In conversation with Mr. Sameer Nagarajan, HR Maestro

In conversation with Mr. Sameer Nagarajan, HR Maestro

The Life Sciences Practice Group of Cornerstone International Group (CIG) recently invited Sameer Nagarajan to share his views on leadership shifts in the Life Science and Pharma Industry and trends in Human Resources Management.

About Sameer:

Industry veteran Sameer Nagarajan is a well-known expert with a significant background in business-aligned people management.
Sameer is currently the Global Chief People Officer at Erba Diagnostics in Dubai.

Sameer has extensive cross-cultural expertise that spans Asia, Europe, Africa, and the United States. He formerly held positions at Unilever in India, Switzerland, and Sri Lanka. He has held an executive HR position at Dabur International in Dubai. He was Global President of Human Resources at Cadila Pharmaceuticals and VP-HR at Astra Zeneca.

In 1988, Sameer graduated from the prestigious XLRI Jamshedpur with an MBA in HR. He is a certified Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) facilitator, an accredited coach and has a passion for applied behavioural science.

The following is a summary of the discussion Sameer Nagarajan held with Cornerstone International Group (CIG):

CIG: Please share some of your leadership lessons spanning your career journey.

Sameer – Growth is more than just climbing the hierarchy and achieving rank. It is about the experiences and lessons you have gained and can apply inside and outside yourself. When you rely on others – as even senior leaders must in large organisations – it’s about getting things done through people. You have to exert the power of inspiration & persuasion.

I am most comfortable with the servant leadership style – leadership is to serve and must be accompanied by due focus, passion, and humility. Above all, it must be aligned to both personal and organizational values. In the later stages of my career, I intentionally sought out positions where I could have an impact on how things were done, and develop the HR team so that they could be promoted to positions outside of HR. I encouraged my team to embrace change. I made sure that people were excited to work with me. I actively sought out feedback – not out of necessity but rather to help others get better at what they do.


CIG- How do you see the Life Science Industry changing? What are the challenges and opportunities, especially regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic? More and more tasks are becoming digital. How does digitization affect HR now?

Sameer – I think of it on two levels. Firstly, change has been constant—processes such as Supply Chain, Logistics and Procurement are getting more & more digital and web-based. You should not discount the impact of robotics in automation and manufacturing. It is a huge game-changer. Secondly, on the marketing front, most healthcare industries have had to reinvent ways of working during the pandemic, as you can’t stop communication with doctors. This gave rise to new concepts in the healthcare and marketing segment regarding how to use social media appropriately to deliver targeted communication that has a personal feel. Every company wants to communicate in a manner that is current, and this has given rise to a full-scale industry on its own. Now the question is what does it mean for HR? It implies new skills and abilities that must be developed and fostered. These capabilities are critical for success and need to be measured at both an organisational and individual level. And then, these capabilities must be instituted as part of an organisation’s culture. That creates a set of implications for HR.

CIG: There are today five generations working together in the workforce. How do you integrate them and bring them together? How is Career and Succession Planning evolving?

Sameer – There are sharp generational differences around expectations from organisations and work and these differences are rooted in values. While new entries to the workforce have a somewhat shorter perspective on jobs and careers and do not spend too much time in the first job, they are primarily concerned with how the organisation’s culture and values fit with their own values. In this situation, it is crucial for the CHRO to open communication because mutually agreed-upon expectations are preferable. HR must assist in motivating the leaders.

CIG: You talked about increasing the abilities of the leaders. Does Executive Coaching, attending courses at Ivy League colleges etc. help in building leaders?

Sameer – Coaching, training, Ivy League enrollment, and other resources can all be helpful. The best is having a boss who spends time with you, who listens and asks questions. The best direction the boss can set is to guide high-potential learning and thinking. The challenge is to create a culture where such communications and interactions become commonplace and are seen as valuable investments rather than merely transactional. This cultural traction is what HR needs to create.

CIG: How do you establish a common platform with employees coming from different nations, nationalities, and cultures? Can a company establish a framework for its values and principles?

Sameer – The reality today is that all companies’ values and mission statements look very similar – the only difference is how often and consistently the CEO communicates & endorses these values and the mission statement. The second factor is, how and how soon will the CEO react to violations of values? The key challenge is when top leaders and commercially successful outputs work against the values proclaimed by the company – all eyes are watching what the CEO and HR do in these cases – The action taken must be visible. People should know where the company stands, and enough information must be communicated — without violating even a violator’s rights.

CIG: How far do you think we have come on the issues of Diversity & Inclusion? What are the gaps, and what practices should a company adopt?

Sameer – One of the challenges I see currently is that diversity and inclusion are being perceived as HR hot topics- more precisely, the HR function’s hot topics. They must in fact be adopted as a business imperative and driven by all business leaders across all functions. To be successful at D&I, all initiatives must be TOP down and TOP driven. For example, when recruiters present four candidates, the CEO needs to demand that two must fit DEI criteria. Search firms like Cornerstone can only do so much on DEI without the client mandating it.

Any change initiative must have this ‘head of change’ reporting to the CEO, as behaviour change requires time and top-down motivation to effect cultural change.

CIG:  You have worked across consumer & pharmaceutical industries.   Should the competencies of leaders and leadership styles vary in these industries?

Sameer – Both industries are very different, with different requirements. Pharmaceutical companies rely on regulatory knowledge, as well as quality and process compliance. That is not to say that these are not relevant issues in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). However, because of size and scale, logistics, distribution, distributed manufacturing, and mass customisation become much more imperative in FMCG. Various industries require various methods of talent spotting and development. Pharma operates on much wider constraints compared with the consumer segment.

CIG: You have recently published a book called “The Parijat Tree and Other Stories.” Can you tell us something about the genesis and contents of your book?

Sameer – “The Parijat Tree and Other Stories,” my first full-length book, was published recently – in February 2023. These are ten short stories, each with a twist in the telling.   Readers tell me they are unique in their sensitivity to human issues.   The lead story is written from the perspective of a tree, hence the title! I enjoyed working on it during a career break I took in 2020.  (The book is available at and

Cornerstone International Group found our conversation with Sameer Nagarajan to be a thoroughly enjoyable event packed with his professional knowledge, real-world examples, and actual situations. Cornerstone extends best wishes to Sameer and appreciates his valuable insights into leadership shifts in the Life Science and Pharma Industry and trends in Human Resources Management.