – to engage in agricultural and other enterprising activities without having to depend on handouts.

His narrative will for always be inextricably linked with that of Hatton National Bank (HNB) – a bank that is believed to have a distinctly Christian ethos. He rejoined the bank after some career meandering in 1987 as one of its deputy general managers but within a year, he was appointed managing director and continued in this position until 2004 – when he was named Chairman of HNB, and remained as such until his retirement seven years later.

Wijetilleke’s compelling example smoothed over many wrinkles in the spheres in which he was called upon to serve. His support for the move to modernise cheque clearing with an automated clearing house – LankaClear – is credited with its realisation and success.

Four great personalities have shaped the life of this man – the Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, Sir Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela – and inspired his articles of faith. There is little doubt that as the years unfold, young men and women will cite his name among such awakened personalities, as being the motivator of their lives and careers.

Rienzie Wijetilleke: archetype of principled leadership.