MILITARY TO MANAGEMENT: HR is about understanding people…

“Working for the Air Force was the best period of my life. I never thought it was risky, it is enjoyable. In other words, it is the best life one can ever have. Though there are shortages of some facilities and comfort but still that was the best experience”

Pandurang Kumbhar, Sr. Vice President – HR & ER (Western & Southern region), Amtek Auto Ltd. After serving the nation for 20 years in the Indian Air force, he took VRS and started the corporate journey. Being a people person, HR was easy for Pandurang, and since he had worked with the Air force, the experience in the Defense proved to be a boon while transitioning into the corporate sector. In an interview with Corporate Citizen he talks on his corporate journey and millennial aspirations…

Tell us about your education and career journey.

I did my schooling up to 11th standard, in Solapur, Maharashtra. After my education, I joined the Indian Air Force in the year 1980, which was due to my family’s financial situation. I joined the Air Force at the young age of 17. Later, I did a diploma and degree of five years in Electronics and Communication through Air Force Technical College, Bengaluru.

If you are pursuing a course in the Air Force, there are intervals in between the courses. After the training program is completed, you will be assigned fieldwork tasks, if you are able to achieve the goals, able to prove yourself, then you will be called for the next training which will be the advanced training. I was keen on learning new skills so I pursued my education externally. Whenever I used to get time, I utilized it to pursue my education. I completed my BA in Communication Skills and Industrial & Organizational Psychology in 1989 from Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University —it was a four year degree program. Later, I completed my post-graduation in Industrial Relations and Personal Management, HR (IRPM) in 1998 from Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai by attending evening college for one year-it was a one year program.

After 20 years of service, post Kargil War, I took VRS, and then I joined the corporate sector. Though I was into people management, I thought of updating my knowledge and skills in order to keep myself relevant with the corporate sector. I completed my post-graduation in HR, to have a multi-skilling approach, which is crucial nowadays. In 2006, I did my post graduate Advance Diploma in Industrial Safety Management from Pune. I used to attend four hours of college after eight hours of office.

Being an HR, interaction with any employee in every situation is always a new learning. Whatever you have learnt in college with regards to HR, you will always learn further more when you apply that knowledge in practical scenarios.

How did you got into the Air Force?

After I completed my 11th at that age did not have any much knowledge of Air Force or my future career, somebody told me that ‘there is an Air Force entrance exam, why don’t you give a try?’ I appeared for the series of exams and tests and I stood 2nd among 40 selected candidates out of the total 5300 candidates. The last but crucial test was medical and fitness test; I was underweight by 2 Kgs and I was put medically down because I was underweight, at that point of time C O of the Unit learnt that the boy who stood on 2nd position of the list is not selected due to being underweight. He remarked that the candidate is outstanding in all the areas of tests which is exceptional, but 2 Kgs can be gained in a few months’ time. That’s how I got into the Air Force.

How was your experience with the Indian Air Force?

Working for the Air Force was the best period of my life. I never thought it was risky, it is enjoyable. In other words, it is the best life one can ever have. Though there were shortages of some facilities and comfort but still that was the best experience.

You took an early retirement from the Air Force.

My initial engagement with the Air Force was for 20 years. Since I am the youngest child, my father wanted to stay with me since I had left my home at an early age and I could not spend much of my time with my family. It was my father’s wish to spend time with him, so I took VRS. When I had left the Air Force, I was confident that I will do much better in the corporate sector based on my 20 years and pursued education in HR-IR and I joined the same field.

“In the Indian companies, the accountability of the employee is less in the early phase of their career. In MNCs, there are expectations from the fresher’s too they will not be lenient just because you are a fresher you are accountable”

Why and how did you chose HR field?

From the beginning of my career, I liked working with people. In the Air Force also, I was always working with team. I used to work with machine and men simultaneously. It requires skill to make the men work with the machine, and that was challenging for me. As a result, I thought I should progress in the HR field. Later, I pursued my graduation in Psychology and Communication Skills. Followed by post-graduation in HR, as I thought that I should have the inputs in order to start my career in the HR field. That’s how I began my career in HR. In HR, the strength is in administration and armed forces is the only area where I can proudly say, they teach the best administration. I learnt administration in the Air Force and that has made me more successful in HR management.

