Kirk Santos’s résumé comprises valuable experiences with blue-chip industry giants like PepsiCo, IBM, L’Orèal USA, and Altria, but it’s his off hours that provide true insight into what complements his professional success. Santos currently serves as chief learning officer and HR vice president for financial services at Pitney Bowes. Off the clock, he’s a board member for Liberation Programs and a volunteer coach for local youth basketball and travel softball teams. He has coached hundreds of children, including his own, and every fall and spring season, he’ll receive inquiries from parents in the community on whether he’ll be returning as a coach.
Santos grew up watching and playing sports (Big East basketball was his first love, he says), and for him, coaching has become an integral part of the lives of countless children. And there are parallels to Santos’s role at Pitney Bowes and what he’s learned from coaching. He prides himself on knowing how to connect with others, how to bring out the best in people, and sharing his endless optimism that makes him an inspiration for all that have the opportunity to get to know him.
Family as a Foundation
Santos’s ability to partner with key stakeholders to drive transformational change is evidenced in his résumé, the countless recommendations found on his LinkedIn page, and the recognition he’s earned at Pitney Bowes and PepsiCo for talent development and HR excellence.
But in speaking with Santos, it’s clear that successfully pivoting between business initiatives and genuine human connection is a skill he learned early in life. One of the most difficult personal tragedies that he’s had to endure was the loss of his eldest brother, Fernando, in an accident when he was barely a teenager. “Suddenly I found myself having more elevated responsibilities and expectations, overnight,” Santos recalls.
“When you think about traditional Latino cultures, hopes and dreams and aspirations are intrinsically associated with the firstborn,” Santos says. “I recall finding myself in an identity crisis as the middle child having to now act as the eldest.”
Best in Class
Throughout his career, Santos has developed an expertise in implementing progressive HR strategies and overlaying them with best-in-class global leadership and talent development frameworks and programs. Since coming to tech giant Pitney Bowes in 2018, Santos has been able to leverage his experiences to enhance Pitney Bowes’s learning and development function.
“When creating an aspirational talent development strategy, it starts with the interconnectedness of all the different talent processes which creates the best possible candidate and employee experience,” Santos explains. “Not many companies have designed an end-to-end integrated talent ecosystem like what we are currently undertaking. We are the right size company, with the right talent, and have the right mindset to accomplish this.”
Santos praises Chief Human Resource Officer Johnna Torsone as the “living embodiment” of an empathetic leader who also understands what it means to be business-oriented.
“When I think of my core values and certain principles that I hold dear, I think of servant leadership, inclusivity, and empathy,” he says. “These are behaviors that are modeled by our CHRO. When you have that level of synergy, it makes you want to come to work and give 150 percent.”
Indeed, many of Santos’s partners have made note of the VP’s dedication to the business at Pitney Bowes. “Kirk and his team have partnered with SHL to provide the leaders of Pitney Bowes with the insights to make objective and transformational talent decisions that are driving strong business performance,” says Bob Lederman, account director at SHL.
It’s an odd thing to hear from an HR leader, but Santos says that taking calculated risks has been an important component of his career. In fact, Santos recently took a self-assessment that labeled him with a word he quite likes: trailblazer.
It was that same spirit that pushed Santos to leave his home, family, and friends in New York early on in his career to accept a job with Philip Morris USA in Richmond, Virginia. “I didn’t have a support network, and I’d never really left home before,” Santos remembers. “But it taught me to be adaptable to change, always remain inquisitive, challenge the status quo, and be a divergent thinker. Till this day, it is still one of the best decisions I ever made.”
That experience, Santos says, elevated him from “the minor league to the majors.” And while it’s still unclear if Santos will himself return to sports in spring 2022, it’s easy to see the interconnectedness he sees in HR and other areas of his life: his roles as translator, coach, advocate, and trailblazer have made him as effective in corporate America as he is on the ball field.
A Beam of Light
Kirk Santos’s early childhood experiences serving as the family translator for his immigrant parents nearly landed him a career in politics, but not for the most uplifting of reasons. “Growing up, I had experienced numerous microaggressions against my parents and heard so many comments like ‘Learn the language’ and ‘Go back to where you came from’ that I truly believed I was destined to get involved in government in order to help others. To put it frankly, I didn’t want others to experience what our family went through,” Santos remembers.
Santos’s parents didn’t speak English, so he acted as interpreter on their behalf with physicians, accountants, bankers, and any other everyday interactions requiring adults. “It made me more resilient, and I learned how to navigate conversations that were uncomfortable, especially with people who were deeply experienced in an area that I was not,” Santos explains. “I learned how to assert myself in difficult conversations early on.”
And yet, it was one of his political science college professors who enlightened him on the challenges he’d face going against bureaucratic policies and government red tape, which ultimately didn’t align with Santos’s desire to make a difference or his endless optimism. He recalls his mentor comparing him to a “beam of light” who would best be served directly supporting, empowering, and uplifting others in whatever career path awaited him.
As I look back on my life, I’ve always enjoyed operating in the art of what is possible,” Santos says. “Afterwards, I did a bit of soul searching, and I turned my attention from politics to business, and have since found a way to push the needle forward in the business world.”