Leaders’ Insights: Alan Brown, Xerox

14 Mar 2017

Alan Brown, managing director of Xerox Ireland. Image: Xerox

Alan Brown is the managing director for Xerox Ireland.

A business graduate of Dublin City University, Alan Brown has a wealth of experience in leadership roles. He has held numerous directorial positions in the telecoms industry, working for big names such as Eir and O2 Ireland.

In 2014, he moved to Xerox to oversee the Irish operations of the company, focusing on managed print services and digital transformation.

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the managing director for the Xerox business in Ireland and, in that role, I have the pleasure of leading a team of 260 professionals that deliver the full range of Xerox products and services across the 32 counties.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Frankly, it’s a constant challenge. I would say I try to focus on the big picture; long-term goals to set my direction and overall priorities. They act as checkpoints for me when it comes to prioritising how I spend my time. I will literally evaluate whether a particular meeting or activity is moving me in the right direction towards these key goals.

At a high level, that’s fine, but the reality of day-to-day activities and pressures is that you have to be flexible and continually re-evaluate and make judgment calls. I have certainly found that as you take on more challenging and complex roles, the balancing act between various objectives gets more difficult. In a general management role, I would say the most important consideration is the impact on your team and your customers.

And finally, at a more tactical level, I do plan each week and each day – notwithstanding the flexibility that means the only certainty is that the plan will change!

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

Like any business, we have our share of challenges and opportunities. If I am to look at key external and internal challenges, I would look at:

  1. Generating growth in the marketplace
  2. Bringing our people with us through rapid change

At Xerox, we are in the privileged position of being market leaders in the segments we serve. To continue to lead and grow, we are highly focused on enabling customers on their digital transformation journey, allowing them to set the page free. We do this through the delivery of innovative solutions; reliable, locally based service; and best-in-class technology. Ultimately, it is the experience that we can deliver across all these areas that allows us to delight our customers and win in the marketplace.

The quality, expertise and motivation of our people is a huge part of what our customers value and, as our industry continues to change and as we evolve as an organisation to meet our customers’ changing requirements, we have a huge focus on bringing our people on that journey.

Communication is vital, as is recognition of work well done and provision of development opportunities and career paths.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

Thankfully, there are lots of opportunities!

As digital technology advances, the way businesses and organisations communicate, connect and work is changing. By connecting the paper and digital worlds, Xerox helps to bring organisations on their digital journey.

Managed print services (MPS) have been the cornerstone of our industry for a number of years and, for customers who have not yet embraced MPS, we have a great opportunity to deliver real value to them. We work with customers to understand and automate workflows, and deliver meaningful customer-specific innovation.

We also increasingly provide on-site, outsourced services such as managing print rooms and equipment fleets.

And finally, in the professional print industry, the innovation, quality and breadth of equipment and solutions for digital printing is really exciting, and an area where Xerox is very much at the forefront.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

I could say it was a master plan but a series of happy accidents might be more honest! The truth is, though, that I genuinely love what technology can do for people, across a range of different industries. I’m also an enthusiastic user of all sorts of technology and this interest has made it the right choice for me in a number of career-move decisions over the years.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

That’s a tough one! I’d probably say that when I look back on the earlier parts of my career, I didn’t have the confidence to back myself enough in making tough decisions and standing up for my views. What I learned over time is that no one has all the answers and that it’s OK to not always be right. Make decisions for the right reason – and back up your opinions! 

How do you get the best out of your team?

Be available, be honest, be grateful, communicate and involve people as widely as possible in decisions. A company’s people are their number one asset. As a leader, you won’t please all your people with everything you do but if you communicate well, you can hope to help everyone understand why things are done and indeed what other options were considered.

One of my biggest lessons from early in my career was that any role is so much more meaningful if people understand the value of what they do within the overall goals and purpose of the organisation.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

On a personal level, this is easy. In my experience, all teams I’ve been involved in have been better for having a diverse group of members. To effect change in STEM is a much bigger question and starts with our education system and with career guidance given to students. In industry, we do have a clear responsibility to properly represent the exciting opportunities that exist for all within the technology sectors.

Who is your business hero and why?

It’s a boring answer but I don’t have one. I have greatly admired many people I’ve worked with and for, and learnt from lots of them but, in terms of heroes, I’d probably plump for sportspeople who inspire me, usually for their ability to get the absolute most out of the talent they were born with.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m a big reader although I ‘cheat’ – a lot of my ‘reading’ is through audiobooks as I spend too much time in my car. The standout work of fiction I’ve read is a true classic: To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it last year after the death of the author Harper Lee. It’s a wonderful book.

I’ve also just finished a non-fiction work that I enjoyed: A Spy Among Friends [by Ben Macintyre], which tells the story of Kim Philby, the Russian spy in British Intelligence in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Not surprisingly – technology! My phone is rarely out of my sight, with all its apps, news sites, alerts etc – and audiobooks! Also, my iPad and laptop, depending on where I am and what I’m doing.