Kolkata: From the war room to the boardroom, officers who have served the Indian armed forces are moving to the corporate sector, lured by more pay, greater responsibility and the expanding market for their specialized skills.
In many cases, the transition is made possible by the nation’s premier business schools— among them, the six Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, and Xavier Labour Relations Institutes, Jamshedpur—which now offer programmes catering to the military. The courses are open to officers leaving the Armed Forces after retirement or on completion of assignment under the short service commission.
“These participants are well disciplined, are especially skilled in project management, and above all have an excellent never-say-die attitude. They can manage stress and long working hours better than most others,” says Prafulla Agnihotri, a professor at the IIM, Calcutta campus, overseeing such a course.
Honing skills :Former Armed Forces personnel in a classroom at Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta. (Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint)
Their first batch graduated from IIM-C this year, and the officers who took the six-month management course have landed jobs with companies such as ITC Ltd, Nokia, Wipro Ltd, Simplex Infrastructure Ltd, Cummins India Ltd, Sharaf Group, Gati Ltd and Maytas Infra Ltd (a Satyam group company). They will work in areas such as marketing, retailing, operations, project management, logistics, finance and human resources.
The programme that began in September had 72 students in the 28-56 age group. It reported 100% placement with an average annual salary of Rs10-12 lakh.
According to IIM-C officials in charge of the course, the highest package was in the range of Rs20-22 lakh. The institute declined to reveal the name of the company that made the highest offer, or the student who accepted it.
The pay scale of a major in the army is Rs11,600-14,850 per month, depending on years of service, while a colonel gets Rs15,100-17,350 per month. It excludes a rank pay of Rs1,200 for a major and Rs2,000 for a colonel per month as well as allowances such as dearness allowance, accommodation facilities, medical benefits, concessions on air and rail travel and insurance as well as pension, according to the website, www.joinindianarmy.nic.in.
“Many of the officers, like telecom engineers in the army, possess technical skills that are very much in demand,” says S. Chatterjee, Management Development Institute’s course director for the last batch of defence personnel.
For example, he says, the Apeejay Surrendra group went with officers from the navy for their shipbuilding operations.
The former defence officers who have joined the corporate world say the intensive courses have changed their career prospects and outlook.
“Before joining the course at IIM-C, I had some experience in the corporate sector, but found myself inept at understanding corporate jargons required for understanding the functioning of a company,” says 31-year-old major Biju Balakrishnan, who has served the Indian Army for seven years. He is now a business development manager in India with the retail arm of the Dubai-based Sharaf Group.
According to Balakrishnan, the course at IIM-C, which was tailor-made to the needs of the participants keeping their defence background in mind, helped him surmount shortcomings. “The course covered almost all topics under a regular MBA curriculum and condensed it into six months.”
Besides hands-on experience, the course at IIM-C exposes students to key areas such as marketing management, financial accounting, materials and human resource management, organizational behaviour among others; the officers are also making effective use of their experience in the armed forces to combat the corporate battlefield.
“In the army, crisis situations would arise and they would have to be tackled. Similar situations crop up in a company, which ex-defence persons are able to handle better,” says 47-year-old colonel Zia-ur-Rehman, who is a project development officer (South India) with Maytas, after having spent 25 years in the army.
Maytas human resources head Ajit Singh said they picked Zia instead of a younger candidate as he brought with him the experience and maturity required to supervise infrastructure projects, which were often in far-flung areas.
“We have projects all over India and needed someone to travel around and enthuse the workers who often work in remote areas and isolated conditions. People from the defence forces are skilled at man management in similar conditions and execute the work, ensuring a certain quality,” said Singh.
Abhishekh Nirjar, chairman of the management programme for defence personnel at IIM, Lucknow, said with their high dedication levels, the officers rise quickly among the ranks of the organizations they join. “Even if the starting salary that they draw is not astronomical, they witness sharp rises in their pay packet soon after they join.”