Anil Agarwal leads American Express’ global and regional compensation teams, including performance management, executive compensation and sales incentives teams. Agarwal joined American Express as vice president of executive compensation in October 2010 where he has led a number of companywide key initiatives. He is a certified public accountant and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Bombay and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina.
What is the No. 1 career assist you received?
I received some critical assists at the start of my career. My time at my first two jobs is where I honed analytical and technical skills that I still rely on today. Early on in your career, you’re hesitant to make decisions, and you think you need to gather as much information as possible to make a good decision. It was through on-the-job experience and training that I grew to become more comfortable making decisions, even when I didn’t have all the information at my disposal. I learned how to operate more successfully in the grey and deal with ambiguity.
What key career advice would you give to others?
I’ll give you three: Passion, point of view and a growth mindset. This combination will put you on the path to greater success in your career. If you don’t like what you’re doing or don’t like the people around you, it’s not the right fit for you. Life is too short to do something you don’t like.
So, be passionate about what you do and have a point of view, but at the same time be flexible in your thinking to ensure you’re leading with a growth mindset.
What is something HR can’t live without?
We need to have courage if we’re going to make any kind of a significant change, innovate and evolve. Courage is a must-have skill to achieve these results. We should be able to challenge the status quo, have the difficult conversations and take the calculated risks. Second, we need to understand all aspects of what we touch. In total rewards, we’re touching people’s pocket book and their personal lives. That means having a 360-degree approach — understanding the human elements, the business issues and the financial implications for the company and our shareholders.
What are two out-of-the-ordinary skills every rewards professional needs?
One is business acumen. We must be a businessperson first and then an HR professional before we can call ourselves total rewards professionals. We don’t want to practice HR for the sake of practicing HR. Our purpose is to help business leaders achieve their business strategy goals. To do so, we must speak their language — use business terms, not the typical HR lingo. We also must lead with an external perspective. For example, we should be observing the external economy and landscape and be able to understand how it can impact our company and industry.
The second skill is subject matter expertise — we are a center of excellence and we should be an expert in what we do. 70% to 80% of our time is made up of business-as-usual-like administrative duties and process-oriented day-to-day activities. It’s the remaining 20% to 30% where we get to differentiate our company from others.