Different take on diversity: Holtec’s Singh explains how he builds workforce

By Anjalee Khemlani
Camden | Aug 28, 2018 at 7:05 am
From our print edition

Kris Singh is the co-founder, CEO and president of Holtec International.

He is one of the key business leaders in Camden, investing in the city’s revitalization. To date, he has the largest private investment in the city — a $310 million complex along the city’s southern riverfront.

And that’s the way he wants to be described.

“I leave my South Asian hat at home,” he said. “I don’t wear it here.”

Singh is an Indian-American. And, while he says he is proud of his heritage, he does not want it to define him — or have ethnicity define any one of the hundreds of employees that make up his workforce.

“The workforce here is from as far different places as Peru and Uruguay to Japan,” he said. “We make sure that people here don’t feel that they are somehow not part of the mainstream.

“In my eyes, they are all equal, they are all extremely important.”

That’s why Singh says he rejects the business trend of diversity and inclusion.

Companies throughout New Jersey and across the country have invested significant time and money into creating employee resource groups or recognizing holidays in the workplace.

Singh does none of that.

Kris Singh, co-founder, CEO and president of Holtec International.

“I think it’s all bad,” he said. “Because you (should) try to homogenize your workforce to think for themselves as part of their role, not as part of a group.”

Not that he doesn’t recognize workers’ backgrounds may require different accommodations.

“The holidays are personal things and we give people personal time off,” he said. “So, you can take the day, and if our employees go and celebrate the Chinese New Year — we have a number of Chinese employees — it’s perfectly fine.

“If they want to use our facilities, we let them.”

Singh said it’s about putting people first.

“I don’t believe in identity politics,” he said.

In fact, Singh said he is irked by the current political climate.

“Balkanizing any country is a bad idea,” he said. “When you do that, and I know we see the trend here in the United States, it’s a very bad thing.

“America made a great effort by taking all the individual ghettos that were established in the late 19th century and subsequently, and made a great effort to homogenize them. It’s one of the big melting pots, right?

“But, now, it’s not melting, it’s crystalizing. That’s not good.”

Singh, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s, said he’s never felt like his ethnic identity has played a role in his career.

“It did not, and that speaks to the greatness of this country,” he said.

After earning a degree at the University of Pennsylvania and working through the Vietnam War, Singh had the chance to return to India.

He was from a farming family in the northeastern state of Bihar and could have gone back to his home country to what would have been a well-paying, prominent job.

He chose to stay.

“I had security clearance when I first walked into America, working on the Vietnam War,” he said. “I would have gone back to India with a privileged position in society. But I found it more invigorating to just be one of the guys and compete. It’s much more fulfilling than to be given a (position).”

Singh continues his travels down an unbeaten path with his efforts in Camden. 

“It’s just part of being secular humanist,” he said. “Looking at the world the way it should be. No one here should feel that they would get less than the same chance as someone else.

“That is absolutely undebatable here. They all have to feel the same way. It’s a meritocracy. We don’t care where they are from … in many cases, I don’t know. Unless I work with someone substantially, I don’t know. And I don’t really want to know.”

Singh said it’s the only way to get an unbiased look at someone.

“If you look at people through a certain lens, the next step is you’re either going to be prejudiced against them or you’re going to be favorable towards them,” he said. “You don’t need that lens. And in my job, which is, I make decisions for careers of hundreds of people, it is absolutely important.

“I ask God every day to give me the wisdom that I don’t get swept up by these things.”

Read more from ROI-NJ:

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem