Interview by Yash Panchal
Brig. Rajiv Divekar is the Director at SIMS Pune. He is a veteran soldier and an academician. He had a very distinguished career in the Army which included service with the United Nations in Somalia and Lebanon. He was a Faculty at Indian Military Academy, College of Engineering, Defense Services Staff College and Army War College. He is B.E. Civil (Gold Medalist) and was Head of Faculty ‘Strategic and Operational Studies’ at Army War College and a faculty member in Defense Strategic Studies at Defense Services Staff College, Wellington. He has done M.Phil. from D. A. V. V. University and M.Sc. from Madras University. He has done his MBA specializing in Human Resource Management.
Brig. Divekar is the recipient of the “Rajiv Gandhi Education Excellence Award”, “RashtriyaVidya Gaurav Gold Medal Award” and “Education Leadership Award”. In the 9 years of his Directorship, SIMS has been rated as one of the best B- Schools in India. He has rich experience of strategy, planning, logistics and human resource management based on his service with the multinational team as United Nations Forces in Somalia and Lebanon. He has served in Kargil and Leh on the Line of Control where he was responsible for the Logistics and Supply Chain Management of soldiers located on posts at 17000- 22000 feet in the Siachen Glacier.
Brig. Divekar is a Paratrooper having done jumps from varied military aircraft. He has done skydiving, parasailing, water skiing, hot air ballooning, and rappelling. He won the National Silver medal in 1981 in Coxed Fours Rowing event. He is an expert in the construction of military bridges, demolitions, mine warfare, and bunkers and fortifications. He is a Charter Member of the All India Management Association.
Experience in the education sector after serving in the army
I have got 9 years of experience as the Director of Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies which is one of the top B schools. However, before becoming the Director I have had the experience of being in the education sector while I was serving in the army, where I was the faculty for various army establishments. So, my knowledge about the education sector was of course more about the management sector in the army.
Now, here I find that the education sector is a very dynamic sector. Every day things are happening and evolving. When you think about the time a few years ago, let’s suppose 7 years ago, YouTube was not there, Twitter, WhatsApp wasn’t there. There are so many things that are happening. Marketing has taken a big place. Our artificial intelligence or machine learning has come in. Now all these things need to be learned and applied and that learning comes while you are in a management institute or in any other institute. Therefore, the educational sector is a dynamic thing that is happening and we should be aware of these things and include these things in our curriculum.
The journey from a gold medalist student at Army to the Director of Symbiosis Institute of Management Studies
While in the army, I got a gold medal when I was doing Engineering. The army promotes education because it makes you a better person. So, in addition to my Engineering, I did my M.B.A my M.Phil. and I did a host of other diploma courses which not only helped me in my career in the army but now helped me to transit smoothly in the education field.
Now because of this educational background that I had, it has helped me to contribute to the educational field quite a lot. In the army, we are also abreast of the latest technology and that technology is also used in the educational field while you are imparting it to the students or the application of it when the students will be joining their respective companies and so it makes it easier for me to understand the curriculum, to formulate a new curriculum and to help student to be industry ready when they get placed.
The three significant challenges are curriculum, encouraging entrepreneurship and technology
One of the few challenges that one faces in the education sector is that you cannot stick to a given curriculum for a number of years that used to be there. Now every year the curriculum needs to be revised according to the latest happenings as things are changing at a very rapid rate.
Secondly, there is a lot of pressure on entrepreneurs. We need to create entrepreneurs and so the focus is to inculcate the spirit of entrepreneurship among the students, to encourage them to become entrepreneurs, to opt out of placements or to join their own companies or startups.
The third challenge is the technology which is changing rapidly and the students need to keep themselves abreast of the latest technology in their workplace. It is no more simplistic learning but it is more to do with the use of technology and the application of technology which we have seen happening in a big way.
We make sure that our students make a difference to the society
SIMS has a very enviable placement record. We have 300 students and it is a big number but the good part about it is that almost all 300 students are placed. And it’s not just about the placement of the students but getting them placed in a very good company and in very good job profiles and with very good packages. Most of the companies are so happy with our students that they come repeatedly to our colleges. We call them loyal recruiters and they know that SIMS students not only perform well but they attain god positions, they win a lot of awards and are adaptable and adjustable.
