Dr. S. Chandrasekhar (President and Global Head of HR at Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories) on the criticalities of operations, execution, the need to learn the real levers of business, the power of team work, the value of knowing the ‘big picture’ and why being a philistine might be a no go (yes, that too).
When did your HR career start?
A. I started my career way back in 1979 at the Bhilai Steel Plant of Steel Authority of India (SAIL) as a Management Trainee.
Why did you choose HR as your professional field?
I did not choose. It just happened as a part of the internal assignment process. But over years, I have grown into this profession and now if I were to rewind and choose a profession it will be HR. I just love this profession.
Could you briefly describe the initial years of your career – what were the challenges you faced, the areas you enjoyed the most, the lessons learnt?
I had got into a management job rather accidentally, more in search of a livelihood than a vocation or career. My education was in English Literature and Philosophy. I was a good scholar in those subjects and found some of the realities of my new job in the coal face of the steel industry – ‘bosses…bossism and bonuses etc.’ – rather ‘gross’ and ‘philistine’. Many people today don’t care for such words in their vocabulary, so let me explain. Philistine means people who are anti-intellectual and unable to appreciate art. So my emotional and intellectual make-up rebelled against the ethos I was thrown into. (Initially, may be due to my lack of exposure to corporate world, I found the ethos rather ‘gross’. But I must say, over time, I have found many intellectually and emotionally rich folks in the corporate world and my initial reactions were rather immature) Over time I adapted, learnt the ways of the business world and in fact made it my mission to learn the ropes of business and management rather well. What I enjoyed most was the opportunity of learning – not the obvious stuff of HR or management alone but the underbelly of corporate machinations that teach you the need to be pragmatic, street smart and competitive. On a different note, the initial years were very challenging but through those very difficulties I learnt some very important lessons: the importance of operations and execution over mere strategy, the need to learn the real levers of business , the power of team work, the value of blending the big picture with ‘details’ etc.
What would you describe as the highest point of your HR career?
In a long career of more than 35 years, I have been lucky to have several such moments of learning, growth and transformation. It will be hard to confine it to only one example. Let me mention a couple, picking one from each of the distinct phases of my long journey: • Early in my career, I was chosen for a coveted overseas scholarship and was sponsored for an all expenses paid MBA study in the UK. Obviously this was my first overseas trip and that too for a degree that I needed badly to feel more qualified in the profession I had got into. The MBA education at Leeds University turned out to be very instructive. The multinational class experience was stimulating and I learnt a lot about HR, OB and general management and got rather contemporaneous in my understanding of business. This was a great high. • However, what gave me an even higher kick was the opportunity I got, when I returned from UK, to set up a Centre for HRD and provide learning and development for more than 3000 people every year through stateof- the-art management and skill development courses. This opportunity gave a big boost to my career as I was directly working with the CEO and other CXOs and drove a turnaround agenda for the company through HRD. • My chance to head HR at NIIT, globally in late 90s, was another experience that brought me in touch with very innovative and highly entrepreneurial leaders and that whole stint was full of great moments for me.
More recently, when I was selected to lead HR for IBM in South Asia for more than 130,000employees, I felt great for the size and significance of that opportunity. I learnt a lot about governance and deep HR processes in that global/multi- national context.
The current assignment at Dr. Reddy’s is going to be another memorable experience for me. It has a lot that I wanted – a seat at the table in a global company, the opportunity to work with some extraordinary people, a deep commitment to people development that is almost the DNA of the company and participating in cutting edge stuff like design thinking. In my experience, best moments in life are not single events or instances of just one piece of work however innovative that may be. Best moments, in retrospect, are a collection of experiences over periods of time – which almost become distinct chapters of your life. The best moments are those that give you the opportunity to make a difference to others as well as to yourself. Both matter. Having said that, I also strongly believe that the best is yet to come.
How did these achievements transform you personally and professionally?
All these best moments and many more that I have not spoken about have shaped me both as a person and as professional. As a person I have begun to appreciate ‘others’ more, value perspectives more than mere facts, be more tolerant and inclusive, and balance the various aspects of life: career, family, health, money, fame and learning etc. As a professional, I have grown greatly in my understanding of business, industry, technology and various domains. I have also understood that HR is not a set of tools or processes. It is actually about helping and coaching managers and leaders to drive and grow business through people.
What advice would you like to give HR practitioners of the next generation?
Be ambitious, curious and hard working. These are foundations of all success. Grow deep expertise and don’t try to run your profession on mere common sense. Understand Business and the domain of your industry deeply and thoroughly. Coach Managers to own, manage and develop people – don’t do those tasks for them. Mere IQ and brilliance won’t take you far. You need emotional intelligence, an ability cope with a variety of stresses and work collaboratively with a large range diverse people. Lastly, every day, ask yourself the question: what is it that I as an HR professional can do, that a line or non-HR manager cannot do, even if they had the time and willingness? If you don’t get a clear and convincing answer, you run the risk of being replaced or dispensed with.