Sanjay R. Bali
Sanjay R. Bali (VP and Head HR, Samsung Electronics) affirms that organisational innovation stands at the tip of the iceberg and that values and beliefs form its DNA.
A management graduate from the 1987 batch of Symbiosis Institute of Business Management, Pune, Mr. Sanjay Bali credits his career success to the learning and exposure that he received during this management course. He says, “Like any other college student, I did not initially know much about the scope of HR. But during my MBA, my inclination towards the subject increased, and that is how I decided to pick up HR as my career choice.”
He shares that the days during which his career was just beginning were full of excitement where he got a lot of opportunities to learn concepts in the realm of HR. Soon after completing his graduation, he started working with Eicher Goodearth, about which he says, “My early stint in plant HR and IR, and production helped me to understand the nuances of HR and have kept me in good stead till date.” He recalls that at the time Eicher had just signed a joint venture with Mitsubishi, due to which many changes were taking place in the work culture. Thus, he believes that the time between 1987 and 1992 was interesting, since he learnt a lot and “it definitely shaped our thinking and the way we moved forward,” he adds.
After working with Eicher till 1994, he got another good opportunity at a time when most MNCs were starting to enter India. He proudly tells that he was the third person to join the then start-up organisation, Panasonic Corporation (formerly known as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd.). He explains, “I was involved in the setting up of this company in India from an HR perspective, including the manufacturing plants and sales organisation. With this opportunity made available to me in an early stage in my career, I worked there for six years, from 1994 till 2000.” This gave him a complete global perspective in terms of HR processes and practices. Further, he was trained in Matsushita’s Employee Training Institute for almost a month and this learning reinforced and shaped his future.
Talking about how HR has evolved during his career journey, he says that it has been an exciting time for him since he has been witness to various stages of the function. He adds, “HR has progressed a lot in the last 10 to 15 years. From being an administrative partner, HR now plays the role of active business partner; from the backseat we have now got our seat on the management board.” He also finds that the skills of HR professionals have changed almost 360 degrees. At the same time, the expectations of employees, people, customers, and investors of a company from HR are constantly rising.
Personally speaking, Mr. Bali asserts that the initiation into Samsung has been relatively easier for him because he has worked with Panasonic in the early stages of his career and was already armed with the experience of working with Japanese and Korean companies. Further, the basics of HR processes, the way to reach and build community and society, and the basic HR philosophy learnt at Panasonic were more or less similar with the way of working at Samsung.
On Samsung being a name synonymous with innovation and technology, he says, their 2020 vision is to ‘Inspire the World, Create the Future.’ He going on to explain, “What you see in terms of innovation is the tip of the iceberg. Underneath lie the strong values and beliefs which form the DNA of the organisation. Every individual, partner, or customer shares that DNA with us to make us an innovative organisation. HR plays a critical role for maintaining, sustaining, and cascading that DNA within the entire organisation. All our HR practices and processes are intertwined with this philosophy of innovation.” He goes on to affirm that HR is the custodian of such a vision and through their practices they can inculcate those beliefs for the employees to achieve the vision. They are also continuously scanning the landscape to identify talent that will help them achieve their vision.
Along similar lines, he confirms that an arena like consumer electronics requires the sustenance of a culture of innovation, and shares how they do so by leveraging HR’s expertise, “Innovation is a theme that runs across Samsung culture and its offices. Our employees are encouraged to think differently. Suggestions for changes or modifications of various office processes are always welcome.” They promote an open workplace ethic where employees are regularly provided feedback, based on their individual performance, and at the same time, they can discuss their potential, challenges, and opportunities with their team leaders for better career management. In terms of product marketing, “we have set up a PIT team with the mandate for reading the needs of the market and developing products that better meet the needs of Indian consumers,” he tells us.
In Mr. Bali’s view, Samsung, like any other organisation, focuses on selling its services and products, and making a profit in an optimum manner. Samsung India has completed 15 years in the market and has maintained its expertise in product innovation and technological superiority. He shares more about the company’s operations, “We have three comprehensive business divisions: consumer electronics, information technology, and mobile handsets. This covers the complete product portfolio, and you never have a dull moment as far as business challenges are concerned!” He goes on to confirm that Samsung is a result-oriented company where performance is backed by figures and numbers. “We do not give much scope for subjectivity in terms of evaluation of people. The complete employee lifecycle is carried out with speed, fairness, and a result and data-oriented approach,” he adds.
With an employee strength close to 5000, including R&D and manufacturing, the HR team across Samsung India comprises 100 to 125 professionals. On the HR initiatives they have instituted, he tells that the endeavour during his first two years at Samsung was to roll out the Global Standard HR policies driven by the global headquarters at Samsung Town, Seoul, South Korea. In the last few years, the focus has shifted on upscaling these HR practices to make them more contemporary, thus bolstering the Indian business. For instance, they are looking at their learning and development initiatives to help them develop and grow internal talent. This, he opines, shall be the harbinger of growth in coming years.
Since Samsung is a fast-paced organisation, they look for people who can work with speed and manage ambiguity at the same time. “Typically, the Samsung profile would be an individual who is extremely self-driven, with fire in the belly, and a global mindset,” explains he.
Shifting conversation to Samsung India’s business mandate for the coming year, he tells, “The company is looking at 40 per cent business growth. Alongside, HR is working to strengthen the team structures in sales and marketing; creating platforms for greater employee engagement and involvement; and, building a healthy and motivated culture in the organisation.”
Mr. Bali says that the most important challenge for Samsung India lies in becoming a truly global company, and goes on to explain the solution for this, “In this regard, we have taken up innovative initiatives that include global assignee programme, global job postings, and aggressive incentive plans.” On the other hand, the challenge at the local level is to become number one. While they are already at this position in terms of turnover among electronic companies, the objective is to do so in terms of value and volume of market share as well. Adds he, “When I joined five years ago, the overall turnover was a little less than USD one billion. Today, we are targeting almost USD three billion worth of business.” With this in mind, their strategy to tackle competition is to reaffirm their belief in ‘employees are the best asset.’ They encourage talent and have created a healthy and empowered work atmosphere where each employee is responsible for his or her business objectives and their fulfillment. In turn, the hiring of best talent would ensure that the capability index is upscaled constantly.
On a personal front, we ask him how he balances his work-life and family-life, to which he responds, “Managing work and family may sound difficult, but one does not actually need to manage them. You need to manage yourself, and both will be taken care of. Achieving that is tricky; however, such is life and we need to constantly work on it.” His wife is also an HR professional, who used to Head HR for HT Media Ltd. Thus, both understand the job requirements and so far, in his own words, “have been managing it quite well.”
On his personal leadership style, he says that he is democratic and allows the team to provide input before making a decision, although the degree of input can vary from situation to situation. He also believes in ‘thought-oriented leadership’ and tries to focus on organising, supporting, and developing the people in the teams. “This is a participative style, and it tends to encourage good teamwork and creative collaboration, which are always encouraged in this organisation. However, depending upon the need of the hour, I use both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership,” elaborates Mr. Bali.
He concludes the insightful discussion by disclosing to us a few pertinent messages for the youngsters who will soon become a part of the corporate world. “Be open to learning as much as you can during the initial years of your career. Take up stretch assignments to trickle your ability to think. There is nothing like patience, ability to stretch, and continuously pushing the envelope to work outside the zone of comfort. If you do that, your future will sail smoothly in the corporate world,” he signs off.Electrifying The World