Satisfaction over security

His quest for challenges made him a key figure in setting up the Indian Railways’ online ticketing system—he then left it to join Thomas Cook.

Rajshree Kukreti | Print Edition: July, 24 2008

At an age when most people are thumbing through their retirement plans, Amitabh Pandey was mulling over a career switch. And not a normal career shift at that— from the much sought after and secure Indian Railways services to a private sector travel solutions firm. “In the private sector, you are accountable for every decision you take, but that’s exactly what I have been looking for,” says Pandey, who made the switch two years ago when he was 48.

Even during his two decades of service with the Railways, Pandey preferred the thrill of doing things hands-on to the trappings of babudom, a singular aspiration in the early 1980s. More so for a person who started his career as a lecturer in economics at Delhi’s Sri Venkateswara College.

Amitabh Pandey
Amitabh Pandey, 50

MA (Economics), Delhi School of Economics

First job: Lecturer, Sri Venkateswara College, Delhi University

Age at career switch: 24 years

Salary: Rs 2,000 per month (approx)

Reason for quitting: Cleared the UPSC Civil Services exam

Second job: Indian Railways Traffic Service

Age at career switch: 49 years

Reason for quitting: Seeking a more rewarding professional experience

Current job profile: President & head, e-business, Thomas Cook India Limited

Salary: Best in the industry

Transferable skills: E-commerce experience, administrative skills

Career outlook: “Revel in responsibility”

Trained for challenges: Though Pandey found teaching intellectually satisfying, it wasn’t enough. “At the end of the day I’d wonder what I had achieved,” he says. So he decided to take the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exam to enter the civil services.

“As a civil servant I felt I would be able to make a larger and more visible impact,” says Pandey, who joined the Indian Railways Traffic Service in 1982. His first posting in Nagpur, managing freight operations at the railway yard, was just what he was looking for. The adrenaline rush of 24x7 work demands and massive logistic complications had Pandey hooked.

“I was happy with my decision and enjoyed the challenge. As freight brings in the moolah for the Railways, it requires intensive daily monitoring,” he says. His enthusiasm pushed him to take various field and office assignments for the Central Railways over the next 13 years.

In 1995, Pandey was transferred to the Ministry of Railways as director, traffic (coordination). What others would have seen as relief from field work proved to be an unnerving experience for him. “Shifting from where the real action is to a ministry job is a culture shock,” says Pandey.

Net-working: Pandey’s search for a more rewarding job began again. In 2001, he had the option of moving to the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). “IRCTC was new, small and dynamic, and the boss was open to new ideas. It was the ideal place to move to,” he says.

Pandey didn’t want to be associated with the catering functions, so he opted for the tourism division. His role as group general manager (IT services) allowed him to explore the Internet as a tool for upgrading services. “The team at IRCTC was bustling with ideas on expanding core competencies. It didn’t take very long to form a technical feasibility plan for selling tickets online,” says Pandey.

The proposal was cleared by the ministry in October 2001. Not being a techie wasn’t a handicap for Pandey. “One needs project management skills and clarity about what needs to be done to set up appropriate processes and monitor implementation,” he says.

In August 2002, online booking of train tickets was introduced. “Initially, people were sceptical, but once they knew that it worked, the response was stupendous,” he says. Innovations and improvements followed and Pandey became a part of one of the most successful e-commerce initiatives in India.

However, his five-year deputation ended in 2006 and Pandey had to prepare himself for a posting back as chief freight transportation manager, North-Western Railways. “I was just not ready for a regular posting,” he says. But at 48, he could see no viable option, although he told his friends in the private sector that given a chance he would love to move out of the department. “My family was very supportive. They saw no reason why I shouldn’t leave my secure job for something I’d love to do,” says Pandey.

Pandey’s tips for a career shift

• Mid-career changes can be humbling. Be prepared

• Get a feel of what the career entails before making the shift

• Use your network for a peep into what’s on offer across firms

• Be fit. It boosts your confidence and helps keep pace with others

A new journey: Fortunately, Thomas Cook India Ltd (TCIL), a leading travel solutions company, was looking for an expert in e-commerce. The chance to manage, redesign and set up TCIL’s travel portal was too tempting to resist. “Job satisfaction tops security any day,” says Pandey, who quit the Railways in 2006 when travel trade was beginning to make its presence felt online.

The new task was fraught with challenges. TCIL had missed the first mover advantage on the Net and Pandey had to find a foothold in the crowded cyberworld. Besides, his experience was limited to e-ticketing, not travel industry. “I had to understand the travel trade, find out how to place TCIL online and integrate it with suppliers like airlines and hotels,” he says.

“Fortunately, TCIL was backed by a strong brand equity in the brick-and-mortar segment,” says Pandey, who launched the businessto-business website in November 2007, six months after joining the company. The next move was launching a business-to-customer portal in May 2008.

To be sure, Pandey’s move is also a reflection of the changing job market. By the time he decided to move out of the Railways, companies were seeking employees with niche skills, age notwithstanding. “There has been a drastic change from the time I started my career in 1979. Mid-career switches were unimaginable then,” says Pandey. That’s something Money Today has regularly captured in these pages.

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