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HR executive/CEO uses combined knowledge and expertise to enhance effectiveness of each position
Santrupt Misra, Ph.D.
Commanding two top corporate jobs simultaneously enables Santrupt Misra, Ph.D., to understand and appreciate each one more. "As a leader, I'm doing better than before," he said, "because I know where the shoe pinches."
Misra is a chief executive officer and the human resources executive for a multinational conglomerate based in Mumbai, India. Both roles are "about building the organization and obtaining the best business results," Misra said. The differences between his CEO and HR executive roles ultimately confer mutual benefits.
As director of global HR for Aditya Birla Group, Misra is responsible for a workforce of more than 120,000 employees in 40 countries, whose jobs range over a dizzying array of business sectors (including fibers, metals, cement and chemicals, as well as apparel, telecom, financial services and e-commerce). He is also CEO of the conglomerate's Carbon Black Business, the largest manufacturer of that material in the world.
He has been in the HR field for 30 years and has been a CEO for seven and a half years. He refers to his dual CHRO/CEO status as an "aligned role," explaining that he better understands each role individually and its "context in alignment with the business."
Since his leadership responsibilities doubled, Misra said, his "perspective has changed significantly." One example is his approach to the selection process. "Pure HR might second-guess a position's context in the organization. My aligned role provides much sharper insight into context. I ask more specific questions. I pay closer attention to what competencies are required for the position ... the tradeoffs ... what is needed in relation to customers or internally ... presently and in the next few years."
Utilization of resources is another area where Misra has a "clearer view" of a bigger picture.
"The CEO uses resources for the here-and-now and the short term," he said. "The CHRO prepares resources for the medium-to-long term."
Each Experience Informs the Other
Misra's extensive practical knowledge of HR frequently influences his role as a CEO. "While I don't try to do the jobs of finance or sales, etc., I do leverage my people skills. For instance, when there was a conflict with a subsidiary, I was told that the issue was at a low level—not to bother with it at any level. But my HR experience told me to bring a relationship orientation to the matter, and to engage all levels."
A separate incident involved line managers who objected to changes in their production schedule. "I was able to relate to the perspective of employees regarding the pace of things and what was sustainable, from a CEO point of view" he said. "HR can explain why patience is necessary for more lasting change." As a CEO with HR expertise, Misra could explain as much to the impatient line managers.
In a similar vein, Misra applies what he has learned as a CEO to his leadership skills as CHRO, enhancing both positions. "Processes are grounded in reality," he said. "Prioritization is important. There's more focus on the ultimate customer, on investment decisions. And it's a more nuanced investment. What payoff are we seeking? The risk/return matrix is sharper."
Global Aspirations for Certification
Misra is a member of the SHRM Certification Commission, the independent governance and technical advisory panel that oversees SHRM's certifying activities, and provides his fellow commissioners with a crucial international perspective on the program's worldwide impact. SHRM's recent efforts to translate its certification exams, foundational documents, and study materials into languages other than English are "a positive first step," he said.
Next, Misra would like SHRM to further explore and address cultural differences affecting certification, in terms of content as well as context. How are the competencies understood and interpreted in various countries? What are professionals' attitudes toward and strategies for obtaining their credentials?
"To make certification truly global," Misra said, "SHRM should be more experimental."
Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
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