Article: An exclusive conversation with Khaitan & Co's Organization Development Leader

Compensation & Benefits

An exclusive conversation with Khaitan & Co's Organization Development Leader

There's an opportunity to evolve the rewards and recognition strategies in partnership-based firms. We hear from Pritish, the incoming head of Leadership and Rewards at Khaitan & Co.
An exclusive conversation with Khaitan & Co's Organization Development Leader

Top corporate law firm Khaitan & Co. is bringing in Pritish Gandhi as Director – Leadership & Rewards, starting March 14, 2024.

Formerly Associate Partner – Human Capital Solutions at Aon India, Pritish is a trusted advisor to Boards, CXOs and HR leaders on a range of people matters. 

Over the last three years, he grew Aon's Executive Compensation and Governance practice in India into a dominant leadership position. 

Now, in his upcoming role at Khaitan & Co., Pritish will be putting his years of consulting experience into practice at an increasingly large and sophisticated firm within an industry that is busily refining its people and rewards approach.

Amar Sinhji, Executive Director at Khaitan & Co., told People Matters: “As our firm grows both in terms of scale, geographies and complexity, it is important to continually refine and realign our business and rewards strategies. Pritish’s key responsibility as the Head of Leadership & Rewards will be to help us strengthen our capability through the alignment of strategy, structure, leadership, and our management processes. He will work with the senior leadership team in strengthening our policies and processes, specifically around compensation, rewards & recognition, performance metrics, engagement, and culture. Pritish as an established industry leader in these areas is a great addition to our firm and we are very proud to have him join us.”

Khaitan & Co. now has more than 200 partners across seven offices, including one in Singapore.

People Matters had an exclusive interaction with Pritish about his movement from a decade of HR consulting to operational HR leadership, the shape he anticipates his career would take at Khaitan & Co., and his thoughts on the evolution of the rewards function. Here's what we heard from him.

As you look back on your years at Aon, what's your favourite achievement?

My proudest achievement is the establishment of the “Aon HR Learning Center”, with 20,000 alumni across Southeast Asia and the Middle East. AHLC distinguishes itself with rich content, exceptional learner experience and continuous innovation. The high point for me was to co-create Next Generations CHROs program in partnership with IIM Bangalore. It’s heartening to see the program alumni as prominent CHROs across India Inc. today.

Tell us about your plans for bringing your experience and expertise into your new role.

When I work with an organization (as a consultant), I strive to find the toughest problem that the organization needs to solve for. As an advisor, I focused on creating an impact in the areas of Boards & Governance, Leadership Effectiveness, Organization Effectiveness, and Rewards and Performance.

As an operating leader, I am keen to drive synergy in these areas to create long-term institutional impact. 

Khaitan & Co. is at a very interesting stage. With a rich legacy, the firm now aspires for its second century to be even more illustrious than the first one. Growing from here is about driving ownership in Partners, creating a succession pipeline, and moving towards conscious growth; all of which are best delivered through building a robust institution.

Khaitan & Co. has been around for more than 100 years, there's so much to explore in your new role – what are you most looking forward to?

The unique thing about Khaitan & Co. is that they have, for a very long time, an implicit understanding of what their culture is. HR is therefore a custodian of that culture. Our role is to evangelise it further, to inculcate it in newer members.

Now, the challenge is that as the firm grows, how it ensures that the culture is actualized at a larger scale.

This is where the partnership model comes in. With partnership-based firms, either headquartered in India or operating in India under a global brand, we must look at what the partners behavior is like. Partners behavior is not only about having skin in the game but also about owning the collective success of the firm, which includes its culture.

Which begs the question: does the performance and rewards model balance hunger for success and team play?

So, I plan to focus on making Partners and the Firm (even more) successful by working across the areas of Governance, Leadership Effectiveness, Performance and Rewards.

There's a great aspect of HR's evolution in how you describe your new role. Where do you see compensation and rewards/recognition going in today's rapidly evolving business environment?

To understand where compensation and rewards are going, we must first understand that Indian companies have won the war of talent at the executive level, and they will win extensively more in the future. Top Indian HQ-ed listed FMCG organizations are today paying 50-60% more to their CEOs than the Indian listed entities of similar sized-MNCs.

That's happened because Indian companies are far more willing to pay Indian executives what they deserve than MNCs. CEO pay as a percentage of EBITDA and as a percentage of market cap in India is significantly lower than Europe, Australia, Southeast Asia, or the US, which can only mean one thing: compared to global norms, Indian executives are vastly underpaid.

What do you think needs to change?

A couple of decades back, market benchmarking was key to crafting an effective rewards strategy. Over time, most firms gravitated towards the median and comparators became increasingly from the same industry. Rather than data guiding new decision paradigms, I often see rewards leaders using data to defend why things are the way they are. 

Two things will have to change here. One is that data will have to be far richer to be useful. Salary increments and external competitiveness will be important data points. Organizations will have to look at design paradigms: what is the policy for short term incentives, what is the policy for long term incentives, what's the basis of the reward strategy. Secondly, organizations must become more open to experimenting with the rewards paradigm. First movers will see disproportionate advantages. 

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Topics: Compensation & Benefits, Appointments, Benefits & Rewards, #HRCommunity

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