Talking to All Things Talent, P Padmakumar, Executive Director – Human Resources and CSR Head, Saint-Gobain India Private Limited shares insights about the company’s employer branding and sustainability initiatives, the emergence of tier III & IV college talent, giving opportunities to people to rejoin workforce post sabbatical, and more.
Could you give us a brief overview of your professional journey?
I’ve been with Saint-Gobain for the last 20 years. Earlier I was with the Indian Aluminium Company. Prior to that, I worked with IIM Ahmedabad. It was an interesting career and then Saint-Gobain happened. I could see the intent in the leadership of the company. My role was to bring in new leadership and create a people’s organization.
Saint-Gobain has done extremely well over the past years. We are currently working in about 10 states in the country. We have had very bullish growth over the last 20 years. Possibly with the exception of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic. Otherwise, all we have observed is a growth trajectory.
What aspects do you keep in mind while hiring for any role in the company?
We are a company where we don’t ignore any profile. We go through the profiles thoroughly because we don’t recruit for just the position. We recruit keeping in mind that there will be business expansions in the future. Knowing if a particular profile (which is relevant today) will still be relevant two years from now is crucial. There are several instances when we have onboarded candidates we had previously interviewed years ago.
Most importantly, employers need to understand that most candidates look not just at compensation when choosing a job—they also consider the organization’s culture. When we had to recruit an Operations Head, as we made an offer, he very openly asked if it made sense for him to leave his present company and join us because he was going to become vice president there. I outlined 16 points as to why our company would make a difference in his career. Eventually, he joined us.
What are the employer branding initiatives at Saint-Gobain?
All the businesses have got their own independence and identity, for example, Abrasives is a family-run business that became a part of Saint Gobain and Gypsum is a company that was acquired by a single-parent family but is a division of British plasterboard. While Saint-Gobain, one of the biggest businesses, had the opportunity to start from a green field, it took some time to unlearn some of the British Plaster Board practices.
Therefore, we used to put a lot of rigid conditions initially when we started this because we didn’t want the job titles to be used in a traditional company. So we had a very flat structure. We didn’t want to refer to the operator technician as a “Workman”, management as a manager or senior manager, etc. As a result, team members who were providing leadership in a team became team leaders.
There are team leaders who have also become team members when they move from a small location to a larger location. We never faced a serious problem. However, when there was a buoyancy in 2006-07, both in India and abroad, there were many exits. We normally encourage an exit of 8 to 12% but that time it went up to about 15 to 16%.
Hence we did a lot of communication. We started understanding some of the virtues that employees considered ideal. Many of them, as we discovered, were keen to learn new methods and concepts. Hence learning is an important virtue for us and we try to include it in every function. Today, Saint-Gobain has its own Saint-Gobain University – a virtual platform where employees can learn and find topics of interest.
Lastly, we put a huge emphasis on “caring for our employees”. Since our company comprises a young workforce, the average age is 26/27, most of them after joining get married and have children. To prevent them from getting into any financial difficulty, we just introduced a ₹10,000 marriage gift check. We also introduced insurance by paying a higher premium for maternity, even in the first year of employment.
Earlier, we used to visit at least 40 engineering colleges all over India – only NIT and government engineering colleges. But today, we are seeing talent coming from Tier 3 and Tier 4 colleges. They are bringing new different competencies to the table. We call them full stack competencies which is making a lot of difference.
What are the different talent segments you hire? How are you bringing different competencies to the company?
Saint-Gobain has very strong manufacturing units. We create pride for those employees who work in sales and marketing or who interact with consumers. We collaborate closely with architects since a lot of people are using glass for aesthetic purposes.
In the factory, we are putting in a lot of sustainability initiatives like variable frequency drives, fighting fans, ID fans, or waste heat recovery. The building where you are sitting and working is generating a lot of carbon using the air conditioners. We are working on two concepts: whether the glass can generate electricity or store renewable energy.