Were there any challenges while joining the corporate sector?

In the initial years it was challenging because, it is about working with people. But there is a difference between dealing with an uniform team and corporate team-that was the first challenge I faced. But as I said earlier, I studied the modern HR, psychology, and communication skills, it helped me to communicate with people in a proficient way. Once you have a good bond with people, you understand the person sitting across you efficiently. The moment you understand that person, HR becomes easy. The problem is about understanding, if you are able to understand the problem the person is facing then you will be able to help that person. Many a times, people say something which is not in their mind, due to hesitation, nervousness or some other factors. Sometimes they will do it deliberately. If you have communication skills with some understanding of psychology, then you can address the situation effectively and appropriately and then solve the problem. Defense teaches you commitment. Corporate sector also follows the rules that are being followed by the Defense sector. Therefore, I could deliver the company as per their requirements, by motivating the employees.

Did you go through any specific training when you joined Amtek, an MNC?

No, I didn’t undergo any kind of additional specific training to work in MNC. Because, it is about adaptability, if you are flexible in learning, if you are confident, if your ethical values are right, then there would not be any problems. If you are able to deliver the results then it is as simple, as it could be.

How do you strike a balance between following company’s best practices, while adopting the local norms?

The balance can be achieved with the help of communication skills. If you are able to communicate with the people, what exactly the management is looking for and what the company adopts, then it is in your favor. Even if there are local issues, you can communicate and resolve them. At times, the management is also a bit flexible and agrees on some issues. For example, there are some cultural differences, if there is a factory in Chennai and another factory in Pune. Managing people in Chennai and Pune is entirely different. People working in Pune region and in Chennai region are completely different in culture. One cannot apply the same management practices in Pune and Chennai region. When some fine tuning and adjustments are done in an appropriate manner then all the things falls in place.

“From the beginning of my career, I liked working with people. In the Air Force also, I used to work with men and machine simultaneously. It requires skill to make the men work with the machine, which was challenging for me”

What are the challenges fresher’s face when they join an MNC?

MNCs are more demanding than the Indian companies. In the Indian companies, the accountability of the employee is less in the early phase of their career. In MNCs, there are expectations from the fresher’s too they will not be lenient just because you are a fresher you are accountable and that is the first challenge. On the other hand, one gets various opportunities to learn and grow. Secondly, no one wants you to work more than eight hours. But after the working hours, if you are willing to stay a bit longer to learn something, then that is the best way for fresher’s to progress in their career. For instance, if your work for the day is over then you can ask your manager whether he needs any assistance to make his MIS, or to make a presentation. Even if you are eager to learn something new then show the initiative. That way, they get to interact with the superiors and the knowledge of the management, company and such other information is shared with the fresher’s . I have seen people who take initiative on their own are self-starters, and they will grow in the corporate sector.

The need of the hour is being knowledgeable of the current trends, do today’s youth lag in that case?

Yes. I have seen that the youth, after their studies for most of the time are engaged with the social media and other such unproductive things. Apart from social media, there are other distractions which are affecting their career. They should be focused on their goals. They should know what they want to become, realize their goal and timeline to achieve that. I am not saying don’t involve with social media, give half hour or one hour time for social media. Importantly, more time should be spent on skill building.

Today, millennials are impatient, want fast results and go job-hopping. As an HR how you do deal with millennial aspirations?

