Rajesh Padmanabhan loves people. Everywhere. And, this is reflected in his style of work as well. Getting together a team and breaking through stereotypes gives him his adrenalin shot. For this HR executive, taking risks and stepping into uncharted arenas has been the mantra all along his professional life.
Padmanabhan’s career graph is impressive. After completing his Masters in both Human Resources and Finance, from Mumbai University’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, he joined ICICI bank handling systems on Cobol platforms and went on to become a corporate banker with the ICICI Group. As the nation entered the era of financial liberalisation, Padmanabhan worked as a corporate banker with the ICICI Group. This gave him considerable exposure in systems and financial services.
However, for Padmanabhan, the world out there was just too big to restrain him within stated parametres. He had to move on. So, in 1997, he took the big plunge to shift to HR and managed HR startups within the Group itself. By 1999, he was vice president, Human Resources, at ICICI Infotech.
“I saw a fantastic convergence between business and HR right in the late nineties. I looked at a classical HR Manager who was so distanced from financial realities that I saw this as a unique opportunity to bring my heart and soul together. It turned out to be the best decision of my life and the two I held enabled me do this. I thank the ICICI Group for giving me a startup opportunity in this space. Growth came rapidly and I could convert belief to action. There was no looking back.”
For Padmanabhan, though the ICICI Group was his Alma Mater that fine-tuned his skills and took him across systems, corporate banking, leasing and HR, his restive spirit would not allow him to sit pretty on his achievements. The world beyond called out to him. Change was the only constant factor in his life. “I realised that HR was a nice new world of people and little did I realise the fascinating synergy finance and HR would bring to my life. I could combine HR and business in my Essel Propack role. I was one of the first HR guys in India to globalise HR in countries and geographies like the US, Latin America, the UK, Germany, Egypt, China, South East Asia, Russia, Nepal and in India,” says Padmanabhan.
"I saw a fantastic convergence between business and HR right in the late nineties. I looked at a classical HR Manager who was so distanced from financial realities that I saw this as a unique opportunity to bring my heart and soul together."
He then took over as executive vice president, group HR and Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development, the Oberoi Group, in 2004, where he served until 2007.
“It was here that I ensured that I could converge people learning holistically for business value and excellence creation,” says Padmanabhan.
This was followed by his tenure as the executive vice president & CHRO at Patni Computer Services. In the three years that he was with the company, he created customer – centric global HR models across geographies with world class learning skills, building frameworks and running complex yet efficient organisation structures with the single objective of customer and shareholder value creation.
His stint at Patni came with its dividends. He picked up three awards in a row— the Golden Peacock for Training in 2007, the ET Smart Workplace Award in 2008 and the DQ Preferred Employer (rank 7) in 2009.
Padmanabhan’s core competence lies in blending the various aspects of professional management. “It is not enough to just execute. You have to get the team together and make things happen. To have a global mindset is imperative. Influencing skills, and utilising the technology available is what will steer businesses,” he believes.
Padmanabhan exploited all these aspects to chart a new graph in HR at Capgemini, where he joined as corporate vice president & CHRO, in 2007.
“Scaling heights of growth with learning frameworks that were developed to facilitate success and growth for the organisation, the entire HR transformation journey was charted out for the organisation with roles like HR business partner, Centre of Excellence and HR Shared Services envisioned and implemented. Leadership building was a thrust area and I was privileged to work on creating an IP in that space for the company,” says Padmanabhan.
As a man, whose work took him across the globe, Padmanabhan has conditioned himself to be a true global professional and used every opportunity as a learning experience.
“Travel for work, takes you to many countries and acquaints you with different cultures. You realise that there is one flat world where you live as a corporate global citizen with no opinions, judgements, or views about anything. You learn to live the moment, do the right stuff and embrace the situation and the world at large,” says Padmanabhan.
