Thilak Piyadigama – passion, unlearning, and succeeding against all odds

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What’s the best way to succeed – in life, in work, and in general? Thilak Piyadigama, Chief Operating Officer at Nations Trust Bank, has the answer.

“I’m service-driven…straight from the heart.”

Over the course of one afternoon, Thilak explained how this simple idea changed his life. He started off as a hardware engineer at John Keells in the late eighties. After that, he rose to a COO position at one of Sri Lanka’s most innovative financial institutions. And it all began with a drive to serve people, to cater to a customer’s best interest, right from the get-go.

One afternoon, when he was driving on one of Colombo’s busiest roads, Thilak noticed that a customer had a flat tire. Quick as a flash, he jumped out and helped the gentleman change his tire. Would you do that? Take time out of your busy day to help a customer off the clock? Thilak did, and he has applied this drive to all his customers while at John Keells.

It was this dedication that earned him his next career change – a manager at a leading international bank in Sri Lanka, which was a serious changing point in his professional life. Thus began a prolific career that spanned 18 years, which took him to cosmopolitan locales such as London, Singapore, Dubai, among others.

This big break came from one of his customers at John Keells, who offered him the managerial position. At first, Thilak was puzzled about why they wanted him to join one of Sri Lanka’s most eminent financial institutions. He was in IT, and had no experience in Finance.

Their answer – they wanted him for his customer-centric personality. He had made such an impression on them with his dedication that they wanted him on their team. They knew that it was not experience that made a difference but an earnest passion to do the right thing.

This passion allowed him to chart a path in a completely new industry, which has retained him and has flourished under his expertise. Under his tenure, this financial institution made huge leaps in profit and acquisition. It emerged as a leading entity in Sri Lanka’s financial sector.

His impact made him an attractive, natural addition to another of Sri Lanka’s leading banks. Today, Thilak is the Chief of Operations at Nations Trust Bank. It maintains a competitive presence with an emphasis on innovation and customer-centric practices. Like Thilak himself.

As part of his journey, Thilak has been passionate about learning new things and unlearning old concepts. A big idea he discussed with Fortudites was the concept of the digital economy. According to Thilak, the digital economy has the potential to eliminate problems like poverty and social inequality. A report indicated that Sri Lanka could raise its GDP by 1-3% if we went digital. Countries such as China, Canada, Sweden, and the United States have integrated digital platforms into its financial sectors. This has resulted in billions of dollars in profits. However, because of regulations, this kind of change may be slow to arrive in Sri Lanka. Yet, the potential remains.

If we were to take a leaf from Thilak’s book, it would be to remain optimistic. Focus on one of the important elements of business; i.e., the customer. Practice the drive, determination, and passion to make a difference in the industry and beyond.