“In India, it’s very difficult for someone to go to school and to not be told that you got to take science, engineering, and then essentially become an engineer or a doctor,” Akhil Dave says.
Dave enrolled in the University of Mumbai more than seventeen years ago and decided to major in engineering. Even if he never dreamed of pursuing an engineering career, the experience would elevate his job prospects after graduation. But the more classes he took, the more he debated whether it was worth it.
“The answer was very clear that I did not want to become an engineer,” Dave says. “I was just doing it as a safe option.” With his senior year approaching, time was running out. Despite receiving advice from friends to pursue an MBA in finance, he researched other corporate career paths. He carved out time to read The Future of HRD and it inspired him to pursue a career in HR management.
“That book really caught my attention and made me realize that HR is a function that can really impact every employee,” Dave says.
After Akhil Dave graduated from the University of Mumbai, he earned his MBA in HR from the Xavier School of Management. He started his career as a management trainee at Unilever and later became an HR business partner in Mumbai. Then, he joined the pharmaceutical firm Cipla in 2013, where he eventually led a team of twenty-five L&D professionals and later helped the company expand to the US. What attracted him to Cipla was its purpose of “Caring for Life” and the company’s growth plans.
“Within the India business, I built up various HR processes, practices, for about four years,” Dave says. “In my fifth year, Cipla had just made an acquisition into the US in 2016. This was a half a billion-dollar acquisition of entities called InvaGen and Exelan.”
Dave transferred to Cipla’s North American offices in New York in 2017 then helped the company establish its US headquarters in New Jersey in 2019. The company named him its interim head of HR for the region in January 2020. And because he proved to be a home run hire during COVID-19, the word “interim” was removed from his title within six months.
Now, he oversees all things HR for the more than half a billion-dollar business unit with over seven hundred employees across functions. “I want to focus on creating the maximum impact that I can bring to the table, because that gives me joy,” Dave says.
So, how does Akhil Dave stack up as a HR leader? Of course, he checks off the boxes you would expect. He empowers his employees to learn and grow in their careers. He embraces the challenges that come with organizational change, be it COVID-19, talent market volatilities, or as Cipla acquires other businesses. He has also focused on building the right capabilities for Cipla US as it continues to be one of the fastest growing generic pharmaceutical companies in the country.
He recalls working on the post-acquisition HR integration of the new manufacturing facility that Cipla had acquired in 2016. “We had to ensure that there’s a harmonization of systems, processes, and policies,” Dave says. “I think that’s a very different ballgame, because that’s a large number of employees you’re dealing with. That’s a large integration experience that I had, and I was on ground for it.”
Dave wants to set the tone for employees to navigate HR system integrations and he accepts the responsibility of being a great steward. While he drives digital transformation, he believes finding the right tools for employees should go beyond procuring platforms.
“I think it’s not just investing or buying software, but it’s essentially how you make services available at ease for advice,” Dave says. Whatever strategies he puts together have to fit seamlessly into the employee experience.
“For me, digitalization means removing the friction points in the organization, making [the] employee experience easy, and adding more intelligence to the organization,” Dave explains.
By recognizing that the best solutions are simple and scalable, Akhil Dave drives progress. Cipla North America continues to be strongly positioned for growth and the HR function led by Dave is a key enabler for it. Yet no matter how far he has come, he remembers what contributed to his success as an HR leader.
“I think very early on, I was fortunate to have the right leaders and mentors,” Dave says. “I understood what goes into leading a team, and what makes a leader successful.”