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The war may be over for former army personnel studying in b-schools but the battle to etch a name in the corporate world rages on

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The sound of gun shots may be a faint memory but the smell of gun of gun powder refuses to leave the senses. The uniform beckons but the mind is out to hunt different pastures. When the day in done, the memories of a battle field come rushing back, though the glimpses fade away by morning, as it is back to another day at b-school. B-schools in India are brimming with students who were once part of the armed forces. All, at some point in their life decided to forgo the rigor of army life for the vigour of corporate life. For some, it was a forced option after getting injured on the battleground.

You’re (not) in the army now

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Aditya Kumar (35) currently a student at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, was compelled to end his army career when he suffered serious injuries in April 2007. He recalls: ‘ My career in the Army was going quite well. Though I was commissioned in Gorkha Regiment, I volunteered for the Parachute Regiment. And I had no intentions of quitting the military. I was in the top bracket of my batch and it was very promising career for me. However on 22 April 2007, I suffered some injuries. This happened during a joint Special Forces exercise with US (in USA). I had some trouble with my parachute and I suffered bad spinal injury.

Since Lt Col Kumar’s injuries were attributable to military service, the army offered him sheltered appointments. Something to the effect of a desk job, so that I do not deteriorate further but having been in the forefront I did not want that kind of a profile, I preferred to quit. You earn the respect of your soldier by proving everytime that you are better than them, with physical liabilities, this gets hampered, added Lt Col Kumar.

Injuries on the job was also why Major Prince Jose (3, Sena Medal, Indian Army had to leave the army, after getting commissioned into the Gorkha Rifles. Studying with MDI, Major Jose suffered a serious head injury in Kargil. I also had a memory loss for 15 minutes then, I had to leave the army thereafter, he says. For others, the reasons were personal. Subrata Kabiraj studying at Indian Institute of Calcutta (IIMC), was the rank of a Corporal when he left the air force in 2009 but it was health emergencies in his family that pushed him to leave the Air Force. While for Colonel Rajesh Kaswan (42) also from MDI, the desire to stay with his family abroad was the big push that made him quit the army.

Lt. Col Aditya Kumar

But there are other things to do in life, why a b-school?

Lt. Col. Aditya Kumar said that his knowledge of business education, while in the army was restricted. So when I met with an accident, what to do next was a serious question. I could have taken up a job but I was not well prepared and I realised formal education was necessary. He took up ISB since it was a one year course. Living for two years without a salary was not possible. One year of quality education is what I wanted besides the need to sit and stay with diverse people. More than classroom, I wanted real life instances so that I could connect my experiences and understand how I was going to leverage my 13 years of army learning into the corporate world, the ISB student answers.

SubrataKabiraj, joined the Airforce as a 10+2 in the technical group as a Radar Fitter and later trained in the Electronics Institute, Air Force, Bangalore. After quitting in 2009, he joined the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) as an assistant manager in 2010. It was after that, I came to IIMC. I joined here because this place is known for great junior-senior bonding experiences and unique courses, he says.

For Major Prince and Col Kaswan, enhancing competencies, and strengths to be part of the corporate structure were the big reasons to join a b-school. Major Prince says that a b-school grounding will help him get a foothold in the corporate world.

What have you learnt so far from the MBA experience?

Lt Col Kumar, never looks at MBA from the point of view of business education. I look at it as a process education which is essential to understand how to do things more efficiently. Today, I realise that I could have done so many things more efficiently. Also, am getting to interact with my peers, professors who have done and achieved so much. I am also beginning to see problems from a different perspective and I am offering solutions out of my experiences.

Major Jose says that his MBA stint is getting him contacts and varied experiences. I will also get a degree at the end of it, not to forget that it will help me step into the corporate world. Kabiraj says that life is very different in the world outside the armed forces and the MBA is helping him understand it. The MBA will help me understand different perspectives, dynamics and the functioning all together.

Col Rajesh Kaswan

And are you offering something back to you class?

Kabiraj says that he brings with him discipline, commitment, team spirit and the ability to work with people with diverse tastes and practices, besides selfless service. Many practises in the corporate world originated in the Defence Forces. Prince Jose says that he brings a list of contacts and experience which will help him in the corporate world. Lt Col Kumar believes he has seen the best and worst of a variety of situations.Near death experiences teach lessons that get engraved forever. I have learnt to understand people since in the army we believe that it is the man behind the machine who who matters. He adds that he has worked with 7 different armies and in Congo as Chief Operating Officer (COO), he had to plan and execute joint operations with troops that did not speak the same language with this experience in class, I can offer solutions that can be executed on the ground level.”

After ten years, where will you be?

The plans are similar but interesting. Col Kaswan is sure he wants to be an entrepreneur while Subrata on a professional front wants to be Head, India operations in which ever company he works. “Personally, I want to be settled with my whole family,” he says. For Lt. Col. Kumar, he hopes to be running his own non-government organisation. “The group will deal with mitigating the uncertainties in the agricultural sector. I strongly feel that technology holds lot of solutions for people at the bottom of the pyramid,” he justifies. And as for Major Jose, he is sure he will be in a leadership role in the corporate world

You’ve taken a loan to study at this age and juncture of life?

