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Bala V Sathyanarayanan: Serving Organizations with Innovation-Driven Packaging Solutions

Inspiring Business Leaders

Inspiring Business LeadersGreif, Inc. is a 143-year-old multi-billion Fortune 1000 company and a global leader in industrial packaging products and services with a vision to become the world’s best-performing customer service company in industrial packaging. The company produces steel, plastic, and fiber drums, intermediate bulk containers, reconditioned containers, flexible products, containerboard, uncoated recycled paperboard, coated recycled paperboard, tubes and cores, and a diverse mix of specialty packaging products. Greif manufactures packaging accessories and provides filling, packaging, and other services for a wide range of industries. The company also manages timber properties in the southeastern United States. Greif is strategically positioned with 290 operating locations in 44 countries to serve regional and global customers. 


A Highly Influential Leader 

Bala V Sathyanarayanan is the Senior Vice President & Global Chief Human Resources Officer at Greif Inc.  He focuses on delivering a world-class, diverse, and engaged workforce that can execute the company’s vision to be the best-performing customer service company in the world.  

Bala earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in General Management from the University of Madras.  After relocating to the USA, he earned a Master’s in Human Resources from Rutgers University and graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University.  

Bala’s leadership skills were honed by working with Global Fortune 1000 firms for three decades.  Before Greif, he served as the Executive Vice President for Business Transformation and Human Resources at Xerox Corporation.  Bala led the human resource function for the Americas Enterprise Business at Hewlett-Packard Inc. and has had leadership roles at Avaya Inc., Coca-Cola Inc, and United Technologies Inc – Otis Elevator Company. 

He currently serves as the Director on the board of Balmer Lawrie – Van Leer Limited, a publicly-traded industrial manufacturer.  Bala also serves as a Director on the board of Columbus Council for World Affairs, an education-driven, not-for-profit organization. 

Bala was named to the list of Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business by the Asian American Business Development Center (AABDC) and named Executive of the Year by Columbus CEO Magazine in 2019. 


Addressing Challenges through Strategic Management 

Bala faced the biggest challenge of his professional career this year.  He says that due to the spread of the COVID pandemic, Greif had to develop a proactive global response to protect its colleagues while serving the customers’ needs.  The company’s clients worldwide, needed help in packaging and shipping essential commodities like disinfectants and pharma products to their customers. 

The crisis forced Bala to dig deep into his resilience reservoir, sharpened by managing many professional challenges in his career.  He shares that Greif created a global task force to coordinate and execute response, in America, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), and Asia.  

Bala states that every core leadership appreciates setting a common purpose, team vision, defining and flawlessly executing the strategy, leveraging relationships, and working through influence tested to the extreme.  While Grief is still in the middle of managing the COVID crisis, as a leader of the global taskforce, Bala is proud of his team for working together and leading the organization through the COVID impact.  

“It all comes down to identifying what needs to be solved, who needs to be involved, and how you motivate them to get things done,” he adds.  


Continuous Learning Paves Path for Leadership Skills 

Bala recounts being a timid individual with many self-doubts while growing up in India.  Bala says that his parents infused confidence and belief in him, which helped him overcome his self-doubts.  His family helped and supported his career goals.  

According to Bala, his mentors helped and supported him to deliver the best for the organization.  He focused on building a strong team that delivered outstanding outcomes to the customers.  Bala states that if organizations value their customers, they trust the ability of firms and teams to deliver consistently.  

He adds that his mentors infused this belief system in him.  Bala considers himself lucky to have worked with some of the best in the industry, as those relationships inspired him to develop more talented individuals in every organization that he served. 


Driving Innovation through Disruptive Technologies 

Bala observes fundamental transformation in the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Big Data/ Machine Learning across global business services delivery.  He states that the colleague’s expectation from technology to make their life easier will be relevant in the next decade as well.  

Bala asserts that technological advancements generate opportunities for cost savings and a better user experience while increasing data integrity, particularly in the HR space.  Technology like chatbots and mobile access to the company’s ERP software assist colleagues to interact with HR without requiring HR resources.  

He states that colleagues now can self-retrieve information concerning their needs, which creates a better experience for them as they now have greater ownership of their information.  

This allows business leaders to focus on strategic work that adds value to the organization instead of providing administrative support on transactional related items. 


Encompassing Attributes of Innovative Leader 

Bala fundamentally believes that leaders should be ambidextrous.  He views one of the key attributes of an innovative leader is managing strategy and execution with equal competence.  He adds, “Specifically, in my industry, it is known as being “bilingual”: the ability to speak the language of business and the hourly worker in the manufacturing facility with equal facility.” 

He shares that ambidextrous leaders can think about the customer needs, innovate a solution, work in-depth regarding technical and operational details of a project, and may consider its broader ramifications for the industry.  Innovative leaders need to master ambidexterity to be impactful. 


Entering into a Transformation-Driven Future 

Bala says that Greif’s future will be influenced in part by the recovery of the global economy from the COVID pandemic.  He points that despite uncertainty around COVID, transformation across the company and the associated industry is inevitable due to critical changes underway prior to COVID.  This includes technology trends like AI and automation, the shift in workforce demographics, the advent of the gig economy, the worker’s skill gap and wage equity, last but not least global talent access and utilization.  He opines that in a post COVID world, these will get accelerated. 


Advice to Young Entrepreneurs 

Bala suggests never underestimate the importance of hard work.  He states that being aware and curious about macro-environment trends in the broader business and socio-political landscape is imperative for overall operations.  

He says, “Earning appropriate educational qualifications alone won’t suffice. You need to grow that by building the right network both inside and outside your firms; do not just focus on having one or two mentors but also focus on having a sponsor and a coach. “ 

He advises to start by being aware of your ambitions, key strengths, motivation, and start with a clear focus.