“Flipkart, at this stage in my life, is an adrenaline rush!” says Sreekumar Narayanan, former IAF officer and Director, Business Continuity, at Flipkart. Read about his journey from the frontlines to his corporate life of safeguarding the business.
I had a fairly long stint in the corporate world after I left the Indian Air Force in the 1990s. I started as a Pilot Officer in 1987 and left my posting as Flight Lieutenant in 1991. I was in the guided missiles and air defence systems arms as an engineer, posted across the north and east of India as that’s where most of our combat forces are. A childhood love for all things space and aeronautics steered my journey here.
My family was in South India, and, after my short service commission in IAF, I mulled a lot about leaving. But eventually, I wanted to be closer to them and decided to make the move.
I entered the corporate world in 2004 leading business continuity and risk management for various companies across India and the Middle East. I then set myself up as an entrepreneur — I started a risk management company in Bengaluru — and had a good run, but the pandemic undid me. Destiny had other plans once again.
Luckily for me, I was able to get back to the corporate life, and I joined Flipkart earlier this year.
The transition from the air force to corporate for me was fairly smooth, with a few challenges. I truly wish there was a program like Flipmarch back then. Then, there were no bridge courses for those of us coming out of the air force or other armed forces and joining corporate and civilian lines of work. It was tough for an officer to find their footing in civilian life.
Veterans already bring with them strong value sets like integrity, discipline, fungibility and ability to adapt. And a lot of management theories were founded in the defence forces. Management, team building, building reserves and inventory building is something we already have a lot of experience in.
Flipmarch comes in as a sort of a cultural inoculation. It’s a very good concept, it enables people from the forces joining new organizations to feel like they belong. It says ‘Veterans, we recognize you and understand the background you come from, and we are the bridge’. From an assimilation point of view, it’s a marvelous idea. It helps us connect our past to the present.
At Flipkart, I am in charge of Business Continuity. The pandemic especially is a huge stressor for businesses. We had a trying time in the early days, but we did well. Business continuity functions silently in the backend, even during the most trying times, and ensures everything is smooth and uninterrupted. While it looks to be inward looking, the customer is at the front and center of business continuity too. At Flipkart, that means no service to the customer should be disrupted.
In the air force too, we do this. But while in corporate situations, you can have a Plan B and C, in the armed forces, there is no room for Plan B.
My 6 years in the air force taught me to always prepare for success. I live by this saying by Benjamin Franklin – ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’
It also inculcated in me values that I’ll live by for life – integrity, ability to lead by example and embrace and appreciate diversity. Diversity is the norm in defence forces, you work with people across caste, community and location. When you are mission focused, nothing else matters.
I always used to think that your background and where you got an education etc mattered. But in ’89 when we were deployed to a forward base in Punjab – the first time in war mode for me – most of my background of engineering and education was stripped down. Living in tents and preparing for war, I realised then that none of our differences matter at that point. Each of us had so much to learn from the other.
I was born and raised in Manipal. Those days it was a small place. My father was a professor of Maths in the engineering college there. I now live in Bengaluru with my wife and daughter – we are a small and happy family.
Working at Flipkart has been amazing so far. It’s a homegrown company – built ground-up by Indians. Flipkart, at this stage in my life, is an adrenaline rush. And my wife often says, ‘Don’t go overboard with the rush!’
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