Therefore, there is a lot of innovation that is happening and I think it is also gaining fast ground. The younger generation, especially, is taking a keen interest in our future possibilities. Earlier, we used to visit at least 40 engineering colleges all over India – only IIT and government engineering colleges. But today, we are seeing talent coming from Tier 3 and Tier 4 colleges. They are bringing new different competencies to the table. We call them full stack competencies which is making a lot of difference. They’re not exposed to urban areas, premier institutes, or Tier 1 colleges, but still, they are making a huge difference. Maybe the modular nature in which India is changing is giving them the opportunity for such exposure.
This goal of 25% is not an HR agenda alone, it is the business agenda and management is working on identifying the roles, to provide equal opportunity for female employees
As you mentioned, most of the talent is coming from Tier III & IV colleges. Can you give us some numbers like how much has it increased from what it was before?
We are seeing a huge surge of this type of talent coming in. For example, if we look at industry 4.0, more than 50% of the recruits are women and these women are not coming from metropolitan areas. They’re coming from cities like Trichy and other places. They may not be articulate in their views, but they are good at their jobs. When conducting interviews, in addition to assessing whether a candidate is a team player or a people person, we also consider whether their natural abilities can command respect from others.
So does that mean it’s in line with Saint-Gobain’s goal of having 25 % of its employees female by 2025?
Yes. In fact, we are making a lot of strides. This 25% goal is not an HR agenda alone, it is the business agenda and management is working on identifying the roles, to provide equal opportunity for female employees. When we go to campus, we have on average about 87 freshers joining, with about 44% of them being women.
Can you explain INDEC and SPARC policies that you have at Saint-Gobain?
If somebody sends a profile saying that he/she has taken a sabbatical, we provide an opportunity for them to come back, identify their role and prepare their minds to do that role. We found that there is a huge talent pool which is available and that if there were an opening, they would like to come back and join. But in their mind there are inhibitions. We are trying to change that by creating an entry point for them and sensitizing the managers/reporting manager.
We are also providing flexible work options. I mean they can work from home/work from anywhere or in a shared space.
Saint-Gobain is also working on expansion on a massive scale. How do you think the workforce will be taken care of in those areas? What kind of skills are you looking for, and what would be your talent requirements?
Saint Gobain’s policy is that we don’t alter anyone, and this was true when we acquired a refractory business and a glass factory in Gujarat. We make a difference in the same place using the same tools and personnel.
Only the top leadership and HR are deeply involved in certain crucial tasks or the overall operations; in truth, you would find that 95% of the workforce would be the same.
As an HR head, my challenge is to find ways to engage their imagination in a culture which is inclusive, more participative, and non-threatening so they won’t feel threatened by new management.
What is the role of HR in CSR at Saint Gobain?
In HR there are normally three characteristics: service, orientation, and execution excellence and personal credibility. These three make a person ideal for an HR function. The other parts of HR like performance management, recruitment, etc. we can learn those things later on.
But these three are what we call functional behaviour. Therefore, for a person who has these functional behavioural attributes, if you attach CSR to it, I think it will only add synergy to that.
So from the beginning, society is important to us because Saint-Gobain has large manufacturing facilities. A person standing outside the gate can ask what’s in it for him. For us, that question is very important. We address that question by creating opportunities for yesterday’s farm labour or Salt Pan workers. If they have an aspiration to work in a factory, do we have a window or a door for them to come in, or do we shut the door? We address these questions often. So when we create the door for them to come in, enrol under a contractor, and train them for 15 days or 20 days, it creates a happy feeling because we were able to create a safe place for industrial workers.
About the author: Over the last 19 years, P. Padmakumar is responsible for driving change management. He oversaw mergers and acquisitions of organisations and helped build people’s capability and leadership.
Year of Incorporation: 02 April 1997
Number of employees: 10,001 to 50,000
Name of the key exec(s):
B. Santhanam, CEO – APAC and India Region. Chairman – India Region.
Business line: To be a world leader in light and sustainable construction. Purpose – Making the world a better home