Subba Gonella


Orchestrating HR Evolution Through 25+ Years of Excellence

Subba Gonella

Chief Human Resources Officer,

Rakuten Symphony

Integrating technology into human resources has revolutionised business operations, driving transformative changes. This amalgamation isn’t merely a trend but a strategic imperative, leveraging AI, data analytics, and automation to streamline HR processes, enhance decisionmaking, and foster a more agile, data-driven approach. The effective utilisation of technology in HR has become the linchpin for organisational success, offering insights, optimising talent management, and ensuring a competitive edge in talent acquisition and retention strategies.
Subba Gonella, the Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Rakuten Symphony, embodies expertise honed over 25+ years of international experience. His journey encapsulates pivotal roles in HR business partner, total rewards, workforce management, strategic HR, setting up HR shared services, digital transformation, and HR operations, showcasing a robust proficiency in diverse HR functions. As an HR business partner, his functions encompass employee onboarding, engagement, and performance management. steering large, shared service setups and orchestrating change management and handling large strategic projects. His repertoire spans areas like change management, risk mitigation, and strategic planning, culminating in a decisive problemsolving approach in competitive environments. Subba’s proficiency extends to modernising HR functions through technology interventions. At Rakuten, his focus is to bring in the best practices from industry and transform the HR function, with a focus on improving the employee experience and also on the controls and framework in place that will help the organisation evolve. As a startup, his focus is to get the fundamentals in place in terms of organisation design, policies, and processes. Some of the elements, like long-term talent strategy, top talent, succession planning, diversity and inclusion, employee wellbeing, digitising the HR function, etc., are some of his key focus areas. At Xerox, he led global process standardisation and ServiceNow deployment, revolutionising HR operations. His tenure at Syngenta India and IBM showcased his adeptness in managing HR services, deploying Workday and RPA technologies, and spearheading critical payroll transformations. With an astute understanding of technology’s role in large-scale operations, Subba strategizes shared services, manages vendor performance, and drives business process automation. His extensive experience in setting up HR shared services, managing global operations, and overseeing HR transformative projects positions him as a vanguard in navigating technology-driven HR landscapes. He discussed with TradeFlock how he reshaped HR paradigms, which made him an invaluable asset in redefining HR practices in modern business ecosystems.  

What key moments shaped your career journey leading to your current role?

My career journey spans over 25 years and has been an incredible odyssey, allowing me the privilege of establishing operations across numerous countries. One of the defining aspects has been my immersion across all facets of HR. This comprehensive exposure has been instrumental in preparing me for my current role, which demands a hands-on understanding of every function within HR. It’s the culmination of these diverse experiences that has equipped me to navigate the complexities inherent in this position.

What major hurdles did you encounter in establishing and managing large, shared services, and how did you overcome them?

Establishing large-scale shared services indeed poses multifaceted challenges. It begins with formulating a comprehensive strategy, meticulously outlining objectives and creating a roadmap. Execution is equally pivotal, involving change management, seamless collaboration, and adept stakeholder management. Transitioning work to a shared services model demands precision, emphasis on clear communication, and a practical approach. Success hinges on the execution of the strategy with absolute precision, ensuring alignment with organisational goals and operational excellence.

How did you use digital transformation to improve HR operations, especially in the mobile telco industry?

Leveraging technology as the key enabler for digital transformation in HR, we focused on implementing employee self-service (ESS) and manager self-service (MSS) frameworks. Our approach involved deploying technology with stringent controls to digitise and streamline all our HR processes effectively.

How have you managed vendor performance and contracts to improve HR operations?

In managing partner performance and optimising contract management for streamlined HR operations, I emphasise the term “partner” over “vendor.” Collaborating with strategic partners in our HR operations is crucial to fostering a mutual interest in each other’s success. While contracts play a vital role, I prioritise the core fundamentals of our partnership, ensuring discussions remain objective, centred on value addition, and focused on fostering a mutually beneficial engagement.

How do you think HR will change with automation and AI in the coming decade?

In the next decade, I anticipate a significant transformation in HR due to advancements in AI. Generative AI is poised to disrupt HR practices, prompting a shift in how we operate. This evolution demands HR professionals familiarise themselves with technological innovations, focusing on adapting to these changes and enhancing the employee experience. While AI will revolutionise numerous aspects, it’s premature to assume it will replace HR teams entirely. The human touch in employee engagement remains essential, and experienced HR professionals bring critical judgement to talent strategy, an aspect that AI may potentially contribute to in the future.

If you could transform one aspect of the HR industry, what would it be and why?

I’d aim to change the narrative surrounding HR’s perception as an administrative function that anyone can fulfill. HR is a specialised skill set that evolves over time. HR professionals play a pivotal role in shaping an organisation’s culture and values. Redefining this perception would highlight the strategic importance of HR in business operations.

What personal lessons or skills have aided your professional journey?

I’ve been fortunate to have incredible mentors who’ve shaped my journey. Their lessons in collaboration, open communication, teamwork, humility, integrity, attention to detail, and respect for organisational culture and values have been pivotal in my professional growth. Each of these traits holds immense significance and has contributed substantially to my career.
















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