I came across various incidents of job-hopping. We recruit students from various colleges. Within six months they want to change the job, they say mera ek saal hogaya. But those job hopping may also result because of the competitors trying to attract the new comers with 50 per cent salary hike to the employee who is working with me. To reach at the top in corporate life, your base should be strong. For that to happen one should work for at least 3-5 years in one organization. Within those three or five years, understand the job, the people, the culture, technology, products, business and management properly such factors will help to make your base strong. After this, you can think of shifting into another company. People don’t have a strong foundation, they hop jobs for money and cannot deliver the results. If an employee hops job for the sake of designation and just with one year of experience joins as senior engineer, such competition has some kind of stop-gap arrangement and such hiring may be only for six months. While joining any company, millennials should think twice, if this is the right company to join, and how long should I stay here? Pick a company, pick a sector and then stay with the company for 3-5 years. When applying for a managerial position, if job hopping are more then it is considered as negative. The reason is, at the senior level, stability and integrity are crucial factors. If the company invests time and money, will he be able to deliver the results? Therefore, he should be steady with the company. The youngsters who hop jobs early in their career, have no idea what will happen in the long run, they think of short term benefits. They are attracted by a few thousand rupees but will lose lakhs in the future. That has to be learnt by the youngsters.

With integration of AI and Machine learning for hiring processes, will there be any human element left?

Use of technology is good but I am against of totally depending on AI and Machine based hiring, learning etc. AI can select the robots and machines but they may not hire correct employees. You can take the help of AI, but there has to be equal involvement of human connect from each side. Since there is no human connect, robots will not be able to understand the human feelings. Robots cannot be role models for humans.

Future of Business Challenges

“Employability is related to technological disruptions, and the challenges. If you are able to accept the challenges, and adapt yourself accordingly, then your employability is guaranteed”

The future of Indian industries is full of challenges. One such challenge is disruption. Disruption can happen unexpectedly, which forces the industry to accept change in order to survive. For instance when Jio was launched, it caused a disruption in the telecom industry. This sudden change affected telecom giants like Airtel, Idea and Vodafone. Now how to cope up with such challenges?

Challenges of an HR-Manager

Challenges of an HR-Manager are much bigger than an employees’ challenges. Because, when an employee comes across a challenge, he alone takes the decision to solve it, a sole decision. When a manager takes a decision, the decision is considered only after discussing with the management. There a number of employees working for the manager so you are answerable to them.


Those who could adapt to the needs of the industry, have a flexible attitude and they are still with companies. Those who are able to overcome the challenges successfully have a better future but others will land in the soup. You should not run away from challenges. When you join any company, don’t work for any brand, work for your own professional excellence.

Learning and unlearning

Learning and unlearning is the most important aspect when facing any kind of challenges. Things are changing very rapidly, if you don’t unlearn and learn new things, it is very difficult to succeed in the industry. Unlearning can be in terms of technical skills, behavior and so on. Unlearning and learning is the outcome of having a flexible attitude, which is very important in this fast paced industry. Whenever there is a challenge, one of the many things you have to keep an eye on is your psychological balance. If you are mentally strong, no challenge or disruption can bother you.

Technological disruptions

The IT sector which is flourishing since the last 10 years is on the verge of facing a disruption by Internet of Things (IoT) and AI. Now those who are in IT will have to learn about IoT and AI to survive in the industry because that is the future. On the other hand, in the field of logistics, another disruption about to happen is high speed travel and self-driving vehicles.

Disruption will affect the automotive sector also-the biggest change will be vehicles without engines. Then how will the vehicles run? Electric vehicles will be coming in place which do not need engines, and this would happen in the next 10-15 years. What about the mechanical engineers who are working, what about them, where will they go? This will emerge as a challenge for the managers. When one technology goes and another comes in, it is just a replacement.

Let any technology come in, there will be employment-employment is going to increase and not reduce.

Employability is related to technological disruptions, and the challenges. If you are able to accept the challenges, and adapt yourself accordingly, then your employability is guaranteed. When autonomous vehicles will come into the picture, the driver community will be affected along with the insurance sector.

In the medical field, robots are able to operate on patients, this is another example where technological disruption will upset surgeons. You should think in terms of a manager, with reference to the changes coming in the future. What you may have learned today will not be there in the upcoming years.

One of the biggest challenge for the managers is to manage men and machine together. For any new generation, their life is expected to become more comfortable and joyful and at the same time bit stressful. Whenever disruptions happen, firstly there will be a psychological impact-as a manager if you are able to handle it then you will be successful.

However, due to technology, things will be better in future.