“True Leadership Is About Impacting Lives”

Star India's HR Head on the true meaning of HR function, and how she is shaping the work culture of this mammoth media company


Amita Maheshwari's journey as an HR professional spanning 26 years, multiple industries — consumer, technology & business process, financial services, media & entertainment and digital — and geographies across the globe has truly moulded as an authority in the field. Under Maheshwari’s leadership, Star India, part of Walt Disney, has been able to diversify and upgrade its talent pool across the organisation. She has successfully dealt with HR transitions and management changes. Excerpts from an interview:

You have had such a rewarding and impactful journey as an HR professional. What drives you?

It is “people” that drive me. True leadership, I believe, is about impacting lives and enabling growth. It is about recognising potential and nurturing it while at the same time generating positivity and productivity. As my team and organisation grows in strength and skill, so do I, as a person and as a leader. What really matters to me is the bonds I develop with people around me.

We are in the business of inspiring people with the stories we broadcast and stream. Great ideas come from great talent. And the potential and value of great talent is what drives organisations to great purpose and profit. I call it ‘management of imagination’. To drive this, I have always looked for new challenges, the ability to build scale and create impact and the freedom to innovate and take decisions. I strongly believe that we need to trust and empower our people while also holding them accountable.

How has your organisation helped you in bringing out your best potential?

There are no limits to imagination at Disney Star. When I joined Star in 2009, it gave me complete freedom and autonomy to design and create innovative and bold HR practices for the company. My leaders have always trusted my judgement and decision-making which has helped me bring out the best for the organisation.

I completely revamped the HR organisation and built strong HR practices and tech solutions. We rolled out multiple market shaping initiatives like a 12-month maternity benefit, much before the government mandated a six-month maternity leave for all organisations in 2016.

As part of our talent strategy, we decided to hire talent from across industry and across the world for senior-level positions and for our

build-out of Hotstar. We also created unique programmes for building entry-level talent through 'creative interns programme', for which we went to the heartland and hired and trained people for creative jobs; and we launched the Star writers programme with a Hollywood screenplay writer to launch our own writer's academy.

What are your priority areas for your organisation?

Disney Star runs on three engines — content, technology and monetisation. In order to efficiently drive all of these three pillars, we need to focus on attracting best-in-class talent that is diverse, inclusive and equitable. We also need to create hybrid models where responsibilities are managed seamlessly between those working remotely and those that come into the workplace. One key area that we are focused on is creating an ethos that develops a sense of pride and belonging to Disney Star, especially for those who joined the company remotely during the pandemic.

Can you shed light on the crisis management at Disney Star during Covid?

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early-2020, we had no defined policy or playbook by which we could deal with a scenario none of us had ever experienced. But we moved very quickly and were able to not only abide by government guidelines but also went further to design and build a robust framework to deal with the new normal that we had to confront. The HR teams in APAC and India did a phenomenal job in ensuring that employees were able to adapt to a new way of working with minimal disruption. In fact, all our offices in APAC and India moved employees to a work-from-home set-up well before government guidelines mandated us to do so.

Despite the demands on our employees to adapt to a new way of working, we continued to deliver innovative and cutting-edge content to our audiences with no disruption in our services. We launched

Disney+Hotstar in April 2020 and we also went on to create the first ever bio-bubble of 700+ employees for a sporting extravaganza like IPL, providing hope to millions of audiences during the tough times.

Each business and HR leader was personally enquiring and providing timely help to our colleagues and their families that included organising counselling sessions, travel and medical aid, arranging hospital beds and oxygen cylinders and organising allowances for WFH support. We reimagined all our policies – insurance, well being, benefits, safety protocols and sensitised all our employees and managers about Covid appropriate behaviour.

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