HR Excellence: Greif's people chief says being an exec is all about serving

Lin Rice
Bala Sathyanarayanan

When you're responsible for the human resources of a Fortune 500 company with more than 17,000 employees in 300 locations around the globe, it can be difficult keeping everyone on the same page. But providing the proper alignment and direction as to the company's mission is exactly what's necessary to keep things on track, says this year's Executive of the Year award winner, Bala Sathyanarayanan.

Sathyanarayanan, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Delaware-based Greif Inc., says to him, being an executive is all about serving the organization to deliver a workforce capable of executing its business strategy. “It is about keeping the vision of the organization front and center and demonstrating the needed leadership behaviors,” he says.

Founded in 1877, Greif is a manufacturing company primarily focused on producing industrial packaging, containers and services. Greif produces steel, plastic and fiber drums, bulk containers and an assortment of other shipping materials. It has 260 employees in Delaware County.

Sathyanarayanan has been a senior VP at Greif for less than a year, but he has had a career's worth of experience in steering human resource divisions. Before coming to Greif, he served as executive vice president for human relations of the Xerox Corp.'s North American operations. He has also served as vice president of human resources for Hewlett-Packard and held leadership roles with Coca-Cola Inc., Polaris Software and Avaya Inc.

Getting everyone across the company focused on the same HR goals was his top priority, Sathyanarayanan says. “Leadership in a global organization is about alignment. Aligning the goals and motivation of the global colleagues toward the organization's purpose of serving our customers is vital,” Sathyanarayanan says. “The first thing I did was bring the global team together and commit to aligning every business unit's priorities to the top three strategic imperatives of Greif.”

Those priorities fell in the areas of people and teams, customer service excellence and performance, Sathyanarayanan says. This meant starting by establishing the company's guiding principles: a focus on servant leadership, acting as change agents, being technology enabled and being champions of diversity.

These attributes were introduced to the global team by Sathyanarayanan in the first quarter of this year. Along with his HR leadership team, Sathyanarayanan now conducts quarterly operations meetings with regional HR leaders to reinforce the importance of the company's global mindset. Where the company had previously been more segmented with a focus on only local needs in many cases rather than the company's overall direction, the new focus was to “think globally, deliver locally.”

“Once we established alignment on these three critical imperatives, you will be surprised how smooth things can work,” Sathyanarayanan says. “Our colleague engagement is now in the top quartile of manufacturing companies across

the world, and our net promotor score is nearly world-class in how we serve our customers.”

Greif CEO Pete Watson says Sathyanarayanan's experience and vision have been vital to Greif's HR mission coming into alignment. “We are very fortunate to have Bala on our executive leadership team at Greif,” Watson says. “Bala is a seasoned business leader with extensive international experience who is dedicated to championing our strategic priorities and driving business results. A demonstrated servant leader, Bala's vision of an HR organization aligned with our global business strategy is rapidly making a tremendous impact on our company.”

And while the company is now aligned in terms of its human resources goals, work is far from done, Sathyanarayanan says. “Leadership is always a work in progress. And while we may be a 142-year-old global firm, we are just getting started.”

Executive of the Year recognizes an individual who has demonstrated significant achievements that advance both a person's organization and the HR profession.

Lin Rice is a freelance writer.

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