Today, as president & group CHRO, Vedanta Resources, which he joined last year, Padmanabhan plans to strongly enable business and build people efficiencies at optimum costs. He firmly believes that building excellence and simultaneously anchoring on productivity are symbiotic processes for building a strong institution. At Vedanta, Padmanabhan has found the platform for enabling growth with cost-effective strategies and driving towards building excellence for the organisation. “The scope lies so clearly in running a business of people and it is a complete line role creating a differentiation and building world class businesses around people. I lead culture building, enable growth through people, with a clear vision to build world class practices, and thus make the Vedanta Group the best place to work for,” he says.
"There is one flat world where you live as a corporate global citizen with no opinions, judgements, or views about anything. You learn to live the moment, do the right stuff and embrace the situation and the world at large."
Taking lessons in empowerment, humility, disruptive thinking and the power of belief, from role models, such as Narayanan Vaghul at ICICI Bank, Cyrus Bagwadia at Essel Propack, Prithvi Raj Singh Oberoi at the the Oberoi Group, Narendra Kumar Patni of Patni Computer Systems, Paul Hermelin at Capgemini and Anil Agarwal at Vedanta Resources, it comes as no surprise that Padmanabhan has himself placed one milestone after another in his journey as an HR leader. Bagging several awards, some as coveted as the HR Professional of the Year, World HRD Congress 2010, and the Most Respected Global HR leader in Asia (top 30), World HRD Congress 2013, Padmanabhan is not one to rest on his laurels. His vision of building organisations for tomorrow, has determined his strategic blueprint.
“One major focus area for the Human Resources function is to understand the futuristic organisational needs and work towards preparing the organisation to take up the challenges head-on,” he believes. His organisational game plan is to prepare ‘Leaders of tomorrow’, for which it is necessary to source leaders using big data and HR analytics, hire leaders through social media, use customer presentation as a value creation for the end stakeholder and tap on unrealised potential, to encourage every career transition and HR transformation. He aims to build new HR designs of HR business partners, CEOs and HR Shared Services and walk the change. He wishes to plan end-customer outcome and use mobility as a technology platform for employee engagement and put in place a multi-currency compensation model.
At age 52, with over 29 years of professional experience and 16 years in HR alone, Padmanabhan sees his global exposure as a strong influence in honing his acute planning and execution skills, managing a global workforce and helping develop a sense of empathy and global leadership. His social skills, which play an important role in the execution of his professional choices have been nurtured through his varied experiences with different cultures and cuisines.
At the core, however, Padmanabhan remains a simple man for whom family and treasures of the heart outweigh material matters. Although striving for recognition, Padmanabhan believes that life should be well-balanced. In this, his wife, Varsha, is the steadying factor who has stood by him through all the vagaries that life has put him through. Deeply influenced by his parents, Padmanabhan believes that there must be a deep sense of purpose in life. Fond of biking and cricket, this HR veteran likes to travel and go on vacations along with his family.
There is no end to Padmanabhan’s dreams. Despite his achievements, he nurtures the dream to be an entrepreneur. He knows that there is a lot out there in the industry that needs to be addressed. “The leadership building process leaves a lot to be desired. A planned approach of internal growth versus external hires is required,” he says. He feels that HR Analytics can add tremendous future enterprise value, build functional expertise, and contributing to business value and customer excellence. It is also important to have a flexible digital modern workplace. For someone who has always advocated career transition, Padmanabhan feels that it is important—for both the individual and the organisation—to take risks.
He plans to put into practice certain operational models which will enhance organisational growth. Among these, to look externally at the best and blindly copy without assessing whether it will work in the organisation or not, to rely too much on past data instead of plotting a future journey, to not adjust to mistakes made and thereby lose credibility, and not refresh timed-out policies are major mistakes that organisations make, and thus, hinder growth.
Armed with the prestigious UN Award as CHRO, Capgemini, for building diversity and inclusive practices, Padmanabhan wants to change everything that poses a hurdle in the growth process of either the individual or the organisation.
An avid listener of AR Rahman’s music, Padmanabhan’s motivating quote in life remains HW Longfellow’s, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”
He toils, yes, and lives his dream every single day.