Soldier of fortune

When an injury left him unfit for active duty in the Indian Army, Deependra Sengar cleared CAT to study HR practices and is now the chief executive of a hiring firm.

Sudhir Gore        Print Edition: March 20, 2008

Deependra Singh Sengar, 38, IMA, IIM Ahmedabad

Previous career: Major in the Indian Army
Salary in previous job: Rs 30,000 a month
Age at career switch: 32 years
Reason for quitting:
Physical disability
Current career: CEO,TMI First
Present salary: Quite comfortable
Transferable skills: Organisation management
Career outlook: “Take up challenges”
Deependra Singh Sengar is a classic case study of how sheer will power can be the cornerstone of a man’s success. Seriously injured during the Kargil war, Sengar, a major in the Indian Army, did not let physical disability come in the way of a successful corporate career. Where most would have depended upon Army pension to lead a comfortable middle-class life or move to a non-combat posting in the Army, Sengar decided to use his skills and talent to return to normal life.

Today, as the chief executive officer of TMI First, a recruitment firm with a focus on freshers, Sengar claims he is “stronger both physically and financially”. Like a true soldier he fought his personal demons and has come out a winner. For someone who had always dreamt of being a soldier, graduating from the National Defence Academy in 1990 at the age of 20, was a momentous occasion. But nine years later, Sengar’s dream of a successful career in the Army was shattered with severe injuries during the Kargil war.

“I knew I would never be able to lead from the front. It hurt more than the wounds,” says Sengar, who has received 12 medals for outstanding service. The doctors doubted if he could ever walk because of the bullet injuries to his leg and hip joint.

Overcoming hurdles: It was also the time when he had to take the decision of whether to remain in the Army. “It was difficult. I knew I couldn’t return to my parachute regiment and active combat duty. And I didn’t relish the prospect of a desk job in the Army. I had to decide on a career switch,” he says.

As a first step, he decided to hone his IT skills, but an ex-officer advised him to pursue a management course, as it would help utilise the organisational skills he had picked up in the Army. Studying for the Common Admission Test (CAT) to management institutes was not an easy start. “I was totally out of touch with academics and I could not sit,” says Sengar, who was put on traction.

“I put in eight hours a day from the hospital bed revising basic maths. A nursing assistant sent his 12-yearold son to help me. I picked up calculation tips from him,” he recalls. Six months later, on crutches, he took the exam. Hard work paid dividends and Sengar cleared CAT in 2000. Joining IIM Ahmedabad was another dream come true.

“Physically, it was a challenge as I was just out of the hospital. Sitting through regular classes and then the long hours of group work took its toll and within two months I was beset with multiple physical problems,” he says.

Lehman Brothers chose him for their summer internship programme in Tokyo. This proved to be a blessing in disguise. Not only did he get to work with a global investment bank, he also underwent intensive acupuncture therapy during the two months he spent in Tokyo.

Though Sengar managed to get a job even before the final placement season began, it wasn’t exactly easy. He realised that over-qualification or experience could also be deterrents to one’s growth. “There were moments of disappointment as most companies were looking for candidates with not more than two years of experience,” he says.

He joined pharma giant Dr Reddy’s Laboratories in Hyderabad as a manager, learning and development. His profile was to create training programmes for the top 100 people of the company. The next two years saw him shift from the somewhat theoretical to the practical aspects of human resource (HR) development. By 2004, he was an associate director, heading HR operations of a business unit.

Sengar’s tips for a career shift

Assess your existing skills first.You should aim at enhancing them before embarking on a move

Choose a job profile that best utilises your capabilities and opens new opportunities

An organisation should be able to arm you with growth and learning opportunities

Don’t remain in a job that’s no longer challenging
Dealing with change “There was a lot of coping up with the changes in my career. There is big difference between the work culture in the Army and in a corporate,” he says.

And, as he admits, he missed the camaraderie that’s prevalent in the Army. “But IIM had prepared me well for the transition,” he says. “And my stint in the Army had prepared me for rigour.” After two-and-a-half years, Sengar decided he wanted a more challenging job. And in 2005, when business process outsourcing company Genpact offered him the post of assistant vice-president, he took it up.

“The choice before me was to remain in my comfort zone or to take up something more challenging. Genpact offered the latter as its core business was people-oriented,” he says.

Within a year, there was another change in the offing. At one of the IIM alumni meets, he got an offer to head a start-up—TMI First. “Heading a start-up comes with unique challenges and I guess that’s why it’s so exciting,” he says.

Since the company aims at connecting education to employment and is in the area of recruitment of freshers, Sengar gets to interact with the youth, which he finds refreshing. “We are now focusing on rural employment and also working with different government and non-governmental organisations for increasing employability,” he says.

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