On Oct. 13, Antonio Neri, president and CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) was the guest speaker at a fireside chat as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series which aims to bring transformation technology leaders to campus and start a dialogue among students and faculty. The chat was led by Dr. Ravi Pendse, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer and jointly hosted by the College of Engineering, the School of Information, the Business+Tech Initiative, and Information and Technology Service.
Neri discussed his career at HPE, which has spanned nearly three decades, and how the enterprise is approaching cloud computing, the future of remote work and diversity and inclusion.
From call center employee to CEO
After joining Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1995 as a call center agent in Amsterdam, Neri went on to work across several business divisions, including PC services, technology services and imaging and printing services, before assuming the role of CEO in 2018. His career first took him to Boise, Idaho, in 1997, followed by Houston, Texas, where he currently resides. Following HP’s split into HP Inc. and HPE in 2015, Neri led new product development and marketing strategy for HPE’s Enterprise Group. Commenting on his eventual rise to CEO, Neri said “In the end, I had to move laterally before I moved forward.”
Moving forward, Neri’s primary initiative is a focus on transforming the company’s traditional infrastructure technology to an edge-to-cloud platform for providing subscription cloud services. He stressed the increasing importance of delivering data-driven outcomes, “In a few years from now we are going to have data recorded in the balance sheet because it’s the most precious asset you have today.”
Neri said his long tenure at HPE has provided him with valuable exposure to the company’s culture and innovation. He stressed the importance of curiosity in achieving personal and company success, “Continue to learn and be relentlessly curious everyday, otherwise you become irrelevant, especially in technology,” said Neri.
Central to a culture of relentless curiosity means each business division is strengthened through exposure to others, “If you are strong on the engineering side you have to learn what value that brings to the customer,” Neri explained. This outlook has informed simplifications he has made to HPE’s structure, which he refers to as “the flattest organization on the planet.” What previously included several levels of middle management, there are now only two intermediaries between Neri and a sales representative in any given location, which he said allows him to be close to customers.
The future of remote work
In devising HPE’s future remote work strategy, Neri and his team went through every job function at the company and identified which roles were critical to have present in the office, which ended up being about 30 percent of total positions (although every employee will have the opportunity to go into the office if desired). He said physically being present results in collaborative interaction that cannot be replaced by virtual reality: “Innovation happens the moment you connect at the water cooler.”
Above all, he said employees were looking for a framework and guidance from leadership amid so much uncertainty and lack of direction. While he envisions a future where all employees have the opportunity to come into the office, he noted that connectivity and digital technology have become critical in conducting HPE’s daily operations.
Diversity and inclusion
Speaking as a dual-citizen and the son of two immigrants, Neri said diversity is core to his self-image and “not only the right thing from the human perspective, but it’s a good thing for business.” He said as a global company with over 60,000 team members across 172 countries, HPE is ultimately concerned with being a force for good and giving back to the community.
Neri also commented on the use of technology to create a more equitable society and cautioned against the creation of a digital divide. He noted that while technology was advancing, it has been increasingly accessible only to the privileged. “Technology has a big responsibility, and we as leaders have to think about these issues with sustainability in mind. It can be done, but you have to have the will to do it.”