The year was 1999 and the company was Coca Cola. A fresh pass-out from XLRI Jamshedpur bagged her first professional role – to independently manage HR at a small plant in Kanpur. She was the youngest member in the plant, and the only woman in the team of 150 men twice her age. This is how Anusha Suryanarayan, CHRO, Philips Lighting India began her professional journey.
It was a great and challenging start to her career indeed. She gained a bagful of experiences in the one year that she spent at the plant. The assignment exposed her to the functioning of a plant, handling contract labour and witnessing business action at the ground level.
It was also the time when the HR industry was going through a transition. Personnel management was being redefined as human resources, with the scope of the HR function expanding and the true value of HR starting to come to the fore. With each passing day, she cultivated more passion in people and witnessed the sector growing in leaps and bounds.
Suryanarayan’s interest in the business of people management started during her college. She graduated in psychology from Lady Sriram College with a specialisation in organisational behaviour. It is here that she delved into the people aspect of the organisation and gauged its significance.
After a year at the Kanpur plant, Suryanarayan moved to Gurgaon for a national-level project focussed on the consolidation of waste plants acquired by the Company. She gained further insight into the business, as she worked with the logistics team and got involved in the national productivity benchmarking exercise. She had to work in multiple areas and study every aspect of the organisation from sales productivity, complexity of the market, revenue, market share, and penetration to be able to figure out the manpower required to be most productive for the area of business.
“The idea was to marry practicality on the ground with templates and models that are required to implement, and yet remain human and responsible for the outcome. It was one of the best learning experiences,” Suryanarayan shares with HRKatha.
However, after Coca Cola — where she spent close to seven years — Suryanarayanan has had a long stint with Nokia and she still cherishes the experience. She spent five years at Nokia and those were her true learning years. She learned how leaders can create a culturally strong organisation and how passionate employees can be for the brand. She joined Nokia in 2008, when it had a market share of 75 per cent.
It’s here that she got the opportunity to carve a niche in the domain and gain a solid understanding of the business – how to influence people and create individual space, how to drive critical HR interventions with a small team and how to partner with business leaders to drive the business agenda.
In her career, Suryanarayan has worked across sectors and companies — FMCG, IT, telecom, pharma and electrical.
Her experience across companies and industries makes her believe that change is the only constant. “The world is so dynamic nowadays that unless an organisation finds ways to stay agile and adapt, there is a high risk of threat to survival in the near future. Hence, having the right people and leadership is the best insurance for a company to stay agile and nimble footed in this VUCA world,” she reiterates.
Suryanarayan grew along the journey to emerge as a true blue HR professional. The relationships she built across different companies and roles define her, and she counts them as her biggest achievements.
She believes that strong people leaders are those who strive to make themselves redundant, by letting people grow under them, encouraging them to live up to their potential, and providing them enough platforms to hone and exhibit their skills.
Her advice to novice HR professionals is that they should immerse themselves in the business and also speak that language, because HR knowledge is irrelevant without this. It’s important to listen and be authentic and most importantly have the will to take on different challenges.
In this fast changing corporate world, Suryanarayan says, “How HR professionals can use technology to create and provide unique experiences to people will be the key building block for HR in the future.”
As a new mother, most of her time outside work is currently spent with her 10-month-old daughter. She enjoys reading about different cultures and times, and the experiences that mould them. Her interests include watching movies and travelling.