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Switching ashore!!-The correct way-Dr. Bireshwar Kumar

Hello, everyone. Hope you’re all doing well today.

I welcome you all to my next Blog, where We’re meeting Dr. Bireshwar Kumar who is an experienced business leader and consultant.

He began his career as a deck cadet with MOL and moved up the ladder to become Second officer. He has mostly worked oil tankers during his stint at sea.

In 2007, he joined SP Jain School of Global Management and completed MBA in Supply and Logistics. He graduated with an academic gold medal. Post MBA he worked in different roles for well-known companies like DNV, Accenture, all dealing with the shipping companies. He was also an entrepreneur where he started an education start up in Bihar before moving back to Singapore.

In his present position as a business development director, his company provides, navigational solutions to ship management companies, where they assist the vessels in making better passage plans and assist offices in monitoring the vessel in real time. He has recently completed his doctorate in business administration from Australia. He is also an expert in cyber security and has been giving presentations on various forums on the same.

Today we will be talking to him about his career progression and how did he manage the various transitions in his life? He provides insight on his thought process of taking the next steps and what were the drivers in his life. He gives us the key considerations one should have before switching ashore. He mentions the importance of introspection and its effect on his life.

Thank you so much for being with me on this journey

Excerpt from the conversation:

Vijay: Good afternoon, Dr. Bireshwar. Hello every one! We have Dr. Bireshwar Kumar with us. He is presently a director of Business Development in one of the maritime tech companies in Singapore. With his long experience, am sure we will have some good insights from this short conversation. Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. BK: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here and discuss and share my experiences and knowledge

Vijay: Thank you so much. So, diving right into the podcast, how was how was your entry in the Merchant Navy? was it like, you always wanted to be in the Merchant Navy or it just happened by accident

Dr. BK: Yeah. You can say it was more of an accident. I always wanted to engineering so had taken, physics, chemistry, maths in the 11th Std.For engineering I prepared for the IIT in 1997.however was not able to crack it. Next year, I went to Delhi with few of my friends and then we prepare for the IITJEE in 1998, I managed to get into the last few ranks and also managed to get few other engineering colleges. But in 1998 the job scenario in engineering side was not that great because, a lot of our friends and relatives had tough time finding a job. On the contrary, TS Chanakya also was taking admission through the JEE examination and they had campus placement and jobs with starting salary of inr 25000 paid in USD.I got a call from T S Chanakya for the counselling and again I was more inclined toward the engineering side. However, Capt.H Subramanian suggested I take the deck side. So that’s how I ended up in Merchant Navy. Then the next three years in were great learning about merchant navy. It was a unique experience for me, starting from zero and building up my knowledge base.

Vijay: Excellent! Please tell us about your 1st ship and what was the process.

Dr. BK: Yeah, after college, when we were in a third year, there were campus placement organized. So, I got selected in Bergesen (now the BW group) and MOL at that time. I opted for MOL as I felt it was a better company then. Then MOL send me for another two weeks of training in TS Rehman, and then I joined my 1st ship. My 1st ship was a VLCC which was very well maintained. We had long voyages between Middle East and Japan and were rather very smooth. During the voyage while transiting Singapore straits, my captain used to call me for steering the vessel. It was a great experience to handle such a big vessel in congested waters. I used to spend 9 to 10 hours on bridge taking turns at the steering wheel. On that ship I also had an opportunity to be in the engine room for 3 months to learn various machineries.

Vijay: After the 3 months in Engine room, did you still think you should have the engineering side?

Dr. BK: Engine room time was tough as were in the PG-Fareast run, the temperature was more than 50 degrees plus in PG. Hence, I felt the decision to be on the deck side was much better.

Vijay: So, you completed your cadetship and got your 2nd mates. After that, please tell us about your officer time.

Dr.BK: Immediately after my cadetship, I joined MOL back again as a third officer, I sailed for two contract as Third Officer and then switched to OMI for onboard promotion to 2nd officer, as promotions in MOL were very slow then. I continued with them for 2 more tenures. My total sea career was little over 5 years.

Vijay: Excellent, please tell us about switching ashore, what made you switch ashore, and how did go about making that transition?

Dr.BK: while I was working as a 3rd and 2nd mate, most of my vessels were on a long run. So, I generally get 10 days voyages and especially in the middle of the sea, you hardly get to see one ship in your entire watch. You thought lot. I think about a lot of things. So that’s what happened. It started happening with me. I was thinking. And then I realize that and I cannot continue with this kind of role forever. I wanted to go more in depth where the decisions for vessel employment are being made. Then I realized that to get into that direction I might need to get some additional academics. Me and couple of my friends started talking about that and we narrowed it down to an MBA which seemed more suitable and perhaps MBA in supply chain and logistics will help us. As my sea time could be considered an experience in the industry. Just before my last but 1 ship, when I came for my vacations, I started looking around for suitable courses. I also realised that I needed to have a 1-year course only as then I could resume earning after a smaller gap. I shortlisted few colleges in America/Europe/India and finally decided to join SP Jain, which had recently started operations as other institutes were pretty expensive compared to SP Jain and most of them had only a 2-year course.

