Dr. Siva Sitrembalan: A Mastery in Accentuating People

Dr. Siva Sitrembalan | Senior HR Director
Dr. Siva Sitrembalan | Senior HR Director

We all comprehend a scenario where the companies that follow an employee-centered approach become one of the prominent organizations in the niche they cater to. When companies enable a corporate regard that is in the interest of its employees, it creates a positive impact in developing a good relationship of the employees with the organization.

When there’s positivity in the working environment—the company and its employees bask in the glory of tremendous re venue growth—as an outcome of increased productivity and operational profits. Eventually, these are the pivotal factors that ensure stable customer relationships and, simultaneously, employees feel confident while working.

Therefore, Dr. Siva Sitrembalan places high importance on focusing on people, saying, “If given a chance, I would like HR to be placed right at the top of an organization as people focus should start at the highest level versus being at the low essential.”

Dr. Siva Sitrembalan has had an illustrious career of more than four decades in the HR industry. Currently, he is the Senior HR Director at II-VI | Coherent based in Malaysia, the company is a prominent supplier of optical communication products.

Dr. Siva’s impact is visible from the various distinguished positions he has held in the HR industry, the most recent of which is being the lead for the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) as the Chairman for Perak State while holding the main responsibilities in the State for Malaysian International Chambers of Commerce (MICCI). He has also been awarded for exceptional work as the Best Employer Brand and Best HR Leader Award from World HRD Congress, India and even gained recognition from the Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.

Impressed by the impact of his work, Insights Success interviewed Dr. Siva to know his journey in the HR landscape, the challenges he faced along the way, and the changes that he wishes to see in the HR industry.

Below are the excerpts of the interview:

Dr. Siva, please brief our audience about your journey as a prominent leader in the modern industry and the challenges you overcame to scale your progress to greater heights.

Speaking of my journey gives me goose bumps as it’s a mixed feeling consisting of a long path of sorrows with a huge track of success recorded to date.

The irony is I had a huge ambition to venture into the medical field as I have always been inspired to be with people, especially those in need. However due to circumstances, my dream did not materialize after my secondary education as my parents were not financially equipped and I could not secure any sponsors to pursue medicine. Having no choice left, I took up odd jobs for survival and to reduce my family’s financial burden.

This is where my humble beginnings in HR began in 1981 when I joined the agricultural industry representing and advancing the rights of employees in the plantation sector as a HR/IR officer. I didn’t have the chance to go into full-time studies and this was when I enrolled myself for weekend and night classes in my quest to obtain a professional qualification in Certificate of Personnel Management with the Malaysian Institute of Personnel Management (MIPM) in Ipoh, Perak.

10 years later, I flourished as a Manager in a Malaysian and Japan-based company, where my potential as a leader unfolded. I continued advancing my studies, pursuing four different diplomas in the fields of personnel management, human resource management, human resource development and employee counselling before completing my specialized degree in employment laws. In 1997, when I completed my degree, my passion for growth and success did not stop there. I then continued to pursue my master’s degree at Portsmouth University, where I was privileged to travel to London for my convocation. It was my first travelling experience to Europe, and I was so excited to travel to a country that I never imagined in my life. Here, I met some good people who impressed me to continue striving to improving my passion that changed from medical to people management.

I have also dedicated my time serving various forums organized by the NGOs and Malaysian Government as part of continued learning as well as to impart on my knowledge and experience for the good of the nation, especially the industries.

In the year 2000, I decided to pursue ‘Doctor of Philosophy’ at the Northern University of Malaysia (UUM). In 2006, I received my doctorate, where I earned the honorable title of Dr. Siva. At the end, I achieved my goal even though I did not become a medical doctor.

In 2007, my career took a leap when I was hired as a HR Business Manager with an American company, which is a dream employer to many. Here, my work was well recognized, and I received a lot of appreciation as my personal ethics and values were compatible with the work culture that was envisioned by the well-known US-based multinationals in the Northern Region. Sometimes when I recall those roughest of times, I reflect about my journey which was not an easy one as I was an ordinary boy who grew up in an estate where my father was a general worker earning low wages. My first job as an office attendant in the 1970s taught me a lot and made me the person I am today. As a Senior HR Director, I am humbled to be given the opportunity to lead and inspire people and make a difference in the society.

Enlighten us on how you have impacted the HR industry through your expertise in the niche.

In 2010, I actively participated in the lab sessions under the charter of Modernization of Malaysia Labor Enactments to address the labor market needs in line with Malaysia’s goal of becoming a developed nation in 2020.