That is what we are able to achieve at SIMS. We not only provide them with a good education but make them good team players and true to our motto which is “Make a difference”. We make a difference not only to their personality or in their learning but we make them so capable that they are able to translate that difference in our work culture and make a difference to the society, company and to the nation.
My experience as a faculty in the army and getting involved in project management helped in the education sector
The core of engineering deals with any and everything given in the army whether it is construction or a project management or planning or coordination. Now, these are the things which are related to the management field also. In the army, one had an opportunity to serve in various places and in various capacities whether it was the construction of roads or bridges or buildings.
Now, this helped me when I transited into the educational field because first from an administrative point of view, I did have the experience to apply. Second, from the teaching point of view, I had already been a faculty at various army establishments. So, it was easier for me to transit into a teacher. Also, we used modern technology in our day to day work in the army which helped me in the teaching and learning process and since we do project management it was easier to manage a management institute administratively so that not only the establishment runs well but the students also benefit and do well in their academics and get a good placement.
90% of SIMS intake is reserved for defence dependents
SIMS is a very unique institute. It is one of its kind in India. It is the only institute that caters to defence dependents where 90% of intake is limited to defence dependents and only 10% is open to everybody else. Now, these defence comes from all over India and of course, the common thread running between them is that they are defence dependent so that helps in their bonding and they share a common DNA which is the defence DNA. But that is not good enough.
We have a number of activities, co-curricular and extracurricular activities which are in form of events, competitions and clubs. You name it and we have it. Now, this encourages students to learn team building skills, to learn leadership skills and to cooperate with each other and perform. Now, this can be seen from the fact that the same number of students have been winning a large number of B School competitions. They have also been writing research papers jointly. They have been conducting various events and activities together and SIMS has been recognized by a large number of organisations for the talent that we have in our students because of this they feel that the students of SIMS are dynamic and are very confident and have very good communication skills and are go-getters which is what the industry is looking for.
Steps taken to update the curriculum to ensure the best practices of the industry
Like I said earlier, we look at our curriculum every year, after every semester, we get a feedback from the faculty, students, alumni and industries and we revise or have a look at the curriculum. So, you would find on a regular basis changes taking place. So, that is one thing. We also get industry people to come into our institute and share their experiences through events where they are judges for the events.
We have workshops that are conducted and we have many other activities that take place in the industries. We also encourage students to take certifications. So that students can enhance their skillset. We conduct workshops and certifications which can again develop the students or help them in their career.
Motivating and encouraging students and faculty help in building a strong bond
Developing a close relationship among the students, faculty and the Director is where the good and real change takes place. What I learnt in the army was that lead from the front, be involved in what your men are doing. That is what I am practising while I am the director here. I don’t sit in my office and give orders I am there with the students and participating in their activities, motivating and encouraging them.
At the same time, I make sure that they are the ones that do planning and I am there to support them and guide them wherever it is required and this I find have been really very helpful. This has brought me and the students closer together. They can share a lot of things with me including their worries and concerns which may at times be at a personal level and that is the rapport that one has developed with the students.
Goals for sims
The goals are plenty like any director of any B school would say. The aim and objective is, of course, to make SIMS one of the best B schools. SIMS already ranks amongst the top schools. But then definitely we would like to be among the top ten. The way to reach there is first to produce a lot of entrepreneurs and I feel that is possible given the quality of the students that we have. Second, to inculcate research, whether it is market research or writing research papers among the students because that is where you gain knowledge and you gain experience and that is the need of the hour.
The third is in terms of giving the students international exposure. One by encouraging them to go abroad and also getting faculty from abroad to come and teach our students so that the teaching is more holistic and they get a global perspective in their knowledge.
The current youth is enjoying the best opportunities at the present time
You are lucky to be born in the time when India is very well placed demographically. India is on the rise and is shining. There are plenty of opportunities but to avail of those opportunities you need to be suitably qualified and just your normal classroom teaching is not enough. You need to go out and learn something more. You need to have an exploratory attitude to learn more and learn about the latest technology so that these things can differentiate you. This is the time when the people who keep themselves abreast of the latest happenings and can adapt to the changing atmosphere and have a positive attitude for that can reach wherever they want to and to gain whatever you want to.