HP’s Gary Tierney: ‘The biggest challenge now is keeping pace with change’

24 Nov 2020

Gary Tierney. Image: HP

Gary Tierney discusses how the shift to remote working has affected business, why his company is focusing on sustainability, and what he has learned during his 30-year career with HP Ireland.

Gary Tierney leads the HP Print category business for the UK and Ireland, where he is responsible for managing activities across hardware, supplies and solutions.

He is also managing director for HP Ireland, where he drives the overall business strategy. Tierney has been working for HP Ireland since 1989.

‘For IT hardware and service providers, staying ahead of customers’ needs has become far more complex’

Describe your role and what you do.

There’s actually two parts to my role. Firstly, I head up the HP Print category business for the UK and Ireland. This includes responsibility for strategy development and in-market alignment of all activities across category, end-user sales, channels and marketing. Other aspects include forecasting, inventory management, new product introductions and new business model development.

I’m also managing director for HP Ireland, where I lead the overall strategic direction of the business.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I’m pretty traditional when it comes to organisation. I start with a simple to-do list that ranks everything according to what our current priorities are. With the breadth of products, business models and channels that I engage with, it’s critical that I’m structured in a way that allows me to manage the business today while planning for the future.

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

The biggest challenge in the technology sector right now is keeping pace with change. The impact of Covid-19 on businesses has meant many years’ worth of digital transformation has happened in a matter of months.

The very definition of work is changing – people across the country have rapidly shifted to working from home and distributed workforces have accelerated the implementation of digital workflows. As a result, for IT hardware and service providers, staying ahead of customers’ needs has become far more complex.

In response, HP has unveiled a range of new products and IT channel initiatives in recent months, designed to help us and our partners meet the evolving needs of the customer. This includes a range of enhanced PC and print solutions, designed to fit into a variety of work environments, with mobility and security features brought to the fore.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The ‘new normal’ relies heavily on technology – whether that’s ensuring business continuity, mitigating risk or simply delivering a quality experience for tech users in their home and work lives, which are becoming more blurred than ever before. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say we are capitalising on recent events, as our business strategy was geared towards addressing these trends already.

Taking a different, more long-term view, we have put sustainability front and centre of our outlook, acknowledging that businesses must play a key role in solving environmental issues. Across the business, we’re taking steps to promote a low-carbon economy, with more circular consumption models. For instance, since 2017, we have used ocean-bound plastic collected in Haiti to make ink cartridges, ensuring more than 35m plastic bottles have been removed from the environment and used in our products instead.

Interestingly enough, what’s good for the planet is also good for business. In 2019 alone we generated $1.6bn in new sales where sustainability was cited as a key factor.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I was fortunate to join HP Ireland in 1989 when it was a fledgling PC and print business and I could learn about the company from the ground up. I was exposed to many career opportunities in my early years at HP, mainly in sales channels with distribution, retail and commercial resellers, before working in corporate and the public sector.

Those opportunities laid the foundations of experience that enabled my move into management and ultimately where I am today.

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

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career at HP, but David Packard has always had a huge influence on me. He once said: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.”

I’m a big believer in that mantra, but it’s critical that we use those mistakes as an opportunity to learn. Taking calculated risks is part of the job in an industry where change is the only constant and where competitive forces are continuously at play.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I’m a big believer in setting the strategy, aligning your team to the execution, and then getting out of their way to let them shine.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

The tech industry, like many, has work to do to ensure the sector becomes more diverse. Other than the clear moral imperative, decision makers need to understand the business case for diversity.

We are all in an industry that relies on continual innovation. If you, as a business, are only drawing your workforce and ideas from a certain social demographic, you’re clearly at a disadvantage and will be missing out on swathes of talent.

From this perspective, leaders should treat diversity and inclusion like they would a business plan. Set quantifiable goals and start measuring progress. What gets measured, ultimately, gets done. It is only by taking meaningful steps that the sector will see real change.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

There are many people inside and outside of HP who’ve influenced my thinking and my career. I’m a big fan of having a wide network of people to lean upon for advice, and I take different inputs from a range of different influences.

One particular moment that stood out for me was when I made the transition from an individual contributor to a manager. I really struggled with how to best balance my time, and a mentor helped me realise that I didn’t have the bandwidth to be in every engagement or on top of every problem, and that the pure physics of a working week meant I needed to delegate and trust my team.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m currently reading a range of books related to innovation, digital transformation and how technology is accelerating those trends. Right now I’m reading Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business by Luke Williams. It’s about the power of asking radical questions to innovate and surprise customers.

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

My laptop and phone are my must-have items, although since the arrival of Covid-19, the use cases have shifted heavily in favour of my laptop versus my phone. I’ve found that working from home has put an even greater emphasis on the criticality of my PC as a communication tool and a general workhorse.

My home printer has also become an essential tool in my daily work life. As I no longer attend the office, the volume of material I need to review continues to grow. Printed pages help me to retain and interpret information in a way that looking at a screen can