I was also appointed by the Human Resources Ministry of Perak and Penang to serve on the Panel for Malaysia’s Industrial Court alongside their Chairman, which is an instrumental platform to protect the wellbeing of employees and employers in both states, where I served for more than 10 years.

In 2015, I was appointed by Malaysia’s SOCSO Appellate Board as a panel member who played a crucial role in ensuring the awarding decisions of those appeals made by employees from all walks of life were fairly concluded. Within the same year, I was also appointed to serve the state as the Chairman of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF). Throughout my five years tenure, I am humbled to have counseled over 200 employers, advocating industrial harmony in the workplace through the adoption of right labor practices for the economic and social betterment of the state.

I am also privileged to have established strong acquaintance with governing agencies such as MIDA, INVEST PERAK, EPF, and SOCSO, contributing to the think-tank initiatives focused on acquiring, engaging, and retaining key talent in the state to boost the country’s socio-economic growth and development.

In the last 10 years, my aim to address talent issues in the country materialized when I worked on a close collaboration between the industry and academia, where strategic initiatives were deployed through active engagement with local universities such as University Malaya (UM), University Technology of Petronas (UTP) and QUEST International University for the purpose of developing and equipping our future employees with the right talent and skill sets. In addition to that, I also served as the adjunct professor with QUEST and UTP, where I delivered keynotes to inspire the new generation of leaders to stir their interest for embarking on high-tech careers in the semiconductor industry.

Throughout my 43 years of service in the industry, I believe that my stakeholders appreciate the long-term value I have created in the ecosystem, and this has been validated in 2016 when my leadership was honored with the Best Employer Brand and Best HR Leader Award from World HRD Congress India as well as our former Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamed in 2018.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Over the last decade, technology has become highly visible. It has helped HR transform traditional practices of gathering and storing information toward analyzing human data for the benefit of the business.

For an instance, we are now able to automate and consolidate mundane processes and shift our focus towards advanced solutions for strategic talent management, greater employee engagement and retention, as well as strengthening the employer brand persona.

As an experienced leader, what change would you like to bring to the HR industry if given a chance?

Reflecting 43 years of experience working with British, Malaysian, Japanese and American organizations – which is almost a complete circle around the globe and by having multiple exposure to various cultures through my previous travels to England, USA, Japan, China, Thailand, India and others-has definitely broaden my horizon where I learned about people’s aspirations to a greater level and if given a chance, I would like HR to be placed right at the top of an organization as people focus should start at the top level versus being at the low essential. The success of an organization lies with the people!

While I acknowledge that with the advancement of technology, employees now have more freedom to help them navigate through things at workplace. I hope as HR, we can find ways to free up people and connect their heads and heart to the workplace where they become naturally engaged to do much more and know how to focus on what’s more important than what they typically do every day.

According to you, what could be the next significant change in the HR sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of this change?

The pandemic has taught us many things, especially about going back to the basics, where people have shifted their priorities and needs in life. Moreover, many have begun revisiting the purpose of being tied down to a regular job. And now, in the post-pandemic era, the gig economy continues to adversely impact the workforce as some new trends and work styles continue to emerge.

We must be prepared to redefine and reframe the concept of work where our practices must be ready to integrate with the new culture of having flexible work arrangements, augmented workforce, and remote jobs, that are here to stay. As HR professionals, if we do not embrace this change, we may lose out to others even faster than before.

Therefore, proactive steps such as agile work models, robust hiring approaches, and labor retention strategies, among others, must be incorporated as we prepare to embrace these changes.

Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals?

I envision myself doing meaningful and purposeful work which will continue to be beneficial for nurturing new talent in the Northern Region.

I am aspired to continue influencing the education and talent blueprint in the state so that there are more growth and development opportunities for the local people, and they will no longer need to migrate to other states for better career opportunities.

By doing this, I hope this will create more advantages to attract more foreign investors to the state. At the societal forefront, I foresee myself being heavily involved in community programs to help those who are underprivileged, especially the B40 communities.

What would be your advice to budding aspirants who aspire to venture into the HR industry?

My advice to budding aspirants is to be resilient, humble, and always keep an open mind to embrace new changes and challenges. Never take fame and success for granted, instead, capitalize on the opportunity to help make others successful so that the ecosystem continues to grow even when you are no longer in employment.

Keep looking forward and always challenge yourself to achieve more like what Thomas Fuller said, “Good is not good, where better is expected.”