Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For giving job seekers in lockdown a just-in-time digital upgrade

When the pandemic disrupted labor markets across the world, governments began steering locked-down citizens toward online platforms to safely secure unemployment benefits and search for new job opportunities. But in Malaysia, such services were sorely lacking—until Nadaraj Devantharan stepped in.

With job losses spiraling, Devantharan and his IT team at Malaysia E-Government Services delivered a career portal, digitizing the process to apply for jobs, providing access to upskilling materials and onboarding for new roles—all without leaving home. Devantharan relied on his IT and cloud solutions experience to ensure the team could complete the web and app projects in a matter of months. 

“I have never seen a more collaborative team reach deliverables in such a short stint despite shortcomings in integrating multiple modules without subject matter expertise,” he says. “Thanks to my team, the motivation stuck to us like a glue and never left.” 

Devantharan kept the team hyperfocused by constantly reminding them of how the project could be a lifeline to people struggling during the pandemic.

“Never keep empathy out of your career or in life. It promotes stronger collaboration, less stress, greater morale and cultivates positive culture,” he says. “There is no true leadership without empathy.”

After helping an entire nation pivot, Devantharan is ready for his own buzz-worthy shakeup. In March, he launched a data-driven beekeeping farm with other business partners. As head of operations and logistics, he’s developing an Internet of Things-powered digital platform to better monitor weather data and the surrounding ecosystem to maximize and scale honey production. “My project management expertise has actually helped me to understand the business in a deeper way,” he says. 


Q&A: Nadaraj Devantharan on the winner’s mindset and workplace creativity

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

I was project manager at IBM, and I was named employee of the year in 2014 after I successfully delivered a chemical industry cloud solutions program that generated great value. This was a career steppingstone: The success was a slingshot for my capabilities and confidence. It gave me the mindset of a winner.

How are young people changing the world of projects?

A leapfrog in digital platforms, the ability to learn from anywhere, connectivity and borderless business opportunities have given younger generations the freedom to express their creativity like never before. This has also instilled a sense of boldness when it comes to projects where automation and bots take over redundant work and provide coverage for project managers to use quality time in prediction and optimizing results.

What’s the biggest challenge facing young project leaders right now? 

Time. The world is moving at such a fast pace that what we learn today may become obsolete tomorrow. To keep up, learning should continue not as a forced collaboration but by sheer will to better equip oneself.

What famous person would you want on your project team?

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, PhD. He defined teaching as fun in nature, had great storytelling ability, and showed impeccable leadership and empathy. He’s a unique mix of everything I aspire to be. 

How did the pandemic change the way you manage projects?

Remote working capabilities have increased my reliance on the communication tools instead of traditional meetings physically. This is an eye-opener that we can adapt to new norms and still function at our best.

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We asked the Future 50: What are you watching—and recommending—right now?

Dragons’ Den and Shark Tank. They teach you how to make an elevator pitch for a business model and secure an investment. —Nadaraj Devantharan, PMP

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Advice to My (Even) Younger Self

We asked the Future 50: What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Know your game well. Always. —Nadaraj Devantharan, PMP