Their stint in the armed forces have helped these IT professionals navigate the corporate terrain
They’ve been trained to succeed at whatever cost. No wonder that many military personnel, post retirement from the armed forces, find themselves at ease in the battlegrounds of the corporate world. In Technopark too there are quite a few former military officers who are leading the way in the field of IT, flags of success flying.
“We succeed in the corporate world because in the military we learn to take on leadership/administration/management roles right from the beginning itself,” says Niketh Sundar, Commander and former fighter pilot in the Indian Navy, who retired after 20 years of service. He’s been in the corporate world for 10 years now and is currently Global Head, Human Resources, UST Global.
His colleague Anil Bhaskara Pillai, Global Head, Estate and Facilities, adds: “It’s also because the ability to adjust, accommodate and adapt is ingrained in all military personnel.” Anil, an Indian Military Academy (IMA) graduate and a Lieutenant Colonel with the Hodson’s Horse cavalry regiment, took ‘premature’ retirement from the Indian Army after 22 years of service to enter the corporate world. Armed with a certificate in business administration from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, he’s been in the IT business for five years now.
“If you send me out into the desert with nary but my clothes on my back, I will survive! That’s the kind of training, discipline and determination that the army teaches its personnel. We’ve definitely got an advantage when it comes to navigating the corporate jungle,” he adds.
Says 59-year-old Basil Mathew, a former Wing Commander of the Indian Air Force, who retired in 1998 and entered the corporate world as one of the first employees of IBS: “As an officer in the armed forces you cannot afford not to deliver your best and aim for perfection. Your life and/or the life of others may depend on your actions. I was responsible for the technical operations of a sensitive air base in Amritsar, which is barely 10 km from the Indo-Pak border. There was simply no room for failure. Having been trained in this work ethic, I found it easy to adapt to corporate life.”
In fact, some officers can draw parallels between life in the armed forces and life in the corporate world. “People are the same everywhere. What triggers them is the same. It’s only the environment that changes,” says Niketh.
“Military life is process-oriented and is regimented and requires a bureaucratic approach. It’s the same with regards to IT. Moreover, IT is all about people management. And there is nothing better than the military to teach you about people. In the military you get to interact with a whole cross-section of people. You may spend the morning training with jawans and join them for a game in the afternoon and then be on your best behaviour at an officers’ party in the evening. You learn to treat women with respect. These are useful skills that come in handy in the corporate world, especially when you are dealing with foreigners,” says Binu Jacob, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Experion Technologies.
A graduate of the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, and a post-graduate in engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Binu was a Flight Lieutenant with the Air Force. He was in charge of a missile technology station in Ambala, Punjab, managing a battery of surface-to-air missiles, testing them and keeping them combat ready, before retiring in 1998.
“If you are an officer in the armed forces, there will be 400-500 people under your command. It’s you who rewards, punishes, judges, look after their welfare…If that’s not people management, what is?” asks Anil.
Says 31-year-old techie Rajat Mishra: “Values, leadership quality, friendship, humanity, humility, integrity, and so on are the foundations of life in the army. It’s more or less the same in the corporate world.” Rajat, a National Defence Academy and IMA graduate from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, had to quit the army early into his career on medical grounds. “I grew up in the army, where my father the late Ravikant Mishra was a Lieutenant Colonel. I’d always dreamed of following in my father’s footsteps. That dream was shattered when I injured my right shoulder during a course,” says Rajat. Nonetheless, the brave soldier went on to graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, before joining UST Global. “However, unlike the corporate world, the army was never a job. It was a lifestyle,” says Rajat.
Shibu Varghese, a former Air Force officer, who is now Director, Sales, at IBS, agrees but doesn’t find too much of a similarity between the two lifestyles. “The Air Force is a set life and disciplined to the core. There is not much scope for innovation because it’s very bureaucratic. Whereas in the civilian environment it’s a new day everyday and it’s more challenging. In the armed forces, your job is secure, education and welfare of your family is taken care of, and you get a pension – which of course is not a guarantee in the corporate world. If you work hard enough you won’t be left behind in the corporate world,” says Shibu.
All of them, however, seem to miss their life in the armed forces – the camaraderie (“I know that my brothers in the regiment have my back,” says Anil), the parties, the quality time to yourself, the fun, the thrills, the challenges…
Young Rajat sums up everyone’s thoughts thus: “I may be earning more in the IT field. But the army will always be my first love.”