Prakash Subramanian

How to Kickstart Career and Leadership Success? Search for the Right Questions

By Susan Henson

Prakash Subramanian, managing director, MITRE’s Advanced Transportation Operations Division

Prakash Subramanian asks a lot of questions, but he’s not trying to get on anyone’s nerves. “If you question everything, you will have zero answers,” he explains. “You must ask the right questions.” He then takes a key next step—listening for full understanding. 

It’s a trait he sharpened growing up in Mumbai, India, in a family environment focused on the continual pursuit of knowledge and the value of education. 

Subramanian, managing director for MITRE’s Advanced Transportation Operations Division, has followed his curiosity down an educational path that’s led to a bachelor’s degree in physics and two MBAs. While he jokes about being the least educated in an immediate family full of doctorate holders, Subramanian’s relentless desire to learn led him to MITRE, which has afforded him opportunities to continually expand his technical and leadership skills.


Before Subramanian joined MITRE in 2006, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University offered him a full scholarship for his second master’s degree, during which he worked on a project that MITRE funded. The work piqued his curiosity. “We were standing up a lab to run certain kinds of assessments, doing some really cool stuff and many firsts,” he recalls.  

After graduation, while working in the aviation industry, Subramanian realized he wanted an experience that better aligned with his pursuit of knowledge. That brought him back to MITRE.

“At MITRE, we’re independent, objective, and data- and method-driven,” he explains. “It’s OK to not always agree with our customers—we have the responsibility to speak truth to power. That’s what made MITRE very attractive to me.”

It's OK to not know all the answers right away. Accept the ambiguity.

Prakash Subramanian

In addition to academic accomplishments, Subramanian’s questioning nature has helped him learn to lead with a strategic mindset and to cultivate an inclusive environment, two of MITRE’s key leadership competencies for its leaders.

For example, an Embry-Riddle professor taught him about humility and commitment to the team and its mission. “His approach to interacting with students shaped how I think about things now,” he says. “He didn’t just tell us what to do but got in there with us, with an intent to eventually unleash us and still be there for us so we’d know we were in this together.”

A mentor at an aviation firm taught him to focus on the bigger picture rather than react in a crisis, and to take calculated risks. “In the worst times, when companies like ours were shutting down, he told everyone to take a step back and think about what was happening around us.” Their next steps were anchored in the company’s strategy and capabilities. Despite the risks for the small company, “it paid huge dividends for the next decade,” he says. 

These lessons have dovetailed with those from MITRE leaders, one of whom taught him to practice adaptability by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It was a big perspective shift for Subramanian. “It's OK to not know all the answers right away. Accept the ambiguity for the moment rather than turn that ambiguity into anxiety,” he says, acknowledging it’s a lifelong challenge. “I continue to practice embracing a situation as it is and then consider how to think about things differently.”


Today, Subramanian’s leadership style is to be the example for his team. “If I’m expecting people to get on the front lines and make themselves vulnerable, I can’t just give instructions,” he says. “I need to roll up my own sleeves and be engaged in the most uncomfortable, most ambiguous challenges we’re trying to solve as a team.”

He believes it’s critical to understand not only the internal factors impacting a company but also what’s happening outside the company—and to ask questions about how that could impact MITRE and our sponsors. “If we’re not taking stock of the environment we’re in and where it’s trending, we’re going to be obsolete soon,” he says. “That must be part of what informs what we’re doing now and the seeds we’re sowing for tomorrow.” 

While many people think of a team as a leader and many followers, Subramanian sees individual contributors as “the most important leaders, because you can be a true entrepreneur, really think through problems, and help us innovate and achieve that amazing bedrock of work.”

He says successful teams leverage the power of diversity and inclusion and encourage everyone to bring their unique perspectives and questions to create the right solutions. “Whether you have a certain upbringing or life experience, come from a different country—whatever that is, you must own it. Embrace it. Don’t worry about looking or acting differently,” he emphasizes, and adds, “Let’s use this to focus on achieving the mission.”

By asking the right questions, listening to understand, and encouraging others to do the same, Subramanian fosters a culture of innovation and continual learning—an approach to leadership that aligns with his curiosity-driven mind and supports MITRE’s mission of solving problems for a safer world. 

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