Rajesh Padmanabhan, Director and Group CHRO, Welspun Group, believes that the right blend of technology and personal touch shall ensure that HR remains relevant in the digitally disruptive world
Q. Tell us about yourself, your career and key achievements.
I’m a hardcore Mumbaikar who loves cricket, fitness and mobikes. Academically a double graduate in Finance and HR. Corporate career over 3 decades covering six functions across six industries making me a 6 by 6 matrix professional. I started as a programmer, became a system analyst went on to become a corporate banker, did P&L roles plus corporate strategy and planning before moving to SAP Functional Business Consulting and finally into Global HR.
My key achievements are:
- Varied business and staff roles
- Multi Industry exposure
- Many accolades including UN award for Diversity & Inclusion practices
- Done large business transformation roles
- Digital Leader
Q. Way ahead of time and while you were excelling in your IT role, you decided to change your career to HR. How did you arrive at such a crucial decision?
I believed there was a need for HR leadership to be driven with a business mind and when I had the opportunity to bring my three skills together into one role, I grabbed the opportunity. I knew core banking well as domain, was digitally savvy and had an HR degree which was not used till then. When I saw the opportunity of convergence, I got on to the role of a transformational business leader and there was no looking back.
Q. How do you find time in your busy schedule to be active on HR forums and social media?
It’s all about channelizing time and a commitment to the fraternity I belong. The HR function is going through so much of disruption and change, I owe it back as a pure SME with deep expertise of talent, tech and transformation to my community. I also learn a lot of new skills in the process through the new generation way of looking at the world differently.
Q. What’s your view on the mega trends in HR? Will the function fully transform over the next few years?
Digital disruption will be high in the HR function. The function will be fully transformed in the next 5 years to a blended model of hi-tech & hi-touch in equal proportion. Right now, the skew is more on the tech side but the balance will be brought in to ensure that personal touch and connect is preserved as care, empathy and emotions are important to be nurtured and preserved right. Second, I believe that ‘Quant HR’ will be of dominance. A lot of HR processes will get matrices driven and measured. Third is business linkage and transformation as a Business HR partner will develop tremendous depth to ensure business contribution from the function. So a shift from life-cycle management to a very strong business embedded HR route is imminent. It will be as strategic as the CFO for the business.
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Q. How do you see the world of jobs emerging in the future of work?
The world of jobs will move to people building their lives on experience stacks and not on careers or roles. This means they will value the experience they get out of every role they do. There is every likelihood of multiple career transitions in everyday life. Besides, man and machine will coexist in the workplace with ease. That having said, the jobs will get categorized as:
- Entry Level
- Span managers or Specialists (SME)
- Differentiators or value creators
- Decision makers & enterprise wealth generators
- Board and governance drivers
It will be a world of opportunity and people have to continuously skill themselves with both hard and soft skills.
Q. How do we solve the quintessential employability puzzle?
It’s all about continuously skilling oneself. The skills, knowledge and the contribution have to be relevant and useful. Employability is a function of relevant skills. To keep oneself right up the value chain, continuous reflection and adding skills of business impact, digital and soft will have to be a regular pursuit.
Q. What traits do you try to see in budding HR professionals when you hire them?
They are normally vertical in their thinking and approach. Most of them think about life cycle management in a regular business model. I look for scalable folks who can think horizontally in addition. What this means is how do you have or build traits beyond HR? The change is happening rapidly and I am always on the lookout for such change agents.
Q. What’s your success mantra?
Focus, hard work, coupled with dare to dream, take risks and stand for the purpose of bringing out the best in people with a humane approach has given me results. I believe everyone is born extraordinary and there is a need to make people believe in themselves. Rest is easy.
Q. What’s your message to the HR professionals? How do they keep themselves relevant for the rest of their career?
Invest in continuous learning and skilling. Think of business impact. Connect with end customers and see the value chain clearly. Have a digital mind and use it to advantage. Do other non HR roles. Take the hard route of understanding business well and no escape from ‘Quant HR’ which if mixed well with hi-tech and hi-touch, HR becomes a winning formula.
About Rajesh Padmanabhan
Rajesh Padmanabhan is with Welspun Group – a $2.3 billion business conglomerate having presence in pipes, plates, coils, steel, infrastructure and home textiles sector – as Director and Group CHRO. He is a member of the Group Council. Prior to this, Rajesh was President and Group CHRO, Vedanta. Rajesh is a postgraduate in HR as well as finance from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies. He started his career with the ICICI group as corporate banker. In 1997, he took the big plunge into HR and managed HR start-ups within the group. At Essel Propack, his next destination, he drove global HR. In 2004, he took over as EVP – Group HR & Head – (OCLD), at the Oberoi group. Thereafter, he moved to Patni Computer Services as Global Management Board member in the role of EVP & CHRO. Between 2010 and 2014, he worked with Capgemini, as Group Corporate Vice President & CHRO. He won the prestigious UN Award for building diversity and inclusive practice in Capgemini