The culture of ‘we’ before ‘I’: A chat with Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri

David Brancaccio, Jarrett Dang, and Erika Soderstrom Oct 27, 2022
Heard on:
Hewlett Packard Enterprise President and CEO Antonio Neri talks pandemic resilience, company culture, and his journey from customer service technician to the top of the ladder. Erika Soderstrom/Marketplace

The culture of ‘we’ before ‘I’: A chat with Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri

David Brancaccio, Jarrett Dang, and Erika Soderstrom Oct 27, 2022
Heard on:
Hewlett Packard Enterprise President and CEO Antonio Neri talks pandemic resilience, company culture, and his journey from customer service technician to the top of the ladder. Erika Soderstrom/Marketplace

“Culture” is a word that’s often thrown around in conversations surrounding corporate values. For many employees, good company culture can help differentiate the best employers from the rest. For Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Antonio Neri, the culture at his company — one which he’s intentionally worked to cultivate — has become a main area of focus as a leader.

While the pandemic has changed employees’ relationships with their employers — including by shifting many white-collar jobs away from office settings — Neri said that promoting a strong culture remains an important building block that improves collaboration and functionality in the workplace. HPE ranks highly in most metrics on that front. Fortune ranked the firm among the best companies to work for this year, while the Human Rights Campaign named it among the best places to work for LGBTQ+ equality.

Neri’s start at the Hewlett Packard Company — which would later break off into separate firms in 2015, one of which became HPE — was not in a C-Suite position but at a call center in the Netherlands. From there, he worked his way up and took the helm of HPE in 2018.

“Probably one of the most important jobs a CEO has is the culture of the company and planning for succession,” Neri said to “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio. They sat down in HPE’s new headquarters just outside of Houston, Texas.

The following is an edited transcript of their conversation:

David Brancaccio: When you think of the future of cloud computing, part of the calculation, right, is where we’re going to work. We go into the office, or we’re going to work somewhere else at home. And so many companies are just trying to figure out now, “What is the future of hybrid work?” You work at the intersection of two pieces of this — you provide services that can help with remote, but also you’re a boss with employees. So what are your thoughts about the future of hybrid work, given the fact that, you know, we’re getting into the third year of this pandemic?

Antonio Neri: Well, I think we’re gonna go work everywhere. The fact of the matter is that now we live in a much more distributed environment than ever before. And I always said that many of those trends we were already seeing pre-pandemic were validated and accelerated during and post-pandemic. I think there is a balance, right, as we bosses call it. There has to be a balance because in the end, you want to focus on culture. Culture matters, where you bring people together to innovate, to collaborate, to socialize. But today, you know, since we are so distributed, so is the data. We can actually access this from anywhere. So I think to me [it] is not about where you work, but how productive you can be, and what outcomes you’re going to deliver against what objectives. However, there are certain jobs you have to be together to drive that inspiration, that collaboration to innovate, which today is required more than ever to go further and faster. That’s what customers are demanding.

Brancaccio: So you don’t see us going back to the pre-pandemic way of working?

Neri: No, not at all. There will be certainly a pendulum shifting somewhere in the middle. But to give a sense, we as a company, have identified what we call an H-to-Office set of practices, where there are certain functions that ultimately require them to be at the office four days a week, and there are other ones — types of jobs — that they can be at the office only two days a week. But we encourage 100% of the people to be at the office as often [as] they want, because that’s the way to collaborate and also to talk to their colleagues about not only work but their social life, and we have so many events around the globe, which ultimately foster the culture — the culture of “we” before the “I,” the culture of inclusion and diversity, which are important elements in today’s environment.

Resilience through the pandemic

Brancaccio: Mr. Neri, I have to ask you a macro question here. I saw a survey — an enormous percentage of CEOs think we’re going to be in a recession next year. What are your thoughts on this?

Neri: Well, definitely we are going through turbulent times. Right. So think about the geopolitical aspects we’re living [with] today are creating a little bit of, you know, disconnect from where we were before in the global economy. I think at the same time we see inflation, we see a major headwind on the rebalancing of currencies. Who thought that the euro will be below a dollar value, or the pound sterling, you know, below $1.30? Now close to $1.10, $1.11. So all this is catering to some sort of reassessment, realignment, of the economy. However, you have to look at it by segment. So when I think about enterprise IT, every business today is an IT business. And we live in a digital economy. And to me, data is the new currency, which means those who can extract value from the data faster will be winners. I mean, we have entered what I call a new age of insight. And to me it is all about extracting every bit of insight from that data to improve experiences, whether it’s in a distributed environment, to improve, obviously, cybersecurity, to create new business models to reduce costs. It’s all about speed and agility. And one of the things that customers tell me, and as we, you and I, are talking, we have 25 customers downstairs that we’re hosting here. They tell me, you know, “I need to use technologies to deliver business outcomes.” And now they are going through this journey to digitize their enterprise. And therefore their business strategy and digital strategy are totally related and connected. And at the same time, they need to do that in a sustainable way. So it’s an exciting time for IT. I think IT enterprise, it will be a little bit more resilient than [the consumer side], for example, because in the end, customers need to continue to invest.

“To me, data is the new currency, which means those who can extract value from the data faster will be winners…we have entered what I call a new age of insight,” Neri said in an interview with Marketplace’s David Brancaccio.

