Machine Generated Transcript (excuse the typos)
Hi there. This is Cindy Lu with CHRO Partners, and I'm here with Bala and I'm gonna have Bala introduce himself in a minute and share his last name too. But, Bala is the current CHRO with Greif and I'll have him tell you a little bit more about that, but today we're going to talk about sort of his three major pivot points in his career to the path to CHRO.
So, Bala tell us a little bit about your current role, and then we have a bunch of questions for you about the pivot points. Glad to do it. Cindy thank you. Thank you very much for having me today. My name is Bala, Bala Sathyanarayanan. I lead human resources for Greif.
Please call me Bala. That's what people call me. So don't even worry about my last name. Greif is a global industrial manufacturer. We manufacture global industrial packaging products. Greif has been doing this for the last 143 years. It's one of the oldest, publicly listed companies in America, very few people know of it. The company has over 300 manufacturing facilities across 45 countries worldwide,
and I joined this company two years back as the chief human resources officer, and my role is I'm accountable to ensure that Greif, we tell you where the workforce that can help execute on the business strategy of the company. Great! Well, so tell us a little bit about your path to CHRO. What were the major pivot points in your career that got you here?
I had a very unusual path, Cindy, I'm not a traditional human resources professional. I'm an engineer by training. I'm an electronics and communications engineer. I started my career with United Technologies, UTC, and I was in that elevator division or does elevators and UTC had this two-year rotational program where they take fresh graduates, right out of college, very similar to what GE does, what goes Coca-Cola does, and they rotate them over a two-year window,
train them on all the nuances of business. How do we make elevators? How do we sell elevators? How do we service elevators? And then end of a two-year rotational program, you graduate from the program and then you go into the business unit.
So after the training program, I was assigned to Otis elevators in Southern India, and I was accountable for running field operations for a city called Chennai in India; along the way, while I was a field operations executor, I was sent on a technology transfer project to Malaysia. I worked for Otis Malaysia and when I came back from what is Malaysia taking the technology and coming back to India,
the management team of Otis India asked me to go around the country to train people on the new technologies, which Otis had helped transfer from Otis Malaysia to Otis India. And they went around the country, training people on the new technology, which is all microprocessor-based, which was my core engineering field. The head of management development saw me doing the technology training.
He said, why don't you move into management development, which will not just include the technology training, but include training related to safety, training related to quality and some leadership training. That's how I got into human resources. Management development was under the human resources organization in Asia PAC. So I was reporting to the head of Otis India, Southern India operations from an administrative perspective and functional perspective to the head of management development. I did not start my career in human resources.
So, somebody tapped you, right? You probably never thought you take this path. You're absolutely right about that, Cindy. Never in my wildest dream, I would have thought of being in human resources, but somebody tapped me and the more I got into human resources, the more I realized the impact HR can have on the business. Ultimately, businesses do not execute strategy.
People do. It is the impact we have, we can have on the people which will help translate the strategies into executable, actionable items, which ultimately provides and gets business outcomes and organization wants. So that's where it is. I went into human resources through that route from United technologies, I went to work for Coca Cola, Coca Cola to Avaya, Avaya to
Hewlett Packard, Hewlett Packard to Xerox and here I am, chief HR officer of Greif. What was the second pivot point that got you on the path of CHRO? The second pivot point was my move into Hewlett Packard. Along the way, I picked up a Master's in Human Resources. As I said, I did not come through the HR route.
So it is important for me to have the foundational qualifications of HR, did my Master's in Human Resources management at Rutgers University in New Jersey. When I joined HP, that was the transformation the human resources functions were going through and major global companies where they're going into a shared services model. And initially my exposure was into the centers of expertise, leading global talent acquisition for awhile.
At Hewlett Packard my role was a business partner for our financial services group of HP, HP financial services at that time. From financial services, I went into the technology services of Hewlett Packard, which was a global role and the head of technology services at that point in time, tapped me on the shoulder and she said, look, have you ever thought of becoming the CHRO?
I was like, look, I'm learning human resources here and I'm trying to understand the impact I can have on a global scale, but I never thought about aiming for the C suite. So it was HP, which sowed the seeds for me to focus on aim big. They said, look, it's important for you to aim big,
it's important for you to have an ambition, and it's important that you speak about your ambition. Once she sowed me those seeds, she took me under her wing and along the way, introduced me to a network of CHROs with whom I keep a connection even today: CHRO DuPont, AMD, Xerox, obviously Hewlett Packard.
That's the core network of CHROs who might communicate on a day to day basis. Along the way, there were CEOs with whom I had a chance to interact with who became a business mentor. So there is two things you need to have as a HR mentor and a business mentor, so that you know how to bridge and how to ensure that you connect the dots between what the business needs.
and how do you ensure that you translate that into actionable items where HR will be at selection, selecting talent, developing talent, promoting talent, recognizing talent, transforming culture, transforming engagement levels in an organization. All that was something which I learned on the job. So how much would you attribute having that network to your ability to be in this role today?
