From finance, to HR and even entrepreneurship, the VP and HR head of IBM India and South Asia has diverse experience, which lends him a holistic perspective for effective decision making.
For someone who began his professional journey in finances and then moved into HR, Chaitanya N Sreenivas makes for a perfect leader in HR as he understands what goes on at the other end, and hence, can truly partner well with business, taking balanced calls backed with a holistic perspective about any situation. Currently, the vice president and HR head for IBM India and South Asia, Sreenivas has over 25 years of experience in HR and Business.
He began his career journey in the financial sector with a prominent accounting firm, Arthur Anderson (now Accenture), in New York City. He was a fresh MBA graduate when he joined as a senior consultant there and was a part of the team that handled mid-market corporate finance. Thereafter, early on in his career, he turned an entrepreneur. Thus was born Crossdomain Solutions in 2000, which offers services in the HR outsourcing space.
Although he was managing the transitions business at Crossdomain, it was the starting point of his journey in the HR space. Post this, he joined IBM in 2003, as an HR service delivery leader and was responsible for the larger transition and transformation business, enabling solution delivery, CRM and HR processes. That paved the way for him to truly enter the HR arena.
It was neither by chance nor pre-decided as Sreenivas says, “It wasn’t a pre-determined path for me, but it was my grit for finding opportunities of interest and doing something different, that has designed and determined my career path so far.” Crossdomain gave Sreenivas a flavour of HR and then since IBM happened, he has been dedicated to the HR space.
Amongst business, finance and HR, finance and HR are no longer just support functions but core to business and especially in a people- driven business, HR is a key team member.”
Sreenivas shares he was always good with numbers and unlike everyone else, back in his academic days, he did not want to be a doctor or an engineer. So, he automatically chose the financial stream. However, he was also always interested in people and that is why the shift took place with ease.
Having seen and experienced things at both ends, Sreenivas says, “Amongst business, finance and HR, finance and HR are no longer just support functions but core to business and especially in a people- driven business, HR is a key team member.” He believes that collaboration amongst the three arms and working together in symphony is key to organisational success. “There needs to be a good balance between business, finance and HR and they all need to drive each other,” he adds.
Having seen major shifts in his career, from starting off with one of the big five global consulting firms, to joining a small company and then back into a global organisation – IBM – Sreenivas shares that the decisions were not easy. But, there were a few things that helped him move on and keep growing.
“Keeping an open mind to try out new things, always being open to learning, questioning the status quo while balancing out the organisational agenda are things that keep me moving in my professional journey,” Sreenivas opines. He strongly believes that if one is open to change and to doing things in a new environment, is agile, responsive, fair and balanced, everything will just fall into place on its own.
Talking of challenges in his professional journey, he admits that there are certainly enough challenges when one is trying to fit into a new place, and while trying to learn as fast as one can. But what keeps one going in such times is one’s own attitude and ability to quickly understand and know the team, and fill up the gaps quickly, if any. “It’s important to ensure that you’re always running, but make the right kind of changes at the right time,” he suggests.
Sreenivas has a unique leadership style and he sees great power in building a strong team. “Don’t hire your replacement, hire your boss,” he says. He feels it is important to facilitate learning and growth of the team. “If you’re too prescriptive, your team may not push for itself,” he opines. He believes in providing cover for the team—helping them see the big picture and connecting the dots to find meaning and purpose in what they do as part of the organisation.
According to him, a leader must trust his team and help them grow such that they can achieve what they aspire for. Going forward, he asserts that HR will not be replaced by technology, but HR professionals certainly need to keep up and embrace changes quickly. “HR needs to appreciate data as it helps synthesise information that enables better and faster decisions at work,” he says. There are numerous data sources now as compared to five or ten years back.
An open mind, openness to learning and trying new things is what will help HR scale the change. Technology, tools and the available amount and access to information has ensured more transparency in processes, thereby raising expectations for faster decision making with reduced response time from HR.
In these fast paced, competitive times, nothing gets Sreenivas stressed. He says “Don’t get stressed!” He feels it’s all about being resilient, bouncing up, getting to the root cause quickly and finding out appropriate solutions to it. “Be a problem solver, a solution to the problem and not the problem itself,” he advises.
Being a sports enthusiast from his early days and inspired by its dynamism, Sreenivas says, sports teaches you to celebrate your win, but more importantly, it teaches you to get back up when you lose. He applies the learning to work as well and believes that it is easy to try to do everything right but still be unable to get it. “What’s more important is to keep trying,” he says.
Sreenivas, fondly known as Chinni at IBM, is a very revered leader and is a strong case for constant perseverance and resolve for learning. About his motto in life, he says, “Learn, share, give back and the rest will follow.”