It’s all about Talent Management and Retention, claims Western Digital

The last four years has seen Western Digital grow in manpower strength in India. The credit goes to the leadership skills and manpower management capabilities of Supria Dhanda, who has recently taken up the role of Vice President and Country Manager for Western Digital – India. Being a part of Western Digital’s journey for many years, she has numerous successful hires and key leadership activities in her portfolio, which accelerated the company’s growth in the country.
Post her taking charge of the new role, Ms. Supria Dhanda with Dr. Siva Sivaram, Executive Vice President of Silicon Technology and Manufacturing for Western Digital, in an exclusive interaction with Newspool, tells us that besides technology, talent management has been the key to success. Below are the excerpts…

To begin with share the recent growth of Western Digital as an organisation.

Siva: Western Digital completed the acquisition of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) in 2012 and that changed us from a hard drive company into an enterprise company. Later on, to achieve our goal of having a stronger foothold in India and to further expand our portfolio, in 2016 Western Digital acquired SanDisk. The addition of SanDisk made Western Digital a universal storage solutions provider with strong worldwide presence. It also added prowess in both rotating magnetic storage and non-volatile memory (NVM) to Western Digital’s innovation front with its extensive product and technology platform. Today, Western Digital stands in India as a bigger company with a wider portfolio.
The acquisition of Tegile in 2017 was another substantial leap for Western Digital as an organisation, bringing in over 1,700 new customers, a vast and innovative product portfolio, and a highly experienced team with unmatched abilities to deliver value to customers.
The power of these companies put together is what puts us at the 158th rank in the 2018 Fortune 500 Companies list.
When it comes to research, development and innovation, with over 14000 patents, Western Digital is among the top global innovators. We take basic hard drives and flash drives and convert them into products that are suitable for each device. This is where our intellectual properties forms shape. Western Digital’s G-Technology range of products are particularly important to the media and entertainment industry. Similarly, our specialised products are deployed in the pharmaceutical, financial, automotive and telecom industry among others.
What facilitates such quantum leaps in innovation here is the talent pool we have. Supria hires top-notch Masters and PhD’s from Indian universities and puts them through intensive training for a period of 3-4 months where they learn about what the core technology is, build their foundation and then develop new innovations. That’s what makes Western Digital special. I have seen fresh graduates master the entire technology and come back with a technology of their own in a short span of 10 months!

Could you help me understand the growth and current status of Western Digital in India?

Siva: While we are headquartered in San Jose, California and are present in almost all the continents, India is an IP creation and engineering site. We do have this in Israel and US as well, but with a large amount of R&D and engineering personnel, India is playing a significant role.
Since Western Digital joined hands with SanDisk two years ago, Supria’s leadership has played a key role in growing its presence in India right from the start. She spotted and recruited the key leadership that changed the growth in India. A prime example is Ganesh Guruswamy who joined us in 2013. He has now moved to US and is the Senior VP, Flash Product Group for Western Digital, running US engineering teams for Western Digital from there. He was the vision behind the growth of SanDisk in India. His vision to treat India as the location where product ownership happens so that talent actually creates ideas, worked really well. That acted as a flip switch. Very rapidly, India became one of the highest performing engineering groups in SanDisk and it was on a fast trajectory when Western Digital took over. The growth went up drastically over the next 2 years and we started putting hard drive development here, along with other enterprise and mobile and retail products, design, drives, failure analysis, customer support and every kind of innovative area that we wanted to see executed.
When it comes to manufacturing, Western Digital does not manufacture in India. We believe India brings in more value to our products’ innovation than in the manufacturing aspect. Also, our operations in India creates a lot more jobs, creates a lot more value for us and a lot more value for India.

What kind of hiring is scheduled for 2018?

Supria: We talk a lot about India having a vast talent pool, but we also have brain-drain as a pressing issue. If we are able to manage and hold on to the talent, then growth will happen here itself.  

Each year we hire many Masters and PhDs graduates out of leading engineering colleges and universities in India. Diversity has worked out wonderfully in India. In certain engineering disciplines, women are the majority of the hires. And, given the fact that a lot of interesting work happens through engineering, we can clearly see that the needle is moving in the diversity side of things.
Siva: University hires, once they join us, go through a lot of on-the-job training sessions. They work in a diverse ecosystem and we rotate them internally, actively encourage them to learn and be experts in different skillsets. We have come to understand that we are becoming an employer of choice across many institutions in India. This is a result of the innovative methods that we employ on the talent management side.

What is the USP of HR policies of Western Digital, considering you are aiming to be an employer of choice in India? Are there more outreach programs done on this?

Supria: In Bangalore, we have great presence in the community. We have always been a community-conscious company, and that is replicated worldwide. We are a caring company in the sense that we care a lot about what we do and how we do it within our community.
We work with volunteer organizations and almost every year for the last 3 years, our employees have been contributing several hours of their time to volunteering. Packaging meals, spending time and playing with the kids, cleaning their parks, educating them, taking sessions – all are activities that our employees volunteer for. Akshaya Patra is another very big partner we work with. These activities are never effective when imposed on the employees. But we do offer it every 2 to 2.5 months because this is something we love to do.
To look at cleaning lakes – now lakes are a very big local issue with Bangalore. Our employees working on one of the biggest local issue of saving the lakes from toxic by-products are not only just cleaning the lake, but also working with certain partners towards sustaining it.
We make it a value of the company to be a part of the community. There are multiple areas we care about, within CSR, and find that millennials love that.

You had been associated with Western Digital in their talent acquisition process, what keeps the least employee turnover in your organisation?

Supria: Companies, in the end, are people. If you don’t have the right people, it won’t go anywhere. And in our business, innovation is everything. One of the first things we have learnt about talent retention, is that interns are important. Many fresh graduates joining us, have previously worked with us as part of projects or internships. We see and analyse their work before we make them one of us. We also ensure that our employees receive timely training to bring them up to speed with the innovations in the industry.
Siva: We also have scholarship programs for STEM education in top institutes in India, U.S. and other select countries. We engage with many universities at all levels- from funding research studies to partnering for seminars and conferences held in the universities.
Another disruptive program we have internally is the Innovation Bazaar. The idea is to spur innovation and exchange ideas. If one has to prepare a 20-page proposal on an idea, it becomes mundane and people lose focus. To promote interaction in the company through ideas, we initiated the Innovation Bazaar. People come over and trade ideas and this happens with about 400 people in a room. This is done periodically in our offices around the globe. Interns, top management, fresh recruits – anybody and everybody gets to participate in it. It is a platform for the bright ideas in the company to get adopted quickly and become part of a product, a process, or a chain of activities somewhere. The good ones get taken up, and the rest gets improvised and moves on.
And all of this becomes a part of a Western Digital employee’s day-to-day work.

What kind of internship process you practice that helps in talent absorption?

Supria: Internships are key. No matter how refined the institutional recruitment program is, it cannot always be perfect. We specifically look at 6 months to one-year internships, and this is where we have case studies. They are treated like full-time employees during their internships. They are excited about that recognition and take pride in their work here. This level of engagement works beautifully in the long run. The conversion rate is very high.
We also are targeting partnerships with a considerable number of universities. We maintain a good relation with the professors in these universities and that has helped us meet our requirement in case of numbers and area of expertise. That is how we build the foundation for our expert talent pool.

FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS: This article contains some forward-looking statements, including statements relating to expectations for storage products, the market for storage products, product development efforts, and the capacities, capabilities and applications of Western Digital products. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements and we undertake no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.