I think without a network, I would not know what I do not know. That network helped me gain clarity on three things. One: clarity on who am I and created a huge self-awareness in me on what sense I bring to the table and how am I in a way in which I manage myself inside a network, number one. Number two:
It also helped me focus on not just me and my ambition; More importantly, focus on others, the folks with whom I have an opportunity to interact and leadership they taught me. My mentors taught me is not about what your team does when you're there. It's more important how your team behaves when you're not there and the impact you lay on your team. That is focus number two
and very interestingly, one of the CEO mentors was like, ask yourself why you want to be a CHRO. And if your answer is got to do something with you, the wrong answer. It's about the impact you want to be having and if you know the impact, and if you know the why very clearly on why you want to be the CHRO, you're on your way there.
It applies not just to being a CHRO, but to the C suite too. I've heard that a couple of times now from you early in your career, right? When you went from engineering to management development, I heard the word impact. And so, is that part of your, why? It is absolutely. Yes.
It's all about impact, not just on others, but impact on a larger ecosystem. The purpose of why a company I joined Greif from Xerox because of why the purpose of the company resonated truly with what I wanted to be. Greif is an essential business. The last 120 days with COVID being rampant world over most of our plants,
all 300 of our plants were working nonstop and we kept it going fundamentally because without Greif producing the packaging products, people will not be getting the medicines they need to serve those infected individuals in those hospitals. So once the core purpose of an organization is clear, and once I was able to make a connection between the impact I can have and how the purpose,
the organization's purpose and my purpose come together, you know how to make a difference. You know, I want to take a step back for a minute. One of the other pivots was when you came to and you moved from a different continent and, you and I have that in common, although I was two and a half when that happened
so didn't have a lot of decision making, but tell us about that experience. That must have been in some ways, a little bit daunting. It was very different because I was working for Coca-Cola at that time. This was my second job. First being UTC United Technologies or Otis Elevator. While at Coca Cola, I realized that if I need to have an impact on a larger scale,
it's important that you go into the headquarters and you know, most of the firms, I work for all American multinationals. If I were sitting in India or in Malaysia, the kind of impact I can have on a global scale is going to be limited, which means I had to fundamentally make that shift and mentally be prepared to upload myself. I just got manager at that time,
make the move to uproot yourself and relocate completely. It was not an easy conversation because having grown up in India, you grew up in a joint family system. You're extremely close to your parents, your brothers and sisters and I was the first one in my family to move out of my country and relocate permanently, and that was not easy. But I did that because one,
the career was calling and more importantly, once I decided make that pivot into the HR area. United States also gave me an opportunity to come and pursue a higher education, which is switch fundamentally transformed me as a professional and more importantly, a human resources professional. So that was a big pivot. Pivot one was being moved from an engineer to a business leader,
focused on human resources. Pivot two was changing continents, pivot three was someone tapped me and said, you've got to aim higher. So, last question. If you could give a message to yourself, your younger self, what would you tell yourself? I think my younger self: do not hesitate to ask for help.
It's okay to say, I don't know. It's okay to ask for help. Don't try to solve all your problems by taking it on your shoulders. People are there to help. You just need to ask. And I, growing up in India, I was an extremely shy kid and you put me in front of people, I'll be the last person to open my mouth and speak up.
Once I came to this country, I realized that it's important that you ask for what you are looking for. So the whole world will conspire to help you. But the key is you need to take the first step, and no one else will do it for you. That's great. How would you advise people to get that kind of mentorship? I get that question a lot.
How do I find a mentor? How do I find someone, especially people who work at middle size companies where there's not hundreds and thousands of other HR peer groups to talk to. You've got to put a lot of energy in building that network, and you got to build the network by being where the network is.
The network is not going to come and meet with you. Identify the top schools by the top professors are that might give you an edge in terms of building an academic network on staying on the cutting edge of what's happening in the human resources. Be on the right forums and be on the right platforms where you get an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of the key influencers in the industry.
Be it CHROs, be it business leaders, be it thought leaders in the human resources space. Number three, start by putting your thoughts out there in a way in which you have a point of view and you're reaching out to these mentors to gain some more clarity on how to move it forward because the mentors get invitations left, right, and center every other day on LinkedIn and various other sources.
So you've got to find a way to differentiate yourself, and you can do that by showing the right level of energy in a way in which the mentors will want to help you. You could start by even looking at mentors inside your own company, right? Look at them as sponsors, look at them as mentors who could network you to the broader world.
You don't have to think only outside your firms, start with starting with your network inside your firm and build those connections in a way in which one thing can lead to something else, but you've got to take the first step. I'm sorry. My HP printer decided to calibrate right in the middle of this. You got to get used to this in a virtual world Cindy, right? That's right.
Well, thank you so much. Do you mind if we can link to profile and LinkedIn and some of the HR leaders and professionals can connect with you. Absolutely, feel free. You know how to find me: Bala V Sathyanarayanan, Bala V Greif, Bala V Xerox or HP, you will find my name. It's pretty easy.
That's great. Well, thank you so much for your generosity and time and sharing your background as well as your advice. Thank you very much Cindy, thanks for having me. My pleasure. Have a good one.