Entrepreneurial Traits from Residential Schooling #SSBJ #AJEET

Every year, around 2000 of the brightest 10 year olds get into Sainik Schools with a mission to spend the next 7 years preparing for a career in the Armed Forces. The children run a proven routine intended to build officer like qualities in them. Not everyone is able to clear through the rigorous schooling and nearly half of them drop out by Class XII. A good number of students successfully get into the National Defence Academy, and those who don’t, have this immense challenge to come back to the civilian world and refuel their dreams. It appears, initially, an easy task as these students have been through an education system that has taught them to be physically fit, mentally tough and emotionally balanced, but as the students start this new life, this thought fades. The new life is tougher as the parameters of assessment of performance are different. Unlike the school where there is standardizations of almost everything, the world outside works on different set of rules. I always wondered how do the education and learning experiences at residential schools that work primarily on a singular aim help children when they aren’t pursuing that aim any further. The basic principles of life, like honesty, truth, discipline, hard work, consistent efforts, etc., are the same across professions but there are some niche skills that one needs to acquire to gain expertise in a profession.

I had this wonderful opportunity to spend time with Ajeets (alumni of Sainik School, Bijapur) who decided to start their own businesses. The number is really small at roughly 2% of the students who have passed out from the school. There could be several reasons. Firstly, most of us hail from lower middle class families and we have to support our families, and so, we try to get a job as soon as possible. In fact, I heard stories of people who joined the school just because they were assured a square meal a day. Secondly, we have very little knowledge about business or entrepreneurship as these are topics outside our syllabus or scope. There could also be generic reasons like dull economic conditions, unviable business opportunities, limited exposure, lack of funds, etc. While I discussed these points with them, we realised that the training at school, surprisingly, has helped them in numerous ways to be better businessmen. Although there was no formal business curriculum in the school, the traits acquired in the school have been of immense help to them.

Education for Life
When in school, Lt Cdr (Retd) CV Prakash, a hydroponics expert, asked Kannath sir, faculty of mathematics, “Where are we going to use all these things in life?”, when Pythagoras theorem was being taught, to which Kannath sir replied, “You’ll remember me the day you use it”. 30 years since then, when CV was building his greenhouse, he struggled to calculate the sizes to lay the structure and it was then that he applied the Pythagoras theorem. Of course, these lessons are a part of the curriculum. The differentiator is that our teachers spent 16-18 hours every day with us. At 5.30am, we had our hostel superintendent ensuring we get up, have a cup of tea and reach the ground. At 6.00am, we had our PT teachers jacking us off. From 7.30am to 1.30pm, our classes run. At lunch, teachers accompanied us. At 4.00pm, they played basketball, volleyball, football, hockey, cricket, etc. with us. At 6.30pm, they would join us in the evening preps. At 8.30pm, they would be there at dinner. After dinner, they would stay back for an hour or two to help us in our studies. The next day, they are back. Vaatsalya Hospital’s co-founder, Dr Veero, who believes strongly that the school gave him all that which has made him whatever he is today, says that this realisation literally shook him up when he thought of this later in life, though he never felt anything unusual about it when he was at school. There is a lot of difference between an exam of marks and an exam of life. We were built for life, at school.

Hard Work is the key to success
Unlike B-Schools, where smart work is stressed as an essential trait, schools like ours believe in hard work. Practically, it isn’t fair to compare these two as each of these have different applications and are intended for different objectives. In many cases, I have seen how entrepreneurs toiled all the way, despite there being options to take short cuts or make smart moves. They opined that smart work works in the short run only. In the long run, only hard work will persist. Of course, there were also instances where I could notice how they made smart moves in their business, which proves that they aren’t altogether void of smart work, but the focus is on hard work.

Honesty is the best policy
Environment makes people. For someone who has spent his childhood, the learning years, at a school like SSBJ, severing values is worse than anything else. A man who has spent his life with honesty, integrity and truth is a true success in himself. The greatest success lies in being able to hold our heads high and walk happily. The school taught us in practice that the past cannot be changed, the future cannot be seen and the present is all that we have. May be, the school taught us the art of living, and when you know how to take control of life, you can do all that you want to do with it.

Vijay Idagal of VM Enterprises says, “Honesty is tough to practice in business and practicing it has paid me tremendously in the long run in non-monetary terms”. The school has built us from raw kids to men with mettle. The value system was drilled in our DNA and it has helped us significantly. We have learnt commanding respect rather than demanding it. The language of fear and enticement work in the short run, and only right understanding works in the long run.

