By Ramakrishn Ghosh
Working at Apeejay has taught me many things. It is here that I realized that HR is not just a department or a function. It is a position of responsibility – towards the employees as well as the company. It is a process which binds all the departments of a company together and drives them towards the company’s business goals. It provides support to individuals to realize their true potential, helps the various departments realize the objectives of the company and thereby binds as well as steers everyone to align and attain corporate objectives.
I did not start my career off with HR in mind. When I was 7 years old, I lost my father. My mother brought me up single-handedly in Bhagalpur. I studied at St Andrews School and went on to do my graduation from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. Having seen a lot of struggle during my growing up years, I decided to look for a job in Delhi right after my graduation. I applied for jobs in many companies and met HR representatives. Some were good, some were rude and a few of them thought they were a ‘different breed’ altogether. I had to wait for long hours for the interviews. It was during these trying times that my inclination towards Human Resources as a profession began as I started to wonder how it would be to sit on the opposite side of the table as an HR representative. I had decided that if I ever become an HR person, I would not let the interviewee experience what I had to go through.
I started my career in 1999 at Mbit Computraining, an IT training institute in New Delhi, as a Management Trainee where I looked after administration, recruitments, placements and training. I created a system of connecting with the alumni of the institute as a result of which I was not only able to build a relationship between the institute and its alumni but could also create a sense of belongingness in the hearts of those who had passed out of the institute. I organized the first alumni meet and also laid the groundwork for the creation of an alumni book.
I learnt that if you give respect to people, a lot of things will become easy. I also learnt that success does not happen overnight and one has to be patient, diligent and hard-working to achieve it.
After Mbit, I joined Abacus Management Consultants Pvt Ltd, a strategic consultancy firm dealing with Talent Assessment, Talent Development, and Talent Management and got the exposure of working with renowned FMCG, IT/ITES companies as a consultant. Here I learnt about the psychological part of HR – the importance of psychometric assessment. From Abacus, I moved to Prolease & Vcustomer Corporation which was in ITES domain. I learnt how to critically evaluate a situation, how to motivate a person, how to go deep into a problem, try to understand it and learn to look beneath the surface. One of the key lessons I learnt here was that what is there on the surface, may not actually be true. Hence, one needs to look deeper to see what lies beneath the surface.
After having worked for 7 years in Delhi, I took the decision to shift to Kolkata in 2005. On a sultry afternoon in May, as the Rajdhani Express screeched to a halt at Howrah Station and I stepped out of the train, I felt a lump in my throat. It was a big decision to leave a happening and fast paced city like Delhi come to Kolkata. although I never belonged to Kolkata. Would I be able to survive in Bengal’s environment and culture, both at work and outside. I knew my greatest challenge would be to adapt to a new working environment & culture which I knew was totally different from Delhi. The first year in Kolkata was a period of unlearning many things and learning new approaches and style of working. The environment and culture, both at work and outside, was very different. The challenge was to adapt, unlearn and learn new approaches and styles of working.
I joined Spencer’s, the retail arm of RP-SG Group, which had taken over Foodworld stores and was spreading its footprint in the East, shifting its HO from Chennai to Kolkata. This was one of the key turning points in my career as I learnt a lot of new things during this time.
I was put in charge of looking after the Business HR function for the East and was one of the first members of the East Team. Here, I had to learn many new things such as how a retail business is run, what goes into the launch of a new store, who are the key stakeholders in a retail business and how they should be managed. It was a completely new domain from me, something which I had never done in my life but I knew I had to deliver. When I left, Spencer’s, East had become the youngest region to attain profitability at the regional level with lowest manpower cost per SFT. I had got tremendous support from the business heads and I had a great and solid learning experience. From Spencer’s, I moved to GKB Opticals where I was given to charge to not only look after the HR function but also take care of the operations. At GKB, it was a young team and could create a lot of firsts in a very short span of time which was appreciated by all the stakeholders.
In 2011, I was interviewed for a mid-management HR position for handling two of my favourite areas – Talent Acquisition and Organizational Development – at Apeejay Surrendra Corporate Services, the shared services company of the Apeejay Surrendra Group. To my delight I was selected. One of my key tasks was to do a hard review of the Performance Management System, which was first set up in 2001 and upgraded many times since. The system had to have a value proposition for stakeholders across business verticals and that was a daunting task. I created a competency based matrix and also the first step of a succession planning matrix which turned out to be critical in the later years. In a few years, my responsibilities increased and my work was appreciated not only by the business leaders but also by the young and remarkable Chairman Mr Karan Paul, which was very exciting.
I got the opportunity to work with business leaders who were Solid and Committed and were Youthful in their approach to Human Resource Development and Management. In the next five years, I was given many critical tasks and because I enjoyed my work so much, I was able to pan out my skills and deliver on almost all of them. In Apeejay, I seemed to have found my values fit. I was always a self-inspired person and had for many years honed my entrepreneurial skills. Today I lead the HR function and my priorities are 4 Ps of HR – People, Process, Policies and Performance. I now have the chance to work really closely with Mr Paul and I must say, it has been a very enriching experience for me as I learn a lot from him everyday.
Apeejay’s 5 brand values – Solid, Committed, Inspired, Youthful and Entrepreneurial – is why I am a fit here. My work embodies these values and I seek to reflect the same in my work and the work of all my HR colleagues. I have got the opportunity to explore my potential across different industry segments. I can often be found amidst our lush tea gardens or aboard our ships. The opportunity to observe operations and how people work there is invaluable. All of this has helped me understand and address a variety of problems that people face and find potent solutions to them. I have fun at work. At the end of almost every day I return home every day fulfilled that i have done my best.
My advice to anyone joining the HR domain would be that one should learn to balance human as well as organizational values.
One has to understand that HR serves the people first and in doing so fearlessly, it can help the company to achieve its goals and objectives.
One should not take HR function where an activity is the be-all and end-all but understand the company’s objectives and goals and use them as the key drivers for each activity. In my career spanning nearly two decades, I have learnt that there will be various challenges in each phase of working life but if you are steadfast, it will be quite easy to overcome. My philosophy at work is well summed up by Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, especially this extract:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
In my career spanning nearly two decades, I have learnt that there will be various challenges in each phase of working life but if you are steadfast, it will be quite easy to overcome.
I would like to end by saying that ever since I came to Kolkata, the connection with Apeejay has always remained in one form or the other. Apeejay has given me a lot of scope to grow as an individual, both personally and professionally. I met my would-be wife here and after that my bond with Apeejay has strengthened further. It would not be wrong for me to say that whatever I have achieved so far, there has been a bit of Apeejay in everything.
Mr Ramakrishn Ghosh is General Manager – HR, Apeejay Surrendra Group. Youthful and always game to take up new ideas, patient with everyone’s small & big problems and solid in providing solutions, he truly embodies our brand values – Solid, Committed, Inspired, Youthful and Entrepreneurial.