Unlocking individual strengths to realize the collective good inspires human resources executive.
Elena Gong isn’t your typical human resources professional. In fact, the former teacher and radio station disc jockey never envisioned such a career. She simply wanted something that would allow her to make her mark – and make a difference. As the vice president of Human Resources for Delphi Technologies’ Electrification & Electronics, Gong is responsible for the team that creates and deploys the HR strategies for the fast-growing power electronics business unit. Based in Shanghai, China, she is also responsible for all global talent acquisition. Her position involves everything from employee recruiting and onboarding to helping to shape the cultural transformation currently underway within the company.
Her passion for people is apparent. But what sets her apart is her commitment to the idea that enterprise prosperity and engaged, energized employees are intimately linked. And she’ll tell you – you can’t have one without the other.
What led you to a career in HR?
My focus in school was English Literature, and upon graduating, I moved to southern China and started my career as a teacher. While I enjoyed it, I was in a small, isolated community and I wanted something bigger, something different. As a young woman with a strong curiosity to try new things, I turned my love of music and singing into a career as a radio disc jockey. After a year, though, I found I wasn’t being challenged. For some, turning your hobby into your career is fantastic. For me, it became limiting. So, I decided to go back to university, this time for a master’s in Economics. I felt this would make me more marketable and give me more long-term options. The program involved exposure to many different disciplines, including a solid base in HR. Right out of school, I was lucky enough to find an HR manager position with a Western company that was establishing a base in China. Even though I had no practical HR experience, my boss said I had the proactive attitude that he wanted, which could push past the obstacles and take HR in the company to the next level. From there, I knew I had found my path.
At that time, especially in China, HR was largely transactional – hire, fire, payroll and so on. However, I could see what was possible in terms of evolving it into a more human-focused approach. This appealed to me very much. I knew with HR, I would be presented with the opportunity to grow people, to mentor them and to motivate them not just to do more but to be more. HR offered me the powerful combination of being able to shape change not only in my chosen profession but in a company itself through its people.
Fast Take: Elena Gong shares her strategies for success.
How do you view the role of HR today?
It’s a practice that continues to evolve, with HR now often a critical factor in the success of many business strategies. It’s much broader in scope and influence. Talent management, leadership development, employee experience, cultural transformation and even technology advances in how we communicate and connect are now mainstays. Overall, though, our role is people, and through people, leading organizational success. Your people are the engine of your organization. To grow your company, you have to grow your people. Believe in them, guide them and inspire them, and anything is possible.
Why did you decide to join Delphi Technologies?
I had been with British Petroleum for nine years, five of them based in the United Kingdom. While a great company, it’s also very large. As such, I found I often lost the ability to see the direct impact of my work – especially on the business itself. Additionally, I wanted to return to China. One of my strengths is the understanding I have of the business and cultural practices in the region. Change is happening in China at such a rapid pace right now that I wanted to make sure I experienced it firsthand.
By joining Delphi Technologies, I was able to satisfy both needs. The position provided me with the opportunity to have an immediate effect on the business by shaping its people strategies following the split with Aptiv. It was all new and moving at an accelerated pace, which I relished. It also allowed me to return to China – to be based here and lead the region – yet retain global responsibilities. This can be rare in Western-based companies.
What would you say are your major accomplishments with the company?
There have been many over the last couple of years as we’ve worked to build and transform Delphi Technologies. The ones that stand out as major achievements for me, though, are the recruiting and onboarding the large number of people we needed globally in our first year after to the split to achieve our business growth targets. Another is creating – almost from scratch – a high-performing HR team, along with solid HR foundations in the business. Lastly, playing a significant role in the cultural transformation taking place within the company. As a trained facilitator, I’ve led a number of the culture change workshops throughout Asia. I’ve seen firsthand the willingness and determination in our people to embrace our new path. I’ve also witnessed – in action – the changes taking hold. People’s mindsets and actions are shifting. It’s inspiring to see.
You’ve been a long-standing advocate for women’s leadership and empowerment. Why?
It started with my first job, really, when someone saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I wanted to carry that forward – especially for other women. Many professional women struggle with confidence, often not brave enough to go after what they want. This needs to change by creating environments where women can thrive and give voice to their ideas. Women – women leaders, in particular – make good business sense. They provide balance, often seeing more and listening more than their male counterparts. They are also very adept at creating the meaningful connections people need between business concepts and expectations and their daily work lives. These are traits that are essential in any enterprise today.
Is this why you’ve introduced programs such as ShePower in China?
Absolutely. At Delphi Technologies, advocating and advancing women leaders is part of our culture. It’s part of our values to be inclusive, and to make sure everyone lives up to their full potential. ShePower is a wonderful organization to help us realize our goals.
What’s next for you?
Right now, my focus is on Delphi Technologies and successfully navigating our restructuring. We’ve got to manage morale so that people stay motivated and committed. But more than this, we need to manage the changes in such a way that we cultivate individual strengths to realize the collective good. That’s the basis for any high-performing team.