An Interview with Rajeev Santhiapillai Adrian (Class of ‘87)

An Interview with Rajeev Santhiapillai Adrian (Class of ‘87)
Manjusha Ninan

"Lead with principles and values, Be the ‘example’, and don’t ask people to do what you are not prepared to do."
- Rajeev Santhiapillai (KIS Class of '87)


Meet one of the influential bankers of the KIS alumni community: Rajeev Santhiapillai (Class of ‘87).  

Rajeev completed his Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Western Australia and followed on to obtain his Masters in Business Administration from Cranfield School of Management, UK, as well as become a fellow of CPA Australia.

In 2001, he joined the Royal Bank of Scotland (now called NatWest) in their Investment Banking division, holding various roles, including, Senior Strategist, Chief Administrative officer, and later CFO of the International Bank.  

Currently, Mr Santhiapillai is the CEO and Managing Director of Bank ABC in London, where he is responsible for the UK and European operations of Bank ABC. Bank ABC is a Middle East and North African (MENA) headquartered Bank, serving the needs of clients across the globe. 

He is also on the Board of the Arab Bankers Association in the UK and the Libya British Business Council. Rajeev also served as the President of CPA Australia’s European Division from 2017-2018.

Rajeev currently lives in London with his wife and two daughters aged 16 and 20.

Deep dive into Rajeev’s career and get a glimpse into the guru’s life at KIS and his secrets for success. 

When did you join Kodai and what were your first impressions?

I joined Kodai in 1982 in eighth grade and graduated in 1987.  Coming from Sri Lanka, coming to Kodai introduced many of my firsts.  To name a few: 

  • It was my first overseas trip 
  • My first plane trip
  • The first time I was exposed to so much diversity and global cultures 
  • My first time studying in an English medium co-ed school 
  • My first boarding school
  • My first time being away from home

All the kids looked like giants with fancy clothes and let alone the boys but the girls too were taller than me the whole setting was alien to me and I felt like a fish out of water.  

The first 6 months were truly daunting, to say the least! Every day was a new and overwhelming experience, and I was determined to run away … BUT, after the first year, I never wanted to leave, KIS was ‘home’ to me.

Which dorm(s) were you in?

I spent my first three years in East House and ended up in Solvik.  I would like to add, in both dorms, my roommates and I had rooms with ensuite bathrooms. I believe my roommates and I were the only ones to have this luxury during our time at Kodai! 

What are some of your best memories of Kodai?

Where do I begin? 

Everything was a special memory from playing various sports, hanging out on the flag green, dancing at canteens and taking care to meticulously plan how to ask a girl out to dance, the challenge of pinning your corsage on for proms and arranging flowers for your date, dressing up to go to Sunday mass at PCK, class camps to Tope and Berijam Lake despite the dreaded hike to camp, trips to Ooty and even going back home for holidays with a group of kids.  

The trips were an adventure in themselves, field trips, senior sneak, field day, Graduation and of course - completing the IBs.  

Oh yes, and how can I leave out the weekly dhobi routine, the decision to tag your clothing as regular, urgent or super urgent!  Invariably, everything was super urgent! … What amazing memories!

What 3 tips would you give those who want to rise up the corporate ladder?

  1. The only person you are competing against is ‘yourself’, life is relative, don’t measure your success based on someone else’s. What matters is where you came from, where you are today and where you want to go.  Take action to make tomorrow better than today.  Don’t dwell in the past, reflect, learn and take action to make tomorrow better
  2. Back yourself, be confident and brave to take calculated risks… don’t let fear and doubt hold you back
  3. Technical skills matter … but, give due consideration to developing your presentation, communication, listening and interpersonal skills, too often people neglect developing these skills as it takes them out of their comfort zone


Rajeev addressing a special event hosted by Tenzin Metok Lee (Class of 2001) in London
(photo credit: Macquarie Group)


What 5 attributes are required to be a successful leader?

  1. Creating follower-ship, leading with purpose and passion
  2. Displaying empathy and compassion, and showing vulnerability is a strength
  3. Recruiting to complement not supplement, be confident to recruit people who are smarter and more capable than you
  4. Staying current, continuous learning, anticipating and embracing change, managing complex situations
  5. Lead with principles and values, Be the ‘example’, and don’t ask people to do what you are not prepared to do. Be accessible… In this day and age Respect is earned, it's not an entitlement

Name 3 experiences from your career other than the day-to-day activities of leading a Bank that stood out.

  • Attending IMF meetings in Washington, a privilege to hear some of the greatest minds speak on current events
  • Leading a compliance conference in Libya for CEOs and Chairman of Libyan Banks, the trip back and forth and the experience in the country was like no other
  • Attending a series of events between a Bahrain Government delegation and their UK counterparts, an honour to be amongst Princes, Prime Ministers, Ministers and Central Bankers

What 3 learnings from your Kodai experience helped you in your career journey?  

  • The power of collaboration and teamwork, we looked out for each other and worked together to achieve an outcome
  • Appreciation of diversity in all forms, we never saw differences, we accepted everyone for who they were and we leveraged each other’s strengths 
  • Strength in being resilient, especially after my first year, quitting wasn’t an option

What sets KIS apart from any other school?

It’s a one-stop shop (or rather school!) for acquiring the academic and life skills a young person needs to excel in the real world.   The access to sporting facilities and the array of other activities and experiences the school provides truly sets it apart from any other.  All of this is set in the most beautiful surroundings of the Palani Hills.  Simply, it produces, well-rounded, caring, considerate, ambitious, confident and at the same time humble human beings.  What more can a parent ask for when seeing their son or daughter graduate? 

Even though we appreciated Kodai and considered ourselves fortunate for being there, it's only after leaving school you realise how truly lucky we were to attend this school, I might be biased here but I have never met anyone who passionately and fondly talks about their experiences at school more than a Kodai alumni, I think that says it all.

What final words for KIS?

Firstly, thank you for interviewing me, I’m humbled.

I'm truly thankful to all the students, teachers, and support staff with whom I had the privilege of interacting during my time at Kodai, each encounter, however large or small played a vital part in making me who I am today 

To my classmates, I consider myself blessed to have been one of you, you made my experience at Kodai truly special and for that, you have my eternal gratitude and friendship.  The quote which accompanied my Eucy write-up seems apt to conclude:

'Truly great friends are hard to find, hard to leave and impossible to forget’ - Herman Hesse.