‘We’re committed to building sustainable future for Nigeria’
Raghu Krishnamoorthy, is the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, GE. He has served in a variety of human resources leadership roles at GE businesses around the world. In this exclusive interview with GLORIA EHIAGHE, Krishnamoorthy, who was in Nigeria on a two-day visit recently, spoke about how recent changes in the company’s portfolio aligned with Nigeria’s infrastructural needs, and how it has equally led to an acceleration of local leadership in developing markets, among other issues.
One of the challenges of HR managers is employing the right skillset. How does the failure to get the right skills affect the general workforce?
For instance, we sell healthcare equipment. If we don’t have technicians in the hospitals that are trained to operate our equipment, you can sell half a million dollars equipment, but it will go to waste. Our job is not just to sell equipment, but also to make it work for the good of the people. So, we invest heavily in the training of technicians. For instance, we have a project in the Northern of Nigeria right now where one of my colleagues has come all the way from India to train 500 technicians to operate our world-class technology. So, we don’t restrict skill development to only people within GE, we take it to the field. We don’t measure ourselves by the equipment we sell, but how it gets used for the good of patients. So, you have to look at the skill development of the whole ecosystem, not just the company. We believe in building nations, not just selling equipment and services. And we want people who are passionate about the people and who are dedicated to that and think broadly beyond just selling digits. This is main reason we established programmes like the GE Lagos Garage, an advanced manufacturing training programme for Nigerian entrepreneurs.
What leadership strategies are you bringing on board to ensure developing markets like Nigeria key in into GE’s objectives?
First, in many places and countries, they need power and healthcare. So, it is social and economic issues they are trying to address. What that means is that you need engineers who know how the product works; you need to bring in people who know how to finance it; you need to bring in people who know how to project-manage it; you need to bring in people who can service it. While we do some it ourselves, we also borrow some.
What that means is that our workforce strategy is derived from the organisation’s business strategy. For instance, we don’t have in any other part of the world a training organisation only for non-GE people. But when we go to Kenya or we are in Nigeria and we want to train technicians, we create a centre to do that. We create a GE Lagos Garage to know what the entrepreneurs are thinking about; how can we help them and how can we make this economy more independent. Also, how we play our part as citizens of the community, not just a business organisation. That comprehensive outlook requires different set of skills.
How can globalisation enhance global HR business corporate governance?
Globalisation means localisation. Unless you are truly local, you can never be truly global. So, we don’t want Nigeria to be global, we want the global people to be Nigerians in terms of intellectual and emotional connections. How would I know, for instance, that you have got a ‘Light Up Lagos’ project and what can we do there? How would I know that you have got some of the best entrepreneurial brains here and how can I tap into it? How would I know that the quality of education here is as good as it gets in many parts of the world and how I can tap into that as a resource? How would I know that the government is really focused on doubling down and giving incentives to people for skill building and what I can do there unless I am local? The era when people say ‘think global, act local’ is over. You have to think local, act local. So, localisation is the new globalisation.
How does GE portfolio align with Nigeria’s infrastructural needs?
Nigeria has broad needs across all infrastructure – power, healthcare, rail transportation etc. At GE, we ask ourselves how can our business support and therefore be involved in the country’s economic and social dynamics. Knowing where to position ourselves to support that journey is huge. We have strengths in sectors like power, healthcare, rail transportation and oil and gas but again, our job is to connect with the government and private sector leadership and say what else can we bring? Can we bring the GE Foundation from outside? Can we bring the World Bank from outside? What else can we do to connect the needs with the solutions? In different countries, we have played a role and said this is what our contributions can be. It is essential for our business growth as it is essential for the country’s growth. So, every time a country has a vision for its future, we see ourselves in that vision. We, however, customise and localise it appropriately. That is the scale that we have. Therefore, we don’t go to many of these countries as a power business, as healthcare business, we go as one GE.
What is your business strategy for the Nigerian market?