Vijay: Ok so you had the funds for the MBA or had to go back to your family?

Dr.BK: Yes, My MBA was fully funded by my merchant navy salary only. One more reason for choosing SP Jain was that, they gave me the option of supply chain and logistics.

Vijay: So basically, you wanted to be in a maritime industry but then on the different sides of the table and you wanted to see how the machinery of maritime business actually operates. Excellent! moving on, In the present day, do you feel it would have been better if you had continued till master and then got off. Because there are so many people watching this video and it could be both a junior officer or a senior officer.

Dr.BK: For me, it depends on the individual to decide. It is ok for a person to stay till has become a Master/CE or leave after cadet ship also. I know of seafarers who have left after sailing as master and doing extremely well and I also know a Trainee marine engineer who left after training and also doing very well! So, it's more on your interest, your inclination. I will say that I do not regret it as I was always more interested right from the beginning to get to the other side. Also ,how much safety cushion you want? Like in my case, I didn’t go with anything, which in a way motivated me to do well. But sometimes if you have the finance cushion, it gives you the freedom to think openly and do something which you like.

Vijay: So basically, it is more of a financing decision than the rank to shift ashore.

Dr.BK: Yes, that’s my take. One thing which I have seen that sometimes seafarers shifting ashore after becoming a master mariner/CE face difficulty as it’s like starting from cadetship again. Some seafarers face difficulties in adapting .The finance shock is also bigger, definitely.

Vijay: So, the take what I feel is that, if are ok to do a salaried job, you can leave as early as you want, however if you want to start something on your own, it is better you sail till you become a Master/CE solely for the purpose of have a financial cushion when you are not earning after you come ashore.

Dr.BK: Correct, also some seafarers even after they become Master/CEs don’t leave sea and start a business and continue when they are on leave. What I have noticed is that, this model does not work. The new business is an important asset and you give it someone to operate, when you are not around, and they don’t have the same commitment as you have.

Vijay: Yeah, so basically if you have decided to come back, you have to completely leave sailing as soon as possible, you should not renew or COC.

Dr.BK: Yes ,that is very correct and one should not renew his/her COC,I have not. During our initial introduction in SP Jain, students who had couple of years’ experience presented themselves in a way that gave an impression as if the company they were in would have shut shop because, they had to do this MBA. We simply said we were engaged in carrying cargo from 1 place to another even though we were carrying millions of dollars’ worth of cargo across the world and we were responsible for the ship which as such a big asset. We seafarers are very straight forward and simple people, we have been trained in such a way. Hence this was a big learning at the beginning ,on how to present ourselves. However, with our potential we did prove to them, when 1 of my seniors from merchant navy came 1st in the class and I came 2nd.we seafarers have an inherent property of being calm in a stressful situation. This is what exactly what was taught to us in MBA as well.

Vijay: That’s perfectly put and great lesson in there. Could you please elaborate on how did you get into your 1st job?

Dr.BK: We were in the beginning thinking here was only the commercial opportunity after our MBA ,however we realised the maritime industry is much bigger. We started opening up to the different world during the campus placement. I presented myself for 3 interviews where I got through in an IT consulting firm, whose client were American Eagle Tankers., and they wanted someone with a maritime experience and a confidence to face the client. That’s how I get my first job .I should have been good as they promoted me within 3 month to project manager.

Vijay: This was a good start! Tell us about your next assignment and how did they happen?

Dr.BK: After 10 or 11 months, DNV approached me and they offered me a similar role .DNV had called me on their own and self-had not applied .I did their few rounds of interviews and was selected. My profile in DNV was management consulting and we had projects which went on for few months. Again, all our clients were shipping companies. These assignments give you a new set of challenge and new learning. This was a job where you your profile was changing, so you were able to learn a lot of things. When you switch ashore it is better to switch at regular intervals to get better exposure of the maritime industry. The more exposure you get, the more valuable you become. I had decided that for me when I was passing out of my MBA that I would switch jobs till I find the one that fits me and I will continue with that.

Vijay: So how long was your stint in DNV?

