Interview by Bhawna Rawat

Prof. (Capt.) A. Nagaraj Subbarao, Dayananda Sagar University Bangalore

Prof. (Capt.) A. Nagaraj Subbarao is a Master Mariner and specialized in Dredging and Harbour Construction. He is currently serving at Dayananda Sagar University, Bangalore as the Dean, Center for Executive Education and Professor, School of Commerce & Management Studies. He delivers lectures on Human Resource Management, Behavioral Psychology, International Culture, and Strategy. He holds an MBA and MPhil degree in Human Resource Management and has a certification in Human Resource Management from the University of Minnesota (USA). He carries two decades of valuable experience in the shipping industry both in India and abroad and has commanded highly specialized state of the art ships for close to a decade leading teams, often in extremely adverse conditions.

Prof. Nagaraj co-founded a Marine Consultancy and has been a Marine & Dredging Consultant before turning to academia. As an academician, over a career spanning ten years, he has held myriad positions and played various roles as the Dean of Academics (MBA), Professor (Organization Behaviour & Human Resource Management), Dean and Sr. Program Director (Executive Education) and Director of Human Resources at large universities.

Prof. Nagaraj has had a deep engagement with the industry by consulting and training in the areas of management. His areas of interest are – organization culture, team dynamics, and leadership. He has an impressive social media presence and writes opinion pieces on various management issues. He has been published in refereed journals and his recent case study on Safety, Workplace Safety: Is it a Habit?” - is extremely well received as a teaching aid in the area of Industrial Safety. He is a keen sportsperson and has played cricket at the national junior level and is passionate about counselling and mentoring young students.

Experience in the education sector and as a naval officer

I have been an academician over the last decade and it has been a voyage of learning, introspection, and fulfillment. I have faced personal and organizational challenges along the way and have largely been able to navigate my way through these challenges with the collaboration of my team, management assistance and my own experience as a naval officer, which is a career that I cherish and am extremely proud of and was privileged to have.

The leadership style of the Dean

Leadership is more often than situational and I follow a contingency-based approach. As I head a young department, the Center for Executive Education, I adopt a hands-on approach and I'm involved in all of its activities – strategic and tactical. In that sense, I micro-manage but am open to ideas and suggestions. This style would obviously change as we grow and evolve, wherein my style of leadership would be more strategic than tactical. When I mention the contingency model of leadership, I must mention that I receive immense support from the leadership of the university.

Challenges faced by the Dean and his role model 

No, I have not really faced any challenges here so far. I have a collaborative team and supportive management and I have found a great mentor in Dr. D Premachandra Sagar - Vice Chairman, Dayananda Sagar Institutions. He is a scholar, thought leader, visionary and a great role model.

The curriculum of DSU and the flagship program- Executive MBA

Our flagship program is the Executive MBA, which is a part-time Executive PG Program for working professionals. These are truly challenging times and we are on the cusp of probably the fourth industrial revolution, where the influx of Artificial Intelligence will define human-machine interaction and how jobs are scripted and careers are built. Our management curriculum is integrated with the new age technologies like – Artificial Intelligence, Block Chain, Internet of Things and other advances in the Data Sciences as well as evolving technologies like mobility. There are other challenges, too. The past management programs, rather narrowly focused on profits alone. The EMBA that we offer is based on the ethos of the 4P’s:

  • Planet
  • People
  • Profit
  • Philosophy

We strive to keep our course descriptions/syllabus dynamic to reflect the incumbent world scenario, adopt a case-study based approach to teaching, to reflect real-world problems in the class. These case studies are sourced from the best universities in the world like – Harvard Business School, Stanford Business School and the IIM's. Teaching is driven by subject matter experts from industry with outstanding education credentials. A large number of our faculty holds executive-level positions in industry and are wonderful mentors too, both in and outside the classroom. In essence, we hope to craft managers, who are well rounded, strategic thinkers, with an ability to challenge and deal confidently and with great efficacy, issues that they may face at the workplace, both in India and abroad. I believe that we offer a program that is contemporary, well-crafted and superbly delivered backed by world-class infrastructure.

