Friday, July 08, 2005

Major dilemma

When Major Devashish Chakravorty, Lt Cdr T Balaji and Flt Lt Nilesh Gupta move around the sprawling campus of Indian Institute of Management (IIM A), it's no secret mission they are carrying out, reports TOI.

All three are ex-defence services officers now studying for their management degrees. A sad but interesting statistic which clearly highlights the growing unattractiveness of 'careers for life' in general and careers in the defence forces in particular.

Says the army guy: "I joined the Army for a life of adventure and valour. That was a stage when I wanted physical challenges in life. Now I seek mental challenges". Which, he specifies are: a career in investment banking or consulting.

It will be interesting to see what kind of placement he gets. 13 years of experience - that too in the army - is an unusual kind of profile. Even for a lateral recruit.

Of course, a lot depends on how well he performs academically. I would think he should not find the 'pressure' too much, having been through much worse at NDA. And he must be pretty motivated, that's for sure!

The navy chap is an electronic engineer who joined the forces out of fascination for the uniform, the sea and the thrill of life in the forces. But he was on a short service commission.

The air force fellow is the most candid: "It was a feeling of accomplishment to be in the IAF. But gradually I began feeling the monotony and wanted a change".

Monotony? Well, if you look at the issue dispassionately, clearly we haven't had a real 'war' since 1971. Kargil was an undeclared war, but one where the Air Force wasn't allowed to cross the LOC and bomb out the enemy camps.

So all they do really is keep training, staying fully prepared and alert for a war that never happens. Now this is necessary in the national interest - but not an exciting thing for the talented individuals serving in the forces.

No, thank you
When I was in school, several of my classmates had an army-navy background. A fair number of the boys were quite gung-ho on joining the NDA/ IMA and I know for sure at least 3 did so.

Today, it's rare to find such enthusiasm among officer's children. One such offspring declared to me," Only the duffers among us try for defence service ..."

Slight exaggeration perhaps but yes, the smarter ones aren't waiting 13 years to realise they want "mental challenges". They're trying for MBAs or studying abroad from the start.

As Vice Admiral S C S Bangara, former commandant of the NDA candidly admitted to in an interview

It is a fact none of the crème of our youth opts for the military... We have middle class and below, and more so in the lower middle class families coming into the NDA. But is it unique to India? No, my answer is it is not unique to India. This is the global trend.

At a recent Passing Out Parade at NDA it was observed that a significant % of the graduating class were children of jawans and JCOs. For them, becoming an officer is the ultimate in 'upward mobility'.

As they say, one man's punishment posting is another's dream job. So even as the dream sours for some, it glows brightly in the hearts of some others...

Qualitatively speaking
The decline in interest among 'elite youth' is often attributed to the fact that other professions pay more. But that's too simplistic. Those who've experienced the privileges of an army/ navy lifestyle know the 'quality of life' is great. In fact it's the kind of quality money cannot buy. Says the Vice Admiral:

I have a son in the corporate world who at a young age has reached a fairly senior position. He does not have the same quality of life despite his income being higher than that of a young officer in the armed forces.

But the general feeling is you aren't 'going somewhere'. Most do join the forces with a great deal of josh but it quickly wears off.

There is frustration with the hierarchy, the lack of modernisation, the politics. The constant relocations to small and boring cantonment towns. And an additional, often overlooked problem: the fact that your spouse will never be able to have a proper career.

If it were easier to leave the forces, I suspect many more would actually do so. Meanwhile, the army/ navy/ air force need to figure out how to deal with a whole new mindset. One that aspires for 'more' than previous generations.

A challenge as grave as the actual threat posed by our thorny neighbour...