Dr.BK: I was in DNV close to two years. After that I wanted to settle in Europe as those countries always attracted me. So, I applied to DHL Inhouse consulting team in Germany. I was selected in a 2 days marathon interviews. However, I was able to stay in Germany for only 8 months as there was a lot of language issues, and all spoke only German and my family was not able to cope with that.

Vijay: Oh okay, so after 8 months ,what was your next stint? Back to Singapore?

Dr.BK: No, I returned back to India ,and as I always like teaching, we started a coaching class for law exams in my native place. I was teaching a subject called logical reasoning. The institute is still running and it is no one of the most prestigious law entrance coaching in Bihar. I spent almost three years. And then I got a call from Accenture from Singapore for a more or less similar kind of role as I was doing before. So, I came to Singapore on a because I was also looking for an opportunity to again move back to Singapore. Singapore is somehow is very compatible with me. So, then I came here. It was a contractual assignment for ten months . After my Accenture stint of 10 months, I joined company called Horizon which was a start-up in the maritime technology space. This company was developing an AI based assessment for seafarers .This assessment would be without any human intervention and was based on VR technology.

Vijay: It does look like future of training in maritime.

Dr.BK: Yes, that’s for sure. Future of training will move to VR because one thing is that it’s very personalized. You could make a personal profile of a seafarer and assess him in various simulated situations. It doesn't have any human bias and the results are instantaneous. The hardware and software are comparatively cheaper to the present-day full mission simulators also. As you rightly said, the future of training will move through VR.

Vijay: How far is unmanned ships as per you?

Dr.BK: In my Opinion, it’s not very soon because there is a lot of legal issues with that. Like if this unmanned ship. It can be used in territorial waters as the jurisdictions are very clear however , at sea, it’s very challenging.

Vijay: So, our seafarers future is secured, even though our training and education might change in a big way! There might be many who would be watching this video for an idea of pursuing a career in merchant and this is a very welcome news to them. Also, if I am a seafarer and want to come ashore, there are many options which have opened up based on at which level you want to exit the sailing career.

Dr.BK: My opinion is that if you have to spend, maybe even if 3-4 year on board ship then actually you can comprehend everything about the ships, what can work and what can’t work. For E.g., a developer developing a software for the ship, cannot understand that getting Wi-Fi in Engine room is very difficult but we have the clear understanding of the same.

Vijay: Excellent!! So, what is the future from here ? What are you doing presently and what is the future of shipping? Because you have always been in jobs related to Merchant Navy , and I also recently saw you’re given a lot of speeches in conferences . What are these seminars about ?

Dr.BK: I’ve done my doctorate in cyber security. Most of my conference’s speech is either about the cyber security or about the navigation technology. Navigation technology where I am currently involved. So, we are using a lot of technologies or AI packed solution for passage planning. Even though this is still a master’s final responsibility, we are feeding them him lot of data which is more authenticated and our guidance on the advisable route. It’s a very advanced version of weather routing and on the ship managers side, we provide them with real-time information on the vessel including, the route, the weather ,traffic density etc. These requirements usually come from the commercial side where they wish to monitor the vessel very closely to ensure vessel is adhering to the charter party clauses.

Vijay: Yes correct, recently our ECDIS chart vendor informed that there is an option where, you can see the ECDIS screen of the ship, like sitting in your office. This is slowly bringing more controls to office. Now with what you are doing, the passage plan is already made from shore for the office, which master has to just endorse.

Dr.BK: Yeah, I think that’s is what is happening. And second, obviously the cyber security has been very hot topic in the recent past. Cyber-attacks are regularly happening in huge shipping companies also like any other industry. Every month there is an attack.

Vijay: Yes ,in a way, it also helps secure the seafarer’s jobs, as if there were unmanned ships, those could also be hacked for doing terrorist activity.

Dr.BK: Yes. Very correct. Cyber security awareness levels are very less like, misconception of changing the password regularly is not a good idea ,with that the password become more predictable with a trend. With a trend, it helps the hacker to break into the system easily. that’s why, financial institutions are moving towards 2 factor authentication rather than changing passwords. Now we are also working on 3D modelling of cargo operations in a general cargo vessel where the Chief officer can see the digital foot print of all the oversized and irregular shaped cargo so that he can easily plan the cargo stowage very similar like how the containers are now planned ashore. Definitely the technology in the maritime industry is the next wave and we as seafarers should be better prepared for the change.

Vijay: That was really insightful. Thank you so much for the time you spent with us and am Sure our viewers took a lot of great nuts from this conversation. We will surely catch up again soon for our next session also.

Dr.BK: Thanks so much and I too enjoyed the time spent and thanks for having me. To summarize ,seafarers who are looking at coming ashore ,should introspect and find the best time leave active sailing career, so that they can take the right path after coming ashore.

Watch the full conversation here:

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