Lt Col Kumar says that he has taken a huge loan. I was in a government job and no government job on the earth pays like what a corporate does. I have a family to look after and after 13 years in the army, I cannot afford to pay for the MBA from family savings, so took a loan.” The ISB student earned an approximate Rs 8 lakhs annually while in the army. Col Rajesh Kaswan did not take a loan to do his MBA and he earned a good Rs 20 lakhs per year coupled with a good quality of life, he adds.

Kabiraj did not want to discuss his CTC salary since the idea of CTC is too narrow for the Forces. Does not work, he says, though he has taken a loan as well. Major Jose has not taken a loan either and he earned Rs 10.5 lakhs per annum while in the armed forces.

Subrata Kabiraj

But surely, you miss the army, the discipline?

Yes, they all say. They miss the discipline, the rigour and the statliness that came with being part of the armed forces. Lt Col Kaswan says that he lived his army life by the Chetwode Credo. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Chetwode,_1st_Baron_Chetwode In the army, you care about the people you command and the soldiers trust you. There is a saying that the soldier will follow his superior to the gates of Hell, provided the superior leads. All this puts responsibility in me and so my outlook to life was different all these years,’ he explains. But now I am a student and am seeing a college for the first time. Personally I have taken a big risk and come out of my comfort zone of the army, the ISB student adds.

For Prince Major, while life has not changed much, the playing filed has certainly taken a transformation. The ability and stability has changed, he replies, while Kabiraj says that the respect he got as a member of the armed forces will always be cherished. The uniform is the best set of clothes I have ever worn, he says but is quick to add that the respect he gets now is even more. Everyone here expects me to be different and those from the armed forces will always be different. Once in the Forces, a part of me will always be a soldier, the IIMC student explains.

For Col Kaswan, the world has treated him very well whether in the army or out of it and he find life full of challenges now.

But aren’t Indian families more proud to introduce an ‘army’ man rather than just an MBA grad?

They all agree that being part of the armed forces had its thrilling moments especially when they were spoken about, among family and friends. But they expect that they will earn the pride again once they become part of the corporate razzmatazz. Col Kaswan says that he spent 20 years in the army. I gave my family enough time to be proud of me. They can still be proud of me when I turn into a successful entrepreneur.

Kabiraj agrees that his family would have been proud had he stuck with the armed forces but they still are proud of me.” Major Prince says that his family is very proud of him as he is still a part of the army. Though he is retired, he is still on ‘reserve force’ with the army and in case of emergency or war, he will have to go back to the army and report. Besides, Major Jose is also on army pension.

Lt Col Kumar is more candid. I would have been proud too if I was still in the army but it was a call I had to take. It was a decision between the heart and mind. I could have stayed on. In another 7 years I would have earned a pension, a whole lot of security and other added benefits but that is not what I joined the army for. Army is not a welfare organisation if you cannot perform, you must leave.

Major Jose

Missed death?

All have. Major Prince has missed death on various operations and undergone numerous surgeries, not to forget the memory loss on the field, he reminds. Kabiraj has not met with any such incidence since he says nobody thinks about death. Many of us ignore many incidences which may be very serious for a common life. Col Kaswan has missed death a bit too many times while fighting terrorists in Kashmir, while for Lt Col Kumar there are too many such instances to relate. In Special Forces, the risks are high because you are assigned naturally difficult assignments. In the operations I was personally involved in, we lost 9 brave souls, 6 in Kargil, one in Siachen and two in Kashmir and I could have been one among them,”

The truth is that the reputation of our armed forces have slipped in recent times, thanks to Congo and Kashmir

Not all the armed forces guys are happy with the way media reports on its activities. Subrata says that life in the Air Force, Army and Navy cannot be experienced from the outside, neither can it be measured. As one incident cannot be taken for generalising the whole Force, same way one media report does not change our lives. When the call comes, we depend on our own guts, not anyone external. Col Kaswan who was also posted in Congo says Indian soldiers are a very responsible lot. Since I have been in Congo, I can say there was nothing. Black sheep are exceptions and can be found everywhere.

Lt Col Kumar feels that there is a fear of how media reports. Since their main business is communication there can also be miscommunication. A responsible media is good for the military too. Media played a very crucial role in Kargil when media actually helped us individually. The ISB student adds that Congo and Kashmir are two different issues. “I have been long at both the locations. You have to understand the ground operating realities and why this discontent and misunderstanding.

Any regrets then for opting out of the armed forces and into a b-school.

No, is the loud and clear reply. Major Jose and and Col Kaswan say that it was a thought-about decision and not child’s play to take such a huge step. Lt Col Kumar says it took some three years to finally get released from the army. Yes, when I went to the army office the last time, the thought did linger. I have spent my growing years in the army. It was a way of life for me. This is the first time that I am out of a uniform. I miss army life but I took a conscious decision to get out of it.

Kabiraj is happy for where he is and what he is now but he says that when the call of duty comes, I will be the first to raise my hand. The spirit never dies, he reminds.

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