  1. The Army people might not find employment in I-banking or Consulting but there are definitely some employers looking for these kind of profiles. Operation roles in industries like BPO, Airlines and FMCG are some of them.
    Also, at lateral level employers don't look at academics, but rather previous work experience.
    It's true that defense people find it difficult to get relieved of their jobs, because firstly, defense services cannot hire laterally to substitute the position, and secondly it puts a dent on the moral of the subordinates and peers.
    I am not aware about other countries, but Indian forces definitely are not attracting the best talent, and now there increasing concern for retaining the existing talent.

  2. I dont know if these 3 defense people that you spoke of have joined IIMs after writing CAT or something ?
    If they have done it then I think they would be much much better than any of the lateral recruits.
    The kind of experience and discipline you get in the defense field is unmatched. Your organizational abilities are the best. Now combine this with a course from IIM. What you get, in my opinion is a knowledgeable leader and not a manager.

  3. Anonymous9:49 PM

    One major graduated from IIM C this year. He got a final offer from McKinsey.

  4. Hi Rashmi;
    We had a lecture by a certain Cpt.Raghu Raman who was a commanding capt at siachen during the kargil war.And he was talking abt how...his experience with his army had helped him get a right perspective on leaderships.The belief of the leader kept the subordinate going despite of the inhuman conditions.It's how far people go when there is someone who believes in them.He was talking about how efficiently the military works without unions,overtime pay,ESOPS,salary increase.

    He also said that you dont have be at military to know what its like.The corporate world is not very was the one liner he said:"AT least in the military you know your people wont leave you and join the other side."

  5. There is frustration with the hierarchy, the lack of modernisation, the politics.

    Hierarchy and politics are not uncommon even in huge, efficient and highly profitable Corporations. And, here we are talking about a system where, for every small thing you need to get permission from the "babu." I am sure even the mighty Superpower has such issues to handle.

    And an additional, often overlooked problem: the fact that your spouse will never be able to have a proper career.

    I have only one data point for this and it suggests the exact opposite of this. A friend from Defence has to move to newer location almost every 2 yrs. But his spouse has keenly pursued her career. May be, because she was open to explore multiple career options, she didn't had to face too many tough problems.

    Meanwhile, the army/ navy/ air force need to figure out how to deal with a whole new mindset. One that aspires for 'more' than previous generations.

    Watch 911 by Michael Moore, which makes passing reference to this issue. Even in US, there are no takers for career in Defence.

  6. Me conducting a poll at ChutneySpears on "The most livable city in India".

  7. If you all remember a few years back the National Services had started an extensive campagin so that they could invite the youth to train with them and become part of the Army / Navy / Air Force.

    I guess it's time for Round TWO.

  8. I dont know how defense people can change their command and control approach to suit corporate cultures of empowerment,delegation and co-operations. They can best fit operational roles like Anuj said.
    About the talent issues, the research and tech arms of the defence forces like DRDO and CDAC attract a lot of technical talent from the best institutes.
    I sometimes wonder if there are BPO opportunities for India for other armies. As nation state blur in boundaries, there would be an opportunity to create a Halliburton equivalent of the armed forces. Will write more about this on my blog.

  9. Its not the pay that attracts people to the corporate life.... its the flexibility and the freedom of quitting and either joining some other co. or doing something of your own that is more lucrative. There are too many strings tying you down in a defence career.
    As far as quality of life is concerned for a young officer, you are just talking about a select few we bump into at big stations like Delhi or Mumbai... what about the guy posted in some God forsaken place that we have never heard of and will probably never hear ever...

  10. Hi, My name is Captain Bappaditya Kolay. Its nice to see such motivating blogs about Defence Officers. I have served in the Army for 6 years, than through CAT, doing my MBA in Systems at SPJain, Mumbai.
    I don't agree with the point that talented people are not joining defence forces these days..they r still there...And the kind of motivation level that they possess is beyond any doubt..
    I am also looking forward for my placement next year and hopefully this Army tenure of 6 yrs will give me lot of benefits not only in terms of salary, but the rich experience in terms of Organizational Behaviour and communication that I have gained over there...
    Jai Hind...Mera Bharat Mahan

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