Nigeria has over 200 million people. It also has one of the youngest populations in the world and there is a huge demand and need for infrastructure. We are a company that is in the aviation, healthcare, power, transportation and oil and gas industries. So, Nigeria’s strategy becomes our strategy.
How would you describe HR practice in Nigeria compared with global best practices?
I had the opportunity to have an HR roundtable discussion here in Nigeria and I was taken in by the sophistication and the thoughtfulness expressed. However, I think there are things we can learn. The union process in Nigeria is a pretty sophisticated process. We don’t have it that good in our company and we could learn that. The other thing is that there is a good community of HR professionals, which is the CIPM. One of the unique things that turned up today was about sponsoring people who one gentleman spoke about, which we are also doing. They sponsor people who have just graduated from colleges who want to do HR work but do not have the experience and oftentimes are finding it difficult to get jobs. What they are doing is putting them in training programmes where they ask a company to sponsor them for nine months to one year, so they get mentoring and coaching. I think that is brilliant and very innovative. We need to make sure that we contribute to that. I think those are things that really shape the country and we need to play our part in doing that.
What are the innovations GE is putting in place to ensure it meets global best practice in HR management in Nigeria?
There is no difference in how we treat our employees in Nigeria to anybody else. Meritocracy rules. We want to make sure the best people get promoted anywhere in the world. That is why if you look at where we are, 85 per cent of our African leadership is African, and they are not experts, even globally. I joined GE in India 26 years ago, and if I can make it, trust me, anybody can make it in this company because at the end of the day it is meritocracy that determines how far people can go.
Second thing is our huge commitment to diversity and inclusion. The third thing is if you look at the number of people that have had worldwide training, it is huge. One third of our people would have gone for one training back in the U.S. because we want them to have the same learning experiences at the same level. They have the same talent; they get the same level playing field that anybody should get. Those are the differentiators. GE needs to be the company of choice first to our customers, then to our employees.
How would you rate HR professionals in Nigeria?
We had a conference with the CIPM (Chartered Institute of Personnel Management) and we had about 100 people there. There were a few GE people and my heart was beating because they were exposed to several other companies there. GE has trained most of them; they have seen different businesses, different geographies, and different growths. If you take Bethel, one of our colleagues here, is an Ethiopian, she has spent her time in Africa first, then the U.S. She did our Human Resources Leadership Programme. She came back to Africa and came to Nigeria, married a Nigerian. So, she’s now a Nigerian. If you talk to her, she is extremely savvy, extremely articulate. She is a true business partner, not just a personnel administrator. I am very proud of the HR team I have met in the last couple of days. They will give you a run for your money anywhere in the world.
GE has invested significantly in CSR initiatives. What is the rationale behind this?
When we are growing in a country, we want our social commitment to that country to be in tandem with GE’s growth. So, anywhere we are operating, we are not just growing a business but also looking to develop the community to match our growth. In Africa, our CSR programme is called ‘GE Kujenga’. It is a Swahili word that means ‘build’ and the reason we chose that is that we see ourselves as partners with the governments and people of Africa for building a sustainable future for the continent. So, in Nigeria, we believe we are partners for building a sustainable future for Nigeria. For example, while we are providing gas turbines to generate electricity to the grid, we also have an off-grid energy programme across nine African countries in collaboration with the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF). Under this programme, we have awarded about $700,000 grants to Nigerian energy entrepreneurs with new business models to deliver sustainable electricity to under-served marginal populations in the country. So, you can see a direct link between our business growth and our social commitment to the community. Corporate social responsibility is embedded in our business itself.
Are there any HR practices in GE that you think have given the company a competitive edge in the industry?
A lot. We often have been told that from a human resources point of view, we have one of the best in the world. Let me specifically talk about some of the things we have done in Nigeria that will give an insight. Yes, you’ve got the programmes, processes and lot more, but when you grow in any business, you grow through people and unless you have a strong pipeline of people, you will not be successful. So, we have many established specific leadership programmes globally across functions such as commercial, engineering and finance. That has existed for 50, 60, 70 years.
