Interview by Bhawna Rawat
Mr. Sushobhan Sarker is currently working as the Director of National Insurance Academy, Pune. He is an Honours graduate in Physics and has a degree of Master of Financial Management from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, University of Mumbai.
Mr. Sarker has a distinguished career spanning over 36 years with Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). He superannuated from the position of Managing Director (MD) of LIC in 2014. As the Managing Director his areas of responsibility included Product Development and Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, Personnel & HRD, Corporate Planning and Organization Development, Corporate Communications, Investments and International Operations.
Prior to taking charge as the Managing Director, Mr. Sarker had held the key leadership positions as the head of International Operations and Investment Departments of LIC. He was the Director & CEO of LIC Mutual Fund Asset Management Company Ltd. as well. He had served on the boards of LIC of India, its subsidiaries and associate companies and other investee companies of LIC as its nominee director.
Mr. Sarker is also an ex-officio Member on the Insurance Advisory Committee of IRDAI, a member of the Editorial Board of their Journal and a Member of the Board of Education, Insurance Institute of India.
Experience of working in different areas while working at LIC
LIC is a very large organization. Everybody is aware of its financial muscle and I was also fortunate that I worked in the Investment department for a long period of time. However, more importantly, it is a very humane organization where people get ample opportunities to grow. Also, it is a multidimensional organization and officers get to work not only in different departments related to insurance operations but also in its subsidiaries and associate companies.
I got exposure in Insurance in the beginning and then I had opportunities to work in the Housing Finance subsidiary, head the LIC Mutual Fund and LIC's International operations. So I had a very diversified experience. Actually, it is almost like working in different companies because each of these verticals is very different from the main Insurance operations and of course I have worked in different insurance operations area like heading a Branch, a Division, working in rural and North Eastern areas as well as in metros like Surat, Bangalore and Mumbai.
So, it has been a wonderful experience. It was my father who suggested to apply for LIC in 1976. My insurance journey started after getting selected by LIC and I have no regrets.
My philosophy of leadership is to take the team along
I would not like to get into technicalities of categorizing a leadership style but I have my own style which I have personally followed in all my assignments in LIC and which I have also carried on in my current role. A style is something which is very difficult to change and I doubt that anybody can change it. My style has always been collaborative and cooperative and taking the team along. And I give a lot of freedom to colleagues who work with me. I trusted people and people have really justified that trust and they have delivered much more than what I had expected. So I have continued with that style.
Changes observed in the education sector
One change which I have observed is the massive change in the regulatory framework and environment. I won’t criticize this kind of environment but what happens is, for example, our institution was founded on the principle of the collaboration between industry and academia. So, you have practising managers coming here and teaching students about insurance and management. Though there is frequent exhortation of industry-academia collaboration, the regulatory architecture has not conceived of such institutions.
To elaborate what I mean when I say that people who are in the insurance business are coming here to teach Insurance I would like to emphasize that I am not talking about such people coming as visiting faculty; they are coming as regular, full-time faculty on secondment or deputation from the parent organizations, LIC and public sector general insurance companies for fixed tenure of 4 to 5 years and are residing here on this campus for the entire duration of their tenure, giving full-time services to the Academy.
An ideal curriculum for management institutions
In any good management institution, they actually develop their whole program on case studies. So, I would say that those things which actually develop and force students to apply their mind, analyze a problem and then come to a decision are good for them. The ability and the attitude to actually apply your mind to a problem, analyze it, come up with options and then choose from those options, that should be the basic focus of the pedagogy of all management institutions.
Campus placements available at NIA
NIA has been lucky partly because of the NIA structure and of course the efforts of the placement committee and the quality of students.
We have got cent per cent placements till today, since inception. By 100 per cent placements I mean 100 per cent placements in the proper field which they have studied.
We have our campus placement exercise every year where we invite companies to come to the campus to select students for employment. We have drawn a minimum salary threshold and every year we keep on revising the threshold. If any company offers below the threshold then we do not invite them to the campus for placements.
