Paneesh Rao: On a learning trajectory


Paneesh Rao, sr. vice president & head of human resources, Atos India, has nurtured a passion for people management over two decades of his commendable industry experience. It has been a journey of growth and evolution for him. Working with people – directly or indirectly – has shaped him into an honest and ethical person. He shares his thoughts with HRKatha on his life’s experiences and insights.

In a career that spans over two decades in managing human resources function across sectors – manufacturing, consulting, IT & BPO industries – achievements and applauses have been a part of Paneesh Rao’s career progression – as much as learning and accepting change in most challenging of situations.

Having worked in several top notch organisations, Rao has managed to create a niche for himself. Attributing his success and values to his teachers, parents, colleagues and his family, Rao is humbled to say that up till now, life has been a great learning experience.

An alumnus of Symbiosis of Business Management (SIBM), his professional life kick started with VIP Industries in 1989 as an executive – personnel & administration. He was based out of the corporate office in Mumbai and was subsequently transferred to the Leo Mattel toys factory in Nagpur. His next move was in 1992, to Climate Systems (Ford Motor Co.). Post this, he moved to Noble & Hewitt and then Aditya Birla Group, till he finally joined Atos, a sizable and growing IMEA offshore unit of Atos SE (Societas Europaea) in 2013, as sr. vice president & head of human resources.

Recalling the IT boom, Rao reminiscences of the major mergers and acquisitions (M&As) that he was lucky to witness in India and in the global space, which gave him immense learning and exposure.

“My stint with Noble & Hewitt and Aditya Birla Group has been on a high learning path and I attribute a lot of value to have worked with industry stalwarts during a high of booming IT industry,” he says.

In all these organisations, Rao grew with an evolutionary curve that involved an array of rich experiences into various domains and companies. He got the much needed push and inspiration from his superiors under whom he worked and progressed. “My professional journey has been an exciting one! I have cherished every change in my professional life and continue to do so.” Rao says.

Embracing cultural nuances
In all of these years, Rao has been fortunate to have worked across different domains and travel through geographies. These experiences enlightened him with cultural sensitivity and gave him comparative insights and instilled confidence. He realised that while the difference lies in the professional challenges, competition, psychology, expectations, skills and ways of living, the common factors in these variances are the wants, needs and work life balance of people.

Rao believes that travelling is an exposure to technology, systems, people and this symbiosis reveals various dimensions of the society, which can really help in generating insights. He strongly suggests that young people should start travelling early in life, when the minds are fresh and are receptive to embrace new ideas and notions!

Building a futuristic vision
Having set up the HR function from scratch in several organisations and having managed well-established HR frameworks, he maintains that all organisations, big or small, have ‘people’, whom we term as human resources. Any organisation progresses when they have capable people running the show, and hence the key for any HR function is to leverage on its people. “The difference in starting from scratch is in setting-up – where you are the architect, hence the satisfaction is more manifest,” he quips.

He further explains that in an established organisation, the HR function takes centre stage in driving change. It aligns with new organisational requirements, which are guided by dynamics that might challenge established frameworks to create ways for new opportunities. There is always the challenge of rethinking and re-architecting to suit the new needs.

His experience has also given him the insight on the importance of having a futuristic vision in HR. People now have more choices in their career progression and mid-way career diversity as compared to a decade ago. They rate and judge companies with their HR policies, practices and overall employee sensitivities. Companies need to be aware of these aspects, while strategising the future of their HR vision.

“In the early days, HR function was more about rule-making rather than strategic business extension. The contemporary HR function not just involves supporting a business, but has lately grown to become an intrinsic arm of running a business as well,” Rao says.

The future vision for HR practitioners and strategists would be to value people for their intellectual capital and value and gauge the driving principle of a company, while balancing and nurturing this relationship to turn it into a self-sustaining model. “Atos is driving this imminent transformation aimed to propel it as a future organisation that will be an ideal place to work. What can be a better time and opportunity, that this change is led by me!” says Rao.

Overcoming challenges
As he continues to bask at the glory that he has earned over the years, he pauses to mention that while he learnt and achieved a lot, he also faced several perplexing situations that challenged his skills and understanding. “People think and behave the same, irrespective of their nationality – but they appear to be different contextually. Firstly, they work for themselves and coincidentally they work for the company as well. Reversing this outlook and stance is a challenge.”

However, his confidence and belief instilled in him pushed him to face each challenge head on. For him, challenging times are the most exciting times. And, each job progression has given him lessons and sown seeds of professional wisdom, making for interesting career headway.

One aspect that has helped him all through is upskilling and continuous learning. “I firmly believe that one cannot delineate upskilling and learning – it is a curve of continuous learning or unlearning for me,” he asserts.

Being a family man
A family man, he considers his wife to be his biggest support and morale booster. Since his hectic schedules hardly leave him much time to spend with his folks at home, he credits his wife for steering the family and managing all by herself, when he is away from home for weeks and months. He eyes swell with pride as he speaks of his children. “My daughter is in performing arts and the darling of the house. As for my son, I find it energizing to debate and discuss several topics with him, as he brings in the Gen-Y perspective.”

Miles to go
At the moment, he is enjoying his stint at Atos, striving hard to make it a great place to work, and helping double the size of the company in India to meet the group’s business goals. “My focus is to do things ‘differently’ to set apart Atos as one of the best places to work for, where colleagues regret the weekend and welcome the beginning of the week,” he concludes.


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