Health is Wealth
Mould Makers’ founder Satish Laxmapur spoke about how he burnt the midnight oil and topped the class year after year at NTTF, after SSBJ. He also excelled in sports and athletics and realised how big a role the school had played in strengthening him when he could easily run a stretch of 20 kms between Hubli and Dharwad for a social event. “Most of my friends maintain strong health even today. It is because we have built our body that way since our childhood. Work keeps me so busy that I hardly find time to exercise. Having a good health has been a great boon to me”, says Satish.

The Moral Sense of Responsibility
The fact that you are from SSBJ makes people around you look up to you and that alone is enough motivation to do well in life and live by values. The SSBJ legacy has been a factor that many agree as the reason for them to desire to excel in everything they do, and also not fall prey to fallacies. Responsibility was brewed in us at a young age by making us accountable for our lives, assigning tasks, providing leadership roles, and asking us to perform in a very competitive environment. Some of the most basic lessons like ‘Don’t carry class (work) to house (home)’, ‘Accept (mistakes) and move on’, ‘Disputes of house (home/family) should never be brought in open’, ‘You always get more by giving’, ‘You have no rights to the results, but only the liability of efforts’ and so on, were ingrained in our life and these have played a big role in shaping us into better individuals.

Risk taking abilities are a part of our value system
Capt Sandesh, who heads Edu Asia schools says, “The school taught us to take decisions with calculated risks at a great speed. Amid all adventure, we also committed mistakes and corrected them at a very young age. The morals learnt are a part of our system without our notice. There was no choice at school for many things. There was only one way, the right way. The school guided us to travel that path, either by choice or by force, and today, we take that path impeccably. Staying together, especially in times of distress, has made us humble. Our decisions, our value systems, are all due to the stories of past. In simplest words, the value systems of life were injected in our blood streams at the school”.

Nageshwar Rao, founder of Asmaitha was reminded of the quote “Hope for the best and be prepared for the worst”, which he heard numerous times at school when he decided to quit his job. He asked himself, “What if I fail?”, and pat, the answer was, “I will get back to job”. Risks appear as opportunistic situations when you start looking at them this way. As young blood in a disciplined residential school, we faced several situations where we want to break a rule, no matter what it brings to us. Everyone has their own adventures of jumping gates, going out to watch a movie without permissions, midnight swimming, etc. and each of these have again taught the lessons of calculated risk taking. The adventures would never stop, after all, the passion kept driving us to take all the risks to do what we desired to. Funny enough, each time we were caught, we learnt the strength of unity, and it only kept strengthening.

Come what may, I am ready for it.
One of the most disastrous stories I heard was that of Anand Vijapur, who was diagnosed with cancer at a time when his business, Aasptek Handling Solutions, was in trouble too. He spoke of how the cross country races on Saturday morning taught us to be determined and never give up, despite this double shock. He couldn’t afford to lose hope, at least not in front of his children. He kept battling cancer for 3 years, alongside struggling to set his business back on track, which he did successfully, before he succumbed to fate last year. While he smiled to tell me that he was blessed with great health for 40 years and he should be thankful to God for that, I was terrified and literally shook at his courage.

Nagendra Mali of Navachetana speaks about how the support extended to him by everyone helped him mellowing down, stop fighting and start learning. “For me, personally, school added tremendous value. It gave me a lot of courage, corrected my mistakes and helped me develop my thought process, which is very important in taking right business decisions. I do not hesitate to say that if I was not an Ajeet, I could not have faced most situations that came up later in life”, says Nagendra.

Management by Leadership, Marketing Naturally
Discipline, undoubtedly, is the element that everyone stressed as one of the most important lessons from SSBJ. The NCC parade, mass PT and group activities were great contributors to this front. Discipline in every action and even the thought flow process has helped him make better decisions.

We observe that managers these days tend to dictate employees about what to do. Of course debatable on the grounds of creativity, the fact remains that effective team management can be done by managers who can lead by example, unless there is an employee in the team who is taking up that role. Initiative has been injected our blood at very early stages of life. A very important point to note in the process of initiative is that the person has to continue being a team player first.

In the process of preparing for debates, assembly speeches, SSB interview, and going through hundreds of discussions for events, competitions, parties, etc. has helped us to build our communication skills and abilities to convince people. Shivaling Kodule, who runs Aishil Engineering, says, “I didn’t know a word in English when I joined school. Over the years, the school transformed me in several ways. Today, when I sit in front of my customer and present, I feel I already have won half the battle. Without our notice, we have implemented the management principle of ‘Sell yourself, the product gets sold on its own’ into our lives and the most important point to note here is we don’t do it strategically or with a plan. It comes to us naturally.”