We have been lucky that since inception all of our students have always got good placements. Once on the job after placement, it is important how much you learn, how much you apply. Our students are placed in various locations both in India and globally also and have been very successful in their respective workplaces. Whenever I have met alumni, I have asked them about the value addition and mentoring received by them from NIA. All of them have unanimously said, “Yes Sir! We have received a lot from NIA and whatever we are today we are because of NIA”.
We are always available for solving students’ problem
My style is very open. I have occupied the highest positions in LIC and do so here also. But my doors are always open. I am always available for the students. We have a Principal exclusively for PGDM, so hardly any student needs to come to me. Sometimes, if the student feels that the Principal is strict with a certain matter they come to me with a hope of leniency. But the Principal is a veteran who has experience of 23 years as Principal and if he has taken a decision it must be for a good reason. So the decision stays. But still, I am always available for the students.
Importance of faculty for an institution
Any educational institution’s development is actually based on the role of its faculty. Faculty and books are the sources of knowledge but how much they gain from the books and teachers depends on the students.
Reasons why Insurance is not as famous as any other subject or course among students
If you look at the Insurance industry it has been shy of speaking about the role it plays in the economy and in protecting the individual from the consequences of adverse events and outcomes. This trait was more pronounced prior to the opening of the industry to private players. Insurers settle claims but don’t come out and say that they have settled the claims. The Academy has also inherited this culture. We don’t do self-publicity. Although I know that we need to reach out to more students we find that it is not such a simple matter. There are many more factors than meets the eye and some of these are not acceptable to us.
We are very transparent. Every important aspect of the course is there on our website and what is there on our website is the on-campus reality. There is no divergence. We have a beautiful but old-style architecture. We don’t have shiny steel and glass frontage. People may not appreciate this sort of beauty. But we will have to be more vigorous and effective about creating awareness among potential students and definitely, we will do this after consulting with the Principal and the Admission committee.
Top qualities which the aspiring students must possess
The qualities required for an individual to grow in life are discipline and dedication. These are the two things that are really important. Of course, we do conduct the course more rigorously as compared to the other institutions. And we have a relative grading system. A student’s performance is judged relative to the class average and not merely on his stand-alone (absolute) performance.
We also have very good faculty in Information Technology. A good percentage of our students is also absorbed by the IT/ITES industry. IT has become such an important and integral part of our life that nowadays we don’t even say IT but we say Digital and now everything is App based. So we encourage students to learn more about new technologies.
If you acquire knowledge and if you have some experience, there are a lot of employment opportunities.
When students are inducted in NIA, we invite them along with their parents on the first day of the programme (Course) commencement. We do not straightaway overwhelm students with the PGDM syllabus in the first week of the First Trimester. Besides an introduction to the facilities, faculty and staff, the first week is devoted to exposing them to communication skills, personality development and widening their awareness of the environment. We also emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship during this period.
Goals for NIA for the coming years
Goals keep changing depending on the circumstances. In general, I can say that we constantly strive to raise the standard of NIA higher and higher. We also have a Ph. D. Research Centre under the Savitribai Phule Pune University (SPPU). We have very good guides for students to pursue Ph. D. research over here. I am talking a little beyond PGDM. We would like our Ph.D Research Centre to grow because there is hardly any centre which has got so much domain expertise and related resources including having perhaps, the best library in insurance for students. So, we would like some students to come for Ph.D. programme in NIA on a full-time basis. Second thing, for the PGDM, we would plan to internationalize the content and delivery of some part of the programme.
Our permissible intake is 120 but actual intake is kept lower consistent with our quality standards. We will only increase the number of intakes if we get the right students otherwise we will restrict to the present intake.
Suggestions for the aspiring students
Dedication, discipline and integrity are the important things which one needs to imbibe. By integrity, I mean integrity as a person and not only financial integrity. Most of the top corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and employers keep integrity on top of all the desired qualities in employees. Students must have integrity in them and they must be aware that this is the quality that is most important for them to have.