Brancaccio: You sound bullish. The reason I brought it up, one of the reasons, was a competitor, brand ‘X’ cloud computing company said this week that they might do a hiring freeze. And I thought, “Really?” Even in cloud computing, you don’t see darker clouds on the horizon for the cloud space?

Neri: Well, I think it comes down to your business, which markets you are in, what type of skill set you have. You know, one of the things I learned over my career in terms of leadership, in terms of taking bold decisions, making bold decisions, taking bold action, is that right at the beginning of the pandemic, we actually enacted, knowing that this is going to be long, a series of actions that we actually relocated resources into the new areas. Because you don’t want a crisis to be wasted. And therefore now we are much stronger on the back end of that original crisis to weather any challenges we see in the future. And today, I will say, we continue to see very strong, enduring demand that will feel comfortable that we not only can capitalize on that demand but accelerate the shareholder value.

A Silicon Valley company moves to Houston

Brancaccio: I was talking to a Texan the other day, born and bred, and he brought up a name from the past: Ross Perot, a tech pioneer from Texas. And many listeners will remember he ran for president, quite a character, he had a company called Electronic Data Systems, EDS. And my Texas friend said, “Wonder whatever happened to that company?” And I said, “I think some of its DNA is here.” Is that correct?

Neri: Well, HP’s original instantiation, under the leadership of Mark Hurd, acquired EDS, which at the core was pretty much an IT outsourcing business. Basically, large customers will outsource their entire IT to EDS, to run it, modernize it, and then obviously deliver whatever services were needed from that data. Through the separation of HP in 2015, we actually spun off that entity in 2017 and we merged it with a company called CSC, which was in exactly the same business to become what is today called DXC Technology.

Brancaccio Boy, this alphabet soup happened, right? Well, I’m glad I asked though. We’re broadcasting the program from Texas this week, from Houston. Why the move here from California? When I was looking it up, I realized you know, you had only opened up the California headquarters early in the year before pandemic, you weren’t even there that long. So why the move here?

Neri: To get the best of both worlds, I would say. I’m very proud, to the work, of the work we did in California. We built a state-of-the-art site for our employees in California, a lot of thought leadership architectures, future technology gets conceived and in many ways designed in California. But what we noticed during the pandemic, you know, there was no catalyst for this cultural work, which I think is very essential for us as we are a company in transformation. At the same time, attracting and retaining talent was just almost impossible. People started leaving the state because [it was] too expensive. Housing, you know, anything related to your personal life became too expensive. At the same time, I was building this brand new site, which is a commitment I made to the Houston employees more than three years ago, because it was impacted by the floods. Hurricane Harvey, if you recall. That was the old Compaq site. And I decided this was the right time to move our headquarters. But at the core of this decision was the ability to attract and retain talent. Houston and Texas offer amazing access to a new generation of talent. With amazing colleges like Texas A&M, a lot of alumnae are coming from A&M, University of Houston, UT, Rice University. So there is an enormous amount of pool of talent that we can, we can acquire. And [for] those who are starting new families, obviously, it is much more affordable here. So we get the best of all worlds. We have two wonderful sites, the headquarters where the back end functions are here, although a lot of innovation is also done here in Texas.

From call center to C-Suite

Brancaccio: I wanted to ask you about your career path. I mean, you didn’t start out here at HP sweeping floors, but you did work your way up through the ranks, didn’t you?

Neri: I did. I mean, I joined HP in 1995 although that was not my first job because I grew up as an apprentice in my life. In a military base in Argentina, I was part of a war, not the one I wanted to fight, which was the Falklands War in 1982. But obviously, I was curious about technology and computer science and then eventually life, the destiny in life, says I will move to Holland, and I joined HP as a call center agent supporting customers on the phone.

Brancaccio: In a call center … the guy who became CEO?

Neri: 23 years later, yes. And there is a few lessons there. Number one, obviously you’re trying to search for new adventures and progress in your personal life. At the same time, you know, I never imagined I will be the CEO of that company. It has been a remarkable journey because I learned a lot. You know, I work with some amazing people, brilliant minds. But what I really love about this company is our purpose. Our purpose is to advance the way people live and work, to make a contribution, to make this world more sustainable through amazing technologies that we can deploy to solve some of the biggest societal problems. And 2022 was an amazing year because we brought to market some amazing things that are gonna solve some of the biggest problems we ever imagined.

Brancaccio: Does your own career trajectory here inform the way you think about some of your other employees? Is it do you think, in your organization, you can see a path for people to go in from more entry-level and rise?

Neri: Absolutely, and probably one of the most important jobs a CEO has is the culture of the company and planning for succession. And I give credit a lot to my predecessor, Meg Whitman, which she said at the time that the next CEO has to come from within the company. And here I am. You know, this is almost my fifth year as a CEO. And I believe the next CEO has to come from within the company because it’s hard to come from outside and learn the culture, understand our customers and partners. You know, we are a global company that does business in 172 countries, we have 200,000 plus partners, 60,000 employees. We cover every aspect of IT you can imagine from cloud to security to data to connectivity. It takes time to wrap, and that’s why I believe the next CEO also will come from inside the company.

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