Read more about DSU Faculty

Building a healthy relationship with the students

The position of Dean is an administrative position. More importantly, I’m a Professor of Behavioral Psychology & Human Resource Management. I teach extensively and share a wonderful rapport with students in the classroom as well as out of it. We also have regular office hours, where students can approach us.

We are student-centric in spirit and practice

An ideal learning environment for students according to the Dean

I believe that learning is participative and personally, I lecture using a ‘Socratic’ style where the student is encouraged to participate in my lecture and not be a spectator. Culturally Indians are not very participative in large gatherings and it is my responsibility to draw the student out and make him/her more engaged. I believe that learning occurs the best in this way. We are also cognizant of changing times, so we follow a blended learning model where we adopt a flipped classroom model as well as use technology to disseminate information both in the synchronous and asynchronous mode. Finally, students need to learn at their own pace and the efficacy of a program lies in its bringing about positive change in the lives and careers of our students. I also subscribe to Herbert Spencer’s view that, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Students need to be able to apply their knowledge to the real world and contribute to solving issues.

Changes noticed in the past years in the education industry

Education has definitely moved away from being a top-down approach, where a faculty lectured to passive students. Today, a great deal of data and information is in the public domain and education is about creating the ability in a student to harness that information and data, create knowledge and solve incumbent problems with an eye on the future. Learning and education have ceased to be terminal or static. A person not educating himself/herself on a daily basis will soon be unemployable. The education industry has per se, not been able to keep pace with these rapid changes in the learning environment, particularly its inability to craft creative, innovative and students with problem-solving abilities. The issue is that change has been dormant and in many senses ineffectual. We have also been ineffective in bringing in flexibility to our curriculum or programs and the courses that are offered to students are extremely rigid and straight-jacketed.

The top qualities that an aspiring Engineer must possess in order to stand out 

Engineering is an important qualification and the quality of engineers that a nation produces is fundamental to the progress and growth of a nation. The physical infrastructure of a country is built by its engineers. An engineer to succeed must be able to meet the following requirements – have an aptitude for Mathematics and Sciences, be inquisitive and be keenly observant in their ability to solve physical issues apply logic and innovation. Engineering, particularly on a shop floor or a construction site can be physically very demanding and hence also needs physical strength, stamina, and perseverance.

Marine Engineers on ships face extremely difficult working conditions which test their physical endurance and mental strength over lengths of time

Goals on the Dean’s list to be achieved in the coming years

We would like to see the Center for Executive Education at Dayananda Sagar University reach a premier position in offering the working professional a plethora of high-quality educational programs and we hope to live up to our pledge of bringing high quality higher education to all. There is a crying need to reskill India and we hope to contribute significantly.

Suggestions for the current youth and the aspiring students

With all modesty, my success first as a Captain of ships and then as professor and an academic administrator, as well as an entrepreneur and a sportsperson has been due to wonderful team-mates who have given me great support, supervisors who were not necessarily kind but great mentors and value system that I learned at home from my parents – honor, honesty, responsibility towards myself and others, love for family and the fact that we eventually get what we deserve. I also believe that

I was taught not to complain about failure, but to stay calm, carry on and work harder

I do believe that I have looked at positions as a means to contribute and make life better for those that I work for and with. In that sense I like the concept of ‘servant leadership', wherein the leader is there only to serve his followers and other stakeholders, like say Mahatma Gandhi did for the people of India.

Success has many shades and hues and interpretations. My sincere advice to youngsters would be – stay inquisitive, practice honesty as a habit and work hard, as there are no shortcuts to success and I would like to draw their attention to a rather famous quote, from former American President Calvin Coolidge:

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts persistence and determination alone are omnipotent