Getting connected to people, Effortless Human Resources Management
Great relationships are built when people open up their lives. “Employees feel very happy when we help them with anything. This comes naturally to us. Everyone sees what’s good in others but points out what is bad. However, we have been, from day one, pointing out what is good. It really takes guts to tell someone that he is better than you, to tell someone that he played better. Football taught us to appreciate strengths”, says RK Patil, CEO of Vayavya Labs, “Seeing a dream and assembling a team are critical elements that go in to determine how successful your venture will be. Every individual is different and connecting with them all with the same energy is challenging. Every individual is important. At the end of the day, it’s about the company and the company is about the people who make it.”

People work for salaries, to begin with. Then, they work for their passion. Further, they work due to their association. Every entrepreneur I spoke to told me unequivocally that they have been able to maintain very healthy and cordial relationships with colleagues and employees as they learnt to be sensible and responsible, sharing and caring, concerned and grateful during the 7 years at school. ‘Own up’ are two words that heard almost every day. Ajeet entrepreneurs realize that if these feelings can be replicated in employees by creating conducive environment, it can work wonders for the organization, and they make conscious efforts to have such an environment.

Successful people value relationships
Ramesh Bhat, a former stock broker, says, “I learnt early in life from the school that no amount of money, wine and women can satisfy men, and this helped me to resist all temptations of the fancy world of finance offered. If not for the strong self-discipline, stronger financial discipline, and even stronger focus on building strong relationships with clients ethically, I wouldn’t have survived in the stock markets. I’ve known that knowledge and education is the greatest gift that can suffice life”, says Ramesh, who has spent the last 10 years volunteering tirelessly to further better the facilities, infrastructure and overall education at the school. The school has taught us to practice what we preach.

In the long run, good schools are named so by what the alumni does for the world. The educational institutes become successful if they can ignite the fire in the bellies of the students. The ‘anthah prerana’ (Inner Motivation) is high in good schools. We have learnt the true meaning of competitive spirit. We would be the worst of enemies on the ground, and when out of the battlefield, we became the best of buddies. Unknowingly, our minds developed ahead of our age and we became our own support system. By the time we reach 12th, we were, like, done with life.

“It is easy to philosophize today but those moments were undeniably awesome. Our relationships are so strong that we almost cry even today when we depart after meeting and our wives are thoroughly confused”, says Milind Katti, co-founder of QEDBaton, “The school alumni meets are unique gatherings. I attend my college alumni meets which are mainly to network and speak business. At school meets, you only speak love, love and love. It may not happen anywhere else in the world. But then, the speed at which needy get help from the alumni is blazing fast. Even this doesn’t happen anywhere.”

On the other side of the edge, as close to the river
Someone has rightly said, “Security is mostly an illusion. It does not exist in nature. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”. We have learnt to embrace risks wisely and work towards solutions. While Sainik Schools have an impeccable record of meeting their primary objective of training children to join the Armed Forces, the schools have been doing extremely well in their secondary objective of turning the children into useful citizens. We have learnt from day one that life doesn’t run to our specifications as we are not its only stakeholders. With all these inputs from entrepreneurs, we can conclude that the race of life needs the same elements to win, in varying proportions. An education system like ours empowers us with all the traits that we need to live life. Being responsible for our lives, taking risks, building everlasting relationships, sticking together in difficult times and all times, support everyone to move up and enormous multitasking skills are some value additions from the school life that entrepreneurs tick as most helpful.

Do you have it in you?
Often, we were asked this question at school, before any competition/event. This reminds me of funny instance when someone answered, “Yes, I have it in you”, and he had a terrible day after that. Jokes apart, I feel that the learning and experiences at school has built us into strong individuals and we all have the abilities to do all that we want to do, including building businesses. Air Deccan, Jolle Samuha, Magod Lasers, Adept Foundation, Flexitron, Sante Mernaud, Varnaaz are some more examples of business houses that Ajeets have built.

The Indian economy is expected to flourish on a new path of growth, creating opportunities for all of us. This new world needs new people, new thoughts, new ideas, lest we fall back in the same cyclical phenomenon. After my interaction with Ajeet entrepreneurs, I feel that we are not only positioned to take up these opportunities but it is also our responsibility to take them up. There is ample evidence across the world that a B-School degree is not essential, though helpful, to run a business. Our stories further prove this. If you have been thinking to do something and have been pausing for some reason, I encourage you to take these inputs and make a wise decision. There is a great support system within you and a greater one around you.
Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t; you are right”.
Start UP!


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