Victor Santillan Is a Servant Leader

After stumbling into HR in college, Victor Santillan has found his calling in the industry. At Grifols Inc., he works to keep his fellow employees at the forefront of business strategies.

Victor Santillan has always had a talent for adapting to the situation. Whether he’s discovering his professional purpose, changing industries, or overcoming personal challenges, his ability to pivot while staying true to himself and his goals has brought him a lifetime of success.

Victor Santillan
Victor Santillan, Head of HR and Senior Director of Grifols Plasma Operations, Grifols Inc. Photo by Brittany A. Avila

Despite his lifelong passion for helping others, Santillan admits that he fell into HR accidentally. When he was looking for marketing internships in college, only HR options were left. Wanting experience, Santillan took one of those opportunities, and was offered a position as a full-time recruiter at the end of the summer.

A sophomore in college at the time, Santillan was interviewing and hiring candidates with considerably more experience and higher qualifications than he had. “It was a window to the world,” he reflects. “And I happened to be very good at it.”

Now that he had found his niche, Santillan dedicated himself to framing the company in the right way when speaking with potential hires. Hiring, he explains, is a two-way street. He is personally a lifelong learner and seeks out businesses he can truly be a part of, businesses where he can expose himself to who and what is driving the company from a strategic standpoint.

This willingness to learn is a large part of what has led Santillan to success throughout his career. His HR career has spanned banking, retail, hospitality, and most recently, at Grifols Inc., healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Many of those positions had different priorities and responsibilities, Santillan says, so he had to learn different ways to make an impact: even if a position required his relationships with other employees to be more transactional in nature, he sought to make that transaction transformational.

“I’m a servant leader,” Santillan emphasizes. “The best success is when others succeed, when our company succeeds through our efforts in HR.”

But his relationships with his colleagues are not the only ones Santillan focuses on at Grifols, a global healthcare company known for its leading-edge bioscience, diagnostic, and hospital products. As head of human resources and senior director of Grifols’ plasma operations, he works with global partners such as Cielo to help advance the company’s mission.

Victor Santillan
Photo by Brittany A. Avila

Grifols has been in a period of growth ever since he joined the company, Santillan explains, and has overseen a number of key mergers and acquisitions over the years. Cielo created a unique recruitment process and has worked with Grifols to fill critical staff openings in the United States—despite last-minute curveballs that have been thrown their way. “One of the things I think is so critical to Cielo specifically is that they really wanted to understand our business,” he says. “They have been a great partner since day one.”

For his part, Santillan has worked to ensure that employees from acquired companies feel a part of the company culture at Grifols. He has also helped the company adapt to other changes, including Grifols’ adoption of a service model.

As Santillan explains, the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry doesn’t always prioritize service. Under the leadership of Peter Allen, president and CEO of Grifols Plasma Operations, the company decided to change its mindset. “Peter brought forth this idea of a change of culture to a true service model that flips the pyramid upside down: employees become the person you support, and those of us in the office in supportive roles are at the bottom of that pyramid supporting upwards,” the senior director explains.

Santillan’s commitment to his work stems in part from his passion for the company’s purpose. “Grifols’ mission is to improve the health and well-being of people around the world. How cool is that? You’re in an industry that saves lives,” he says.

But the Grifols mission is only part of what inspires Santillan every day in his work as head of HR. He was the first person in his family to attend college, where he learned he had a genetic learning disability. He knows firsthand how hard it can be to not only break into an industry but to thrive within it.

That insight is why Santillan often asks managers he works with, “How do you want to be remembered? What is going to be in your eulogy as a manager?” Asking these questions has allowed Santillan to focus on what kind of leader he wants to be: someone who helps others grow and flourish, someone who hopes to “inspire even one individual to enter into HR or just continue to grow in their own career.”

More than anything, Santillan says, he hopes to help others believe in themselves and work determinedly toward their goals. “I think the drive is what’s key,” he explains. “You can’t really waver from what you want to do or what you want to be in life. And sometimes you need to make a right or left turn, and that’s fine—as long as that drive still carries you forward to the person that you want to be.”


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