Rajesh Sahay: It’s all about discipline, integrity and humility

VP and head-HR at Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting, talks to HRKatha about his learnings and professional journey.

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Rajesh Sahay, present VP and head-HR, Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting, began his career in 1990 with the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Having spent three decades in multiple industries, both in the public and private sectors, he has a robust experience in IR and HR.

On being told to set the clock backward, and reveal how HR was different then, Sahay shared that he owes his powerful professional career to the learnings he accumulated at the public-sector power generating company, at the beginning of his career.

“Those were times when the best job opportunities came from the Government. To get into a ‘Navratna Public-Sector’, such as NTPC, was an achievement,” says Sahay. A profitable public-sector job was everyone’s dream then.

“Your heart may not be clean, your hands may not be clean, but your paper should always be clean”

There, he learned to develop the attributes necessary for a professional career, some of which are as follows:

Power of documentation: Maintaining and keeping documents should be a habit, which always stands you in good stead.

Compliance policies and processes: The Government is very rigid about compliance and that teaches you a lesson or two in prioritising and demonstrating high levels of consistency and discipline.

Audit and information maintenance: “’Your heart may not be clean, your hands may not be clean, but your paper should always be clean’. These are wise words from an ex-boss (NTPC), and I have kept them very close to my heart,” says Sahay.

He adds, “There are certain skills, such as risk and governance management, that you pick up by working in the public sector. These building blocks have helped to shape my career.”

Sahay has emerged from tough grounds. He was a part of NTPC way back in 1992, and walked the tight rope of the Company’s first acquisition in politically volatile Rae Bareilly.

A pioneering yet risky act of its time, “Posting in NTPC was ranking based. Being all India no. 2, I got a role in IR,” says Sahay. Leading them through two significant acquisitions as a personnel officer, he says, “IR teaches you to deal with people who are not classic pedigree; the kinds who are not always driven by data and rationale. However, they inspire you to develop unique negotiating and influencing skills. Moreover, the role requires you to be an expert in labour laws.”

The move to the private sector was automatic as the economy became liberal, and opportunities mushroomed. In addition, to expand one’s portfolio of work, leaving the public sector was the only choice because the Government employs a large number of people.

“IR teaches you to deal with people who are not classic pedigree; the kinds who are not always driven by data and rationale”

Leveraging his compliance and industrial relation strength, he bagged a role in Arvind Mills. The company had just started a large industrial unit in Ahmedabad, the largest in Asia. Sahay once again demonstrated innate risk-taking ability by taking up this role, where he had to quickly assimilate and establish himself.

“A personnel officer’s primary job was industrial relations, administration and payroll management. There was a distinct line between IR and HR then, and movements between the two were rare,” narrates Sahay.

In Wipro Technologies, he led the talent engagement and strategic resourcing for the enterprise solution business, followed by heading HR for UBS’ off-shore unit in Hyderabad.

Indian companies are breaking the norm and setting new standards for employee engagement. Wipro CS & L is offering a novel way of escalating the happiness quotient of their widely-distributed field workers.

The senior leaders are ditching the townhall for a field day with their sales and marketing employees, by accompanying them from shop to shop to sell. They use this time not only to get a first-hand experience of the challenges faced by the team members but also to connect with them personally.

Cricket is close to the heart of every Indian, and through the IPL programme, they have been able to generate a lot of excitement in the employees and their families. Match tickets (25 per cent paid by an employee) are given to the entire family along with refreshments.

Most of the frontline employees are not very educated, but are aspirational and ambitious about their children’s higher education. The Company takes keen interest in counselling the children and providing financial aid.

An online healthcare app—Visit App— is launched for employees and their families. “It is highly beneficial in the Indian context, as sitting at home they can consult an MD, order medicines and more,” says Sahay.

“Government officers and bankers have always demonstrated their superiority and authority, but Premji is uniquely humane”

Sahay is a collector of books, a long-distance runner and a passionate teacher. He is ever ready to step into a professor’s shoes, be it internally in the organisation or as a visiting guest lecturer in management institutes. Teaching and running keeps him mentally and physically agile.

Sahay says, “While I am aging every year, I am still able to complete my run in a reasonably good time. One of my all-time favorite book is We the people by Nani Palkhiwala — a compelling read with the most extraordinary anecdotes.”

Says Palkhiwala in the book, “While we know knowledge is power, in India people who have knowledge have no power and people who have power, have no knowledge.”

Some other books that have greatly impacted him are Kishore Binani’s It happened in India and Line of Control by a professor from Delhi University.

His grandfather was a senior government officer in the civil engineering department in Bihar, with a flawless reputation for honesty, which was a rare virtue in that department.

Fundamental discipline and uncompromising integrity —that he learned from his grandfather— combined with the supreme humility of Azim Premji have influenced his personality. “In the public sector, I interacted with senior government officers, at UBS bankers from New York. These people have always demonstrated their superiority and authority, but Premji is uniquely humane,” concludes Sahay.

Today, he is getting the next-gen millennials ready and for that he is learning at home from his 22-year old son.

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