We came to Nigeria and we realised that many of the candidates for jobs haven’t worked in an environment like ours. So, one of the things that we did was before we put them on these programmes, they go through something called the ‘Early Career Development Programme’ (ECDP). When we bring fresh graduates here, we ask them to take on assignments within, to prepare them for the global programmes. That way, after a few months, they become more equipped to succeed on that global programme. If you do it straight off, they may not be successful but if you prepare them first, their ability to compete at the global level is very much higher. That is a unique best practice that we have.
The second is that, we believe hiring women is a competitive advantage for us. Many organisations don’t focus on women as a talent pool that is going to give a competitive advantage. So, we have grown some tremendous women leaders in the company. In fact, even at the senior leadership level in Africa, if you take the CEO, he is a male; but if you look at the Chief Financial Officer, she is female. The Director of Communications is female; the Legal Counsel, female; Head of HR, female.
So, that actually has been a real attractive value proposition for talents. We allow our female staff to grow and make sure that they become the best for others to follow; they become an inspiration.
GE is known to have about 25% women in leadership positions globally. How well does that figure reflect in Nigeria?
The Head of Government Relations is a female in Nigeria; Head of HR is a female in Nigeria; Head of Legal is a female in Nigeria. So, I would say it reflects similarly. Maybe about 35 per cent of very seasoned leaders that we have, but I would say I want to see a lot more. At least 50 per cent should be women. So, while we believe we are on a good path, we still need to do more.
What is your organisation’s commitment to employee training and development?
On average, GE spends a billion dollars across the world on training. In Nigeria alone, I think we spend around $500,000. We have people who are training coordinators in Nigeria to bring the world-class training we have back in GE here. That’s the objective. So that people get a chance to learn and not only do we provide training, but we also allow people to work between businesses. Today, you may be in the power business, tomorrow you may be in healthcare business. Tomorrow you may be in the US, and then come back to do some work in Nigeria. I was talking to the Nigerian lawyer who is looking after all sub-Sahara Africa; she was telling me that she used to work for another company before she came to GE and the biggest difference for her, she said, is that ‘while there I was a lawyer, here I’m a business partner’. So, it’s not just on-the-job training, it is taking interest in what you do. You’ve got to be in the middle of the transaction; you’ve got to shape the transaction. That serves as training. Become a business leader first and then the expert next. We want to ensure people get these opportunities.
There seems to be an increasing number of Nigerians in leadership positions in the organisation. What’s the rationale behind this?
I actually want more. From my interactions during my visit, the quality of the talent is phenomenal. People are educated but the attitude is huge. People are entrepreneurial. People are hungry to win. People like to fight to win and they have a passion for the company and what they want to do for society. Most of the people we have in Nigeria may not be Nigerians. They need not be in GE, they are that good. They chose GE and chose Nigeria because they believe in both. So, if I can bottle that energy and transfer it elsewhere, I will do that. I think Nigerians are a lot like Indians. First, we both speak English. Number two; education wise and thirdly, we don’t get it easy. It’s a complex environment where we need to really work it every day; we don’t take anything for granted. And that’s something I like and appreciate about Nigerians.
What does GE look for in potential employees when making hiring decisions?
We look forward to five things. First is integrity. I mean believing deeply in the fact that you are not only to do things but that you do things the right way. Second thing is candour with respect, the ability to be honest and not sugarcoat things. Third thing is that we want people to be accountable. We are a business organization, obviously. We have to perform; we have to make the numbers. The say-do ratio has to be extremely high. If I say I will do something, then I must do it. Then, we look for a balance between collaboration and competitiveness. You have many competitors outside but collaborators inside. Does that make sense? That’s what we look for – simple. If you get those things right, you can do a lot of things. You don’t need to have expertise in one function or the other.
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