Maria Nirmala, Head of Talent Management and Workforce Planning, Fidelity Investments, India, had an interesting journey of pursuing diverse academic careers and working as a mental health consultant before transitioning to Human Resources. Maria shares how Fidelity has enabled her to keep her interests alive, implement innovative ideas, and grow in her career as an HR professional.
Tell us about your career journey.
When I talk about the academic side of my journey, where it all began, it is a perfect example of a squiggly career. As someone who originally aspired to be a doctor, I ended up pursuing my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics. However, I later realized that I wanted to work with people.
During my student days, I was an active member of the National Service Scheme (NSS), a program designed to instill the idea of social welfare in students, and the experience motivated me to pursue something that would contribute to the greater good. I jumped into social work and aspired to follow in the footsteps of Medha Patkar, a social activist who had a huge influence on me during that period.
As I traveled the path of self-discovery, I realized that change begins with you. So I decided to study human behavior closely and enrolled in the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Psychiatric Social Work program offered by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bangalore, which is the apex center for mental health and neuroscience education in the country.
After working as a mental health consultant for two years, I was confident that I would earn my Ph.D. from NIMHANS. However, that was not to be.
Instead of losing heart, I looked around and came to know about the doctoral program offered at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore. I buckled up, cracked the qualifying examination, and successfully earned my degree through the program.
When it eventually came down to a career choice, I chose to get into Human Resources (HR), since it is a field that enables you to work with people and make a positive difference.
What made you join Fidelity?
After spending close to five years in consulting, the nomadic lifestyle was beginning to take a toll on me. At that point, I decided to look for an organization that was truly invested in its people and would enable me to do meaningful work.
I was almost certain that such an organization did not exist, and then I came across Fidelity!
I was extremely impressed by Fidelity’s culture, and it felt almost too good to be true. It’s been seven years since, and I feel that time has just flown by. I am still impressed by Fidelity’s culture as I was on day one. It’s a rare place that not only respects your views and competencies but also invests in you, and that’s what makes Fidelity a great place to work at.
Could you tell us a little about your current role at Fidelity and your journey with the Firm so far?
I joined the organization as a Senior Manager, Talent Development, and was initially responsible for facilitating technology learning. It was a great opportunity that allowed me to work across various technology verticals.
During that period, I helped constitute the Technology Advisory Council, an initiative that helped synergize learning needs with the Firm’s technology architecture blueprint and evolve customized learning paths for technology professionals. I find it extremely satisfying to see that the initiative which launched in India has been institutionalized at the global level.
I fondly remember the time when I traveled to Boston and connected with global partners, which helped deepen my understating of the Firm and build relationships across geographies.
At Fidelity, there’s never a dull moment. There are plenty of projects and responsibilities that keep coming your way, making the journey exciting.
As I moved to the next stage in my career with a promotion, I added Organizational Development (OD) to my portfolio. This gave me opportunities to shape the Continuing Education Policy at Fidelity Investments, India, be a learning advisor for senior leaders, work on top talent programs, collaborate with several premier external partners, and work with some amazing colleagues.
Opportunities such as participating in the data science certification program at IISc, defining NASSCOM’s future skills curriculum, and thought leadership work with Gartner really helped expand not only my network but also my perspectives, even while enhancing Fidelity’s external brand.
After four years in Learning and Development, I raised my hand to work more closely with the business. My aspirations were duly recognized, and as a result, I moved into the HR Business Partner (HRBP) role for a large technology business unit within Fidelity Investments, India.
With the organization going through a phase of transformation, the role required me to focus on a completely different learning path of co-creating talent strategy, organization design, agile transformation, and leadership development, while ensuring that the right career development opportunities were provided to the right people, at the right time.
The experience taught me some invaluable lessons in managing diverse stakeholder expectations and collaborating with multiple teams and global partners.
In my latest role as Head of Talent Management and Workforce Planning, I am responsible for leading all talent management programs at Fidelity Investments, India, including skill alignment and performance management.
Tell us about some of the attributes and aspects that define you as a successful leader at Fidelity.
When I joined Fidelity, I was told that Fidelity is an extremely relationship-driven organization. Over time, I realized that relationship building is so much more than just meetings and consensus building. It is about respecting, valuing, and including diverse perspectives. Therefore, I can say with conviction that building meaningful relationships is one of the key aspects that define you as a successful leader at Fidelity.
Tell us about the attributes you would look for in a person you would want to hire for your team.
Learnability, teamwork, and commitment are three key attributes that I look for when hiring for my team.
What is the best advice you have received as a professional?
At every moment, you are auditioning for leadership. This gem was shared by Fidelity Investments, India’s former president, Sunil Kunte, and I consider it to be one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.
What has been your most memorable moment at Fidelity so far?
The annual offsites always entail fulfilling moments that I look forward to every year. It just makes me so proud of the teams and Firm that we belong to.
Describe a hurdle that you were proud of crossing.
Sometimes, you just have to let go. Letting go of programs that I had put my heart and soul into, in the interest of larger goals, will be among the greatest hurdles I am proud to have crossed.
What is your favorite quote, saying, or song?
The poem ’If’ by Rudyard Kipling is my inspiration. It keeps me going every time I feel low.