R Mukund is a proven organizational leader with 30 years of experience in progressive roles as a technical professional, team leader, Six Sigma Master Black Belt, executive program manager, and now chief executive officer. He has a track record of distinction in diverse organizations from research & technology, consulting, corporate diversified & global, and cloud-based, tech-enabled services. At General Electric (GE) Power Systems, he dedicated his spare time to developing novel Web-based application solutions for Environmental Health & Safety.
With the spin-out of the Gensuite startup in October 2010, Mukund turned his attention to building a world-class team of professionals that share his devotion to the development, support and evolution of solutions centered in user experience, responsiveness and collaboration. He remains committed and focused on expanding this vision of continuously evolving, best-practice, subscriber-collaboration solutions across business functions and technology platforms, such as Mobile and Big Data.
Mukund is the founder and CEO of Benchmark ESG, a company that provides industry-leading digital software solutions for managing operational risk and compliance, sustainability, product stewardship, and responsible sourcing across complex global operations.
For our latest Faces of EHS profile, we sat down with Mukund to discuss how he got his start in the industry, the new prioritization of EHS through ESG, and the benefits of embracing new technologies.
Q: How did you get your start in the field?
I got my start in the ESG and EHS space in a consulting role in the mid-’90s. I was an air permitting leader for ERM Northeast. And it was when I was helping companies with their state and federal air quality permits that I realized there was a critical need for a data management system that would not only contain information, but would actually help my clients assemble the component data for their permit applications in a manner that aligned with the relevant requirements.
I then brought that concept for digital process-driven EHS performance and compliance management processes with me to General Electric. This is where I was really able to develop and refine an adaptable operational data management and reporting platform that enables organizational leaders to build more resilient compliance, quality, safety, and other programs. Nowadays, at Benchmark ESG, we’re working toward a similar objective, where we’re distilling best practices for ESG data management and historical reporting into a digital platform.
Q: Who has been your biggest influence in the industry?
The biggest influence on me is Mark Stoler, who continues to be one of Benchmark ESG’s advisors. Mark was my manager, mentor, and senior executive sponsor at GE. He’s the one who helped me to appreciate the real value, from an enterprise perspective, of the systems I was working on—especially as a substitute for operational data management, analysis, and reporting processes in functional areas like EHS and beyond. He helped me understand how to achieve and scale a level of sophisticated functionality in a way that would actually resonate with stakeholders. To this day he continues to be a sponsor, a champion, and a big advocate for what we do.
Q: What’s your best mistake and what did you learn from it?
The best mistake I have made was back when I assumed that our platform would be readily transferable. Specifically, I once assumed that the platform would sit as is and achieve mass adoption. While we came up short in a few early engagements, it was a uniquely instructive experience; we learned that, even though the platform performed as intended and received encouraging feedback, we weren’t intentional enough in showing prospective end users how they could adapt the offerings to their unique needs. Instead, we were showing them how this solution would serve them based on our experiences and thought processes.
This helped me realize that we have to be flexible to showcase that without losing our core differentiators. Above all, this experience underscored the value of meeting subscribers where they are and building toward their specific needs.
Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite part about working in the industry? Would you change anything?
The passion and commitment of my colleagues, our industry counterparts, and by extension, the people and organizations we partner with are what’s most satisfying. Whether it’s on the safety side, the compliance side, or the environmental process side, it’s a labor of love that delivers for people and the planet.
On the flip side, my least favorite part is how often EHS departments are seen as merely a cost function rather than a profit driver; that is, of course, unless you have a great operations leader who understands the real bottom- and top-line value of a maximally efficient and effective EHS department. Fortunately, with ESG’s ascendance on the corporate agenda, executives are now giving EHS its due. In many organizations, EHS is now leading the ESG effort, leaning into their experience with galvanizing cross-functional teams and efforts to deliver on tough targets and build a culture that supports it.
Q: How can company leaders make safety a value within their organization?
Business leaders will need to walk their talk. They will need to ensure that every employee is engaged in the mission and not limited to just the EHS team. Every single function and every single employee has a role to play in safety. There need to be visible signs with credible outcomes that safety is critical to productivity while also ensuring that the company’s most precious resource, its workforce, is protected. In our experience, digital solutions can enable safety culture by connecting people, process, and the mission. Equip EHS and operations teams with the right tools and they can build and sustain the safety culture.
Q: Where do you see the industry heading in five years? Or are you seeing any current trends?
In five years, I believe we’ll see an increase in the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and process automation. We are beginning to see this now, but I expect this trend will accelerate.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic complicated or exacerbated problems with safety culture?
COVID-19 made EHS and safety a bigger focus in organizations around the world. While I wish the pandemic had not wreaked the havoc it did, I am glad to see more organizations making a concerted effort to assign employee wellbeing and safety the priority it commands. We also saw a push within organizations to adopt digital platforms to drive engagement with teams wherever they are located.
Q: How will safety culture look in the future?
I think the accelerating adoption of autonomous activities is going to ultimately shape safety culture. I think these trends only make it more important both for EHS professionals, with the input, support, and buy-in of the persons and institutions they serve, to assume greater responsibility for the overall safety of the enterprise.
In the last few years especially, we have seen that safety culture continues to be not only a critical element but also a bellwether of corporate culture writ large. Employee engagement and satisfaction are part and parcel of employee health and well-being. And with evermore personal IoT devices coming online and adoption of AI and ML continuing apace, I think safety culture—and the employee engagement and satisfaction it cultivates—will rapidly become more data-driven. Technological augments will enable EHS leaders to take more proactive and preemptive actions, and as a result, build an enterprise ecosystem that’s more reliably capable of serving its stakeholders.
Q: What are you most proud of?
The real value that Benchmark ESG’s platforms provide to EHS and, more recently, ESG professionals. Our platforms enable EHS professionals to more easily engage functional leaders and their teams across the enterprise in the range of operations that both directly and indirectly contribute to both EHS performance outcomes, as well as the safety culture it supports.
Yes, the safety leader and their teams are responsible. But these teams are spread out across many locations and many points of risk. They can’t be everywhere. And frankly, they shouldn’t be. Our platform, that we have collaboratively built with functional leaders across so many different companies, makes it so that these teams needn’t worry about omnipresence. I’m very proud of the feedback we get from our champions and our users, ranging from the C-suite to employees on the ground, who are using our solutions. Often we hear that what they are doing would not be possible, or at the very least would be much harder without our technology. This is what motivates us to continue working and innovating.
Q: Do you have any advice for people entering the profession?
I always advise that newcomers be an advocate for the business, that they be a proponent for identifying, mitigating, and eliminating risks when possible. Recognize that risks come in many forms, and are sometimes unexpected. I always advise colleagues to look at these risks from the business lens. The business is there to serve its customers, deliver the product or the service, and do it profitably.
EHS leaders must remember that our role is not just to be the custodians of environmental compliance and employee health and safety, but to be the enablers of business performance. To do this you must ensure that performance is functioning at the level the management team and employees and stakeholders expect. That is a juggling act that takes time to master. But with the right technology, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
One thing I would end with is that over the last 25 years, technology has become indispensable to our industry. That has been the thread through my continuous passion for enabling better EHS processes and outcomes. When we combine technology with our competencies and knowledge and training, we can be truly effective and deliver enterprise value.