Before PGPMAX: Indian Navy

I was born and brought up in a military family; I am a fourth-generation military person, with grandfathers from both sides having served in the Second World War. I graduated from National Defence Academy (NDA), Pune, and thereafter served in the Indian Navy for more than two decades and I retired in the rank of a Captain.

Post PGPMAX: Corporate Sector

Prior retiring from the Indian Navy, I completed the PGPMAX programme. The programme prepared me for my corporate career and ensured a smooth transition. I joined PricewaterhouseCoppers (PwC) towards the end of the programme where I head the Aerospace and Defence vertical. We provide consultancy to Aerospace and Defence customers across the spectrum in Govt, Public and Private sectors.

The Defence to Corporate decision

In the Navy, you do see the World, yet, you do not stick to a place for more than two to three years. In my twenty years of career, I was stationed at Vishakhapatnam, Cochin, Delhi, Mauritius, and more and, I did not get enough opportunity to spend time with parents. So, I wanted that my next career path enables me to be with my aging parents. One of my NDA colleagues – Rohit Kataria, a PGPMAX alumnus introduced me to this programme. When I researched about the programme, I was impressed by the finest faculty and that helped me decide: “This is a world-class institute! This is where I want to study!”

I am a National Defence Academy and Defence Services Staff College alumnus. So, after graduating from these amazing institutions, I wanted to study in an organisation that was equally impressive. Today, I am proud to say today that I am an alumnus of three of the finest academic institutions of India.

Another thing that attracted me to PGPMAX was its outstanding alumni network. I realised that network makes a great difference. PGPMAX is a way to develop a network and friends for life, even in forties.

The B-school decision

I also looked at other top Executive MBA programs. My sister is in the USA and so I was inclined towards the U.S. but ended up choosing ISB because of three reasons:

1. Faculty: I realised that faculty at ISB is much better than faculty at other business schools.
2. Accessibility: I was stationed at Mumbai and if the School was in India, I could balance both my work and studies.
3. Curriculum: We did 12 weeks of campus time at PGPMAX and each class was quite comprehensive. I found that one of the top executive MBA programme’s curriculums covered only 70% of the topics covered in PGPMAX. I had been in Defence for long and needed a comprehensive course covering the entire spectrum of business. I wanted a smooth sailing from a military leader to a corporate leader and PGPMAX offered me that choice.

ISB: The Learning Continues

In the corporate life, I solve several business problems in the field of growth, manufacturing, marketing, strategy, digital transformation, regulations etc. So, there are instances where I reach out to my PGPMAX network: my classmates and professors. Most professors of PGPMAX come from the top global business schools and their perspective is extremely useful. For me life is an exciting never-ending learning curve!

Getting the current role

ISB was the catalyst in my successful transition from Defence to Corporate sector. Towards the end of PGPMAX, I was exploring openings in the defence industry. I was called for interviews by many organisations I applied to. I chose my current role because I wanted to create value for Military by being in consultancy in the Defence Sector. ISB built the edifice to shape my corporate career. Whilst in military, I was not permitted to be on social media owing to national security concerns. Hence, I did not have a LinkedIn profile. So, after I retired, PGPMAX helped me in creating my brand.

Leadership style before and after PGPMAX

Military leadership is all about inspiring men and women to undertake tasks to re-imagine and execute the difficult or impossible. Corporate leadership is similar; however, nuances are different. Professor Luis Martin’s incisive leadership classes in ISB shaped my experience on three key aspects of corporate leadership:
1. Do not blame the subordinate: This is something we follow very strongly in the military too. You should be ready to take the hit.
2. Do not touch the task: If you have given your subordinate a task, let him or her do it. Do not micromanage or put the monkey back on your shoulder.
3. Never go into the storm without being prepared. And that’s where PGPMAX helped me prepare for the second innings.

Contribution to the cohort

There are four things that I believe I contributed to my PGPMAX class:
1. Geopolitics: How would an event in Malacca drive trade globally, or how something that happened in Mumbai may have a ripple effect in New York – these are things I have a good hold on.
2. Leadership & Team building: The morale of your men or women and how to keep it high. I understand how men behave under trying times, empathy and how one maintains balance and motivation under these circumstances.
3. Operations: Again, something I learnt in Indian Navy – say, during an impending war, how men, ships, or other resources are deployed and how one ensures that the entire operation take place seamlessly.
4. Crisis Management: How to prepare and lead in crisis towards selection and maintenance of goals. COVID crises is a classic situation of using military principles of war for transcending any crisis, for nothing gets worse than a war.

PGPMAX: The Return on Investment (ROI)

While PGPMAX does involve a considerable monetary investment, exploring other options made me realise that ISB was the most reasonably priced option of all. Of course, the entire cohort wondered if we will ever recover this cost but now when I look back, I know I have recovered much more both in tangible and intangible spheres. I think the most important part of ROI is to set goals for yourself before the course based on your own SWOT analysis and then see your achievement at the end of the program. It was very important to have this intangible ROI of learning, upskilling and repurposing for your chosen career path.

An Executive MBA in times of Covid-19

During these times it is even more imperative that one invests in learning and upskilling. This is a lull before strong sailing winds where the economic activity will return with an upswing, so it is important to prepare to set your sails right. There is, of course, decreased liquidity in the market and people are more cautious about where they are investing– but the best investment is an investment in oneself: in education that makes you grow and improve your brand and marketability. So, take advantage of this calm to hone your skills for catching the winds sooner.

– Capt. Vishal Kanwar, PGPMAX Class of 2017, Director, Aerospace & Defence, PwC India