Perspectives from ISB

Life aboard a submarine isn’t for everyone. Among one of the most trying assignments in the military, one that tests a sailor’s limits and endurance is that of a submariner. To be locked up in a windowless, cramped, steel contraption called a submarine requires a systematic mental and physical conditioning. It’s like being an astronaut of the deep.

‘An adventure-loving person like me couldn’t have asked for more. I can humbly say, I have been there, done that,’ says Nanda Kumar Das, PGPpro Co’ 19, a dean’s lister, the first soldier to bag the honour. Nanda is a battle-hardened ex-submarine captain of the Indian Navy. He has captained a frontline submarine and was the second in command on two submarines that included a nuclear-powered boat. ‘I spent three years in Russia on training and had to learn Russian because the leadership didn’t want to lose crucial information in translation.’ A felicitation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the proverbial cherry on the cake that his illustrious career of 22 years has been. Nanda has received several service medals and honours for his exemplary service in the Navy. In his present role as a Director, Bids and Proposals at Genpact, he is a tower lead responsible for enhancing proposal quality, driving governance and deal management.

After completing the command, when Nanda came to Delhi for a stint at the Naval Headquarters as part of his career progression, he felt that something was amiss. Though important, his current role was more administrative in nature and the adrenalin rush that he was used to whilst in his previous leadership roles, was missing. Whether to wait to get back there or to switch was the question at hand.  ‘I did a risk analysis and concluded that to be relevant and attractive to the job market I quickly needed to move out of my comfort zone into the unchartered waters of the corporate.’ But the second innings required him to reinforce himself with the best education, besides the two master’s degree he already possessed, if he were to play a good knock. Though well equipped with the essential soft skills, his kind of niche skills as a submariner would have had few takers in the corporate. Basic knowledge of competitive strategy, micro and macroeconomics, finance et al., were necessary to stand him in good stead. ‘Considering the competition, differentiating myself was very important. I consulted several people and my research led me to ISB. It was one of the seven best decisions of my life.’

The programme was undoubtedly exacting but the push and nudge of his peers and his own hard work, ambition and pursuit for excellence helped him tide over it with distinction. ‘The distinguished faculty planted the seeds of corporate growth inside my mind and kept nurturing it. The School’s environment facilitated the process well.’ A whole host of lessons Nanda learnt at ISB are yielding him bountiful results, be it about credibility or about the importance of preparation. ‘Preparation in the run-up to something important is no less critical than the final delivery and thus cannot be undermined. ISB has enabled me to develop a kind of instinct about the 20% deals that will give me 80% of revenue.’ The fact that in the fourth month of his joining Genpact, Nanda was entrusted to drive the most important aspect in any proposal—that of ensuring its quality—is a testimony that he began implementing his learnings in earnest. I still refer to my ISB notes whilst preparing for executive presentations.

Leadership is close to Nanda’s heart. ‘A leader is a farmer who grows more leaders, transforms a lamb into a lion by infusing positive energy and tough empathy in them.’ Leading people closer to their destination, enabling and empowering them; leading by example; taking ownership of the job and its outcomes are the philosophies of good leadership he espouses. ‘I must lead by example. Walking the talk and getting into the trenches is necessary to instil confidence in my team about my leadership. I encourage my team to bring problems to me, no matter how trivial they may be.’ Good news can wait, but the bad news needs to fly to me is a directive in my team.

‘Apart from the learnings, the biggest takeaway for me at ISB was the friendships I earned for life. ISB is an ever-expanding network and the upsides of it far surpass the monetary investment that one makes in it. It has NDA (National Defence Academy) kind of matrix. If I call any of my NDA mates any time of the day anywhere in the world, they respond. I have seen the same spirit in the ISB network.’ When the going gets tough—as it was because of the grind of the course—the bond becomes stronger, he says. ‘I was an outlier in my class because of my longer work experience compared to the others. I was the big brother of the group solving conflicts and arbitrating,’ Nanda says with a chuckle. He has pleasing recollections of partying and bonding with his classmates.

An avid motivational speaker and a storyteller, Nanda pursues his passion to shape India’s future generation. ‘I link my job to a purpose and my purpose, I realised three to four years back, was to shape the future generation of India.’ That may sound lofty but Nanda is doing it in his own small way addressing the students every other weekend at ISB and other educational institutions and inspiring them to be effective leaders of tomorrow.

‘You perish when you stop growing intellectually. To be the first where knowledge is being shared is the key to stay relevant, continue to grow and sharpen yourself. I never lost a single opportunity to learn. The fact that you have chosen ISB means you do not settle for mediocrity.’

His word of advice to the current class of PGPpro students is that they must sweep aside any doubts they have of the return on investment and the effectiveness of the School. ‘Believe in yourself. Greater the risk, higher the returns. ISB is the springboard that can catapult you closer to your dreams. I have experienced it firsthand.’ According to him, a great deal of learning comes from peers because of the diversity they offer.

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

– Nanda Das, PGPpro Class of 2019, Director – Genpact.

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