Interview with Harsha Modha, director of benefits programmes for the UK at GlaxoSmithKline

Harsha Modha, director of benefits programmes for the UK at GlaxoSmithKline, explains how life as a working mother gave her an insight into effective benefits

Having spent a significant part of her career as a working parent, Harsha Modha, director of benefits programmes for the UK at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has personal experience of which benefits employees really value. Working in organisations which had competitive benefits that met her needs as an individual enabled her to build her expertise and expand her knowledge.

For instance, when Modha joined London Regional Transport (replaced by Transport for London in 2000) as a pensions administrator in 1978, she was impressed by the staff travel benefits. While working there, she also received funding from the organisation to study for a business diploma at Middlesex University.

Modha left London Regional Transport when her first child was born in 1985, and rejoined the workforce 18 months after the birth of her second child in 1989 as a senior pensions technician at insurance company Providence Capitol. Part of the firm’s appeal was the fact it allowed her to work flexibly to fulfil her childcare responsibilities.

Modha left the London-based firm when it relocated to Hook, Hampshire, and joined the Beecham Group as a pensions administrator. Although this was a full-time role, she was also able to work flexibly to suit her home commitments. Shortly after the company merged with SmithKline Beckman in 1992, Modha was presented with the new challenge of streamlining the administration and data management processes when benefits were revamped and consolidated for employees at the newly-merged firm known as SmithKline Beecham.

“We went through a huge merger where the whole of the benefits provision was revamped, we came up with a new benefits package, and we had to transfer everything into a new computer system,” she says. “I was identified as the person to test the new systems. There was a new HR payroll system which involved linking in pensions, HR and payroll data together.”

Modha was also responsible for ensuring the correct processes were in place for employees’ pensions to be calculated. “My responsibility was to make sure the pensions calculators were working for different scenarios,” she says. “For example, a resignation is calculated very differently from a normal retirement.”

By 1998, Modha had been promoted to pensions administration manager and had gained a qualification from the Pensions Management Institute. When studying for the exams, she learnt about all other benefits areas, which enabled her to move to the more diverse role of manager of benefits programmes in the UK following the company’s merger with Glaxo Wellcome to become GSK in 2000.

In this role, she was responsible for a number of benefits, including employee share schemes, cars, an employee assistance programme (EAP) and work-life balance initiatives, such as childcare support and flexible working arrangements.

“I jumped at the opportunity and said ‘I’ll move away from pensions even though I think I know the areas really well’ and pushed myself to do other things, such as the car scheme,” she says.

Changing the company’s fleet arrangements has been one of Modha’s biggest challenges at GSK. In November last year, GSK launched a car discount affinity scheme for all its 18,500 employees. The scheme, provided by Masterlease, enables staff to take advantage of discounts GSK has negotiated with car manufacturers. Previously, 5,000 staff were eligible for a cash allowance, either as perk drivers or according to job need.

Like many other organisations in the current economic climate, cost cutting is a priority for GSK, which is poised to cut jobs as part of its organisational restructuring programme.

“The biggest challenge is cost containment,” says Modha. “We are trying to understand why [benefits] providers are charging the fees they do and try to negotiate them down. It is about working with providers to reduce costs. It is about new ways of working and thinking outside the box, empowerment, and allowing people to be empowered to make decisions. Hopefully, then they become responsible for the decisions.”


  • What is your favourite benefit? Flexible working, which we have throughout GSK, is such a wonderful benefit. I look back to when I had children and while I was able to negotiate a special time for myself, I think it would have been great if that benefit had been available to more people.
  • Who has inspired you in your career? I have taken different things from all the people I have worked with, including GSK’s former senior vice-president for benefits, Rob Collinge. He has inspired me because he looked at things from a very broad perspective. I learnt how to communicate certain [benefits] messages from him.
  • What is your ambition? I would like to remain in benefits. I think it is a great area to be in and I would like to take on as many benefits as possible. It would be interesting to perhaps take on some of the international benefits if they came my way.

Curriculum Vitae:

2006-present director of benefits programmes for the UK, GlaxoSmithKline
2001-2006 manager of benefits programmes for the UK, GlaxoSmithKline
1989-2001 pensions administration, SmithKline Beecham
1989 senior pensions technician, Providence Capitol
1985-1989 full-time mother
1978-1985 pensions administrator, London Regional Transport