Editor-in-Chief’s Choice: Liffy Thomas / CORPORATE WORLD: A New Battlefield

Meet these corporate leaders who learnt human capital management in the trenches

“Military personnel are encouraged to put themselves in each other’s shoes, and I think empathy is an important quality for human resources personnel”

-Major Sonam Bakshi, CHRO, Clix Capital

In Enemy At The Gates, a Jean-Jacques Annaud film about the legendary Russian marksman Vasily Zaystev, you will find everything you need to know about strategy and planning. The film set in Stalingrad from World War II shows how Zaystev struggles to stay one step ahead of his nemesis, German major Erwin König. König is a meticulous planner, and Zaystev is forced to get better at planning to vanquish his formidable enemy.

So, the military prepares its personnel for a fruitful association with the corporate world when they enter civilian life. Many military personnel have filled roles in the corporate sector very well. However, any transition has its challenges. Major Sonam Bakshi had more than her share of challenges, when she retired from the Army and joined the corporate sector.

For one, she was unable to digest the fact that some people would walk in late for meetings and join in without a soupcon of remorse.


As she was employed at the mid-managerial level, Major Sonam could not crack the whip on such indiscipline. When she was promoted to head a team, she straight away started focusing on instilling discipline in them. If someone was late for the meeting, he/she had to stay out of it. “I was however extremely careful about ringing in the changes, introducing only one change at a time, as a corporate team is obviously different from a platoon,” says Major Sonam, who has worked with companies like ICICI Bank and Wipro. She now heads the human resources department at Clix Capital, a new age digital lending firm.

Anyone unaware of how the military functions might easily slip into the erroneous conclusion that military personnel are products of rigorous training and unflinching discipline, out-and-out.

“We are placed in corporate jobs for the right attitude we carry with us and for the energy levels we bring”

-Major Cherry Singh, HR (head) – North India, MUFG Bank


This is half-truth and the spirit of camaraderie and cooperation plays as much of a role in shaping those wearing epaulettes.

Col. John Chenetra, president, SecUR Credentials, says, “I joined the Army as an officer but as part of my induction program, I had to live with the troops and learn about everyone’s job. It was a one-month exercise aimed at helping us shed our egos and put ourselves in each other’s shoes,” says Col. Chenetra.

Inspired by this experience and several other lessons about team spirit he had learnt in the Army, Col. Chenetra introduced the ‘Buddy System’ in his corporate organization.

“This is an internal micro mentoring system where a fresher is paired with a senior and guided for six months,” says Col. Chenetra who has worked in leadership positions in Hinduja Group and Verifacts.

He also introduced the ‘Durbar’ system. Based on town hall meetings, it encourages employees to speak out.


Following a six-month management course, Major Cherry Singh got a corporate assignment as head of human resources in the rural section of North East India, at ICICI Security.

“It was a huge responsibility. I knew I had been given this role because in my last stint in the army, 1500 uniformed people reported to me. The Army had taught me adaptability and flexibility, and these lessons stood me in good stead in this corporate assignment,” says Major Cherry, who is now head of Human Resources —North India, MUFG Bank.

“Major Cherry has always been a campaigner of diversity at the workplace. During her stint with YES Bank, she was instrumental in introducing all-women branches and placing women at banks close to their homes to ensure they did not quit their jobs on account of having to take a long commute in their stride.

“A lot of conviction was required to effect these changes in the mindset of the organization,” says Major Cherry.

“At every level in the military, there is an opportunity for everyone to lead, and this is one of the reasons for organizations to hire people with a defense background”

-Col. John Chenetra, President, SecUR Capital

Second career options

Major General Deepak Sapra, managing director, of Army Welfare Placement Organization (AWPO), says 50,000 Army personnel, from the age of 35 years, retire every year.

“At least 25% of them are placed in corporate, PSUs and government jobs every year,” he says.

Earlier, companies would approach the placement agency directly and state their requirements. Now, many have outsourced the recruitment process to manpower agencies. The portal (www.exarmynaukri.com) has a database of three lakh people and facilitate placement of military veterans, their widows and dependents with suitable jobs.

“The Army has more than 130 trades and is therefore capable of providing people who can meet the requirements of any company,” says the major general.

He says AWPO has tied up with Naukri.com too.

“With centers in 17 places, we help place ex-servicemen in suitable places.”

Earlier this year, Monster India signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indian Naval Placement Agency (INPA) (www.indiannavy.nic.in) to provide second career opportunities for personnel who are about to retire or have retired from service.

According to the website, INPA has a database of 40,000 navy personnel across skill sets, locations and ranks.

Indian Army Veterans Portal and merajob.in are a few other platforms that help connect ex-defense personnel with employers in the corporate world.

Dr (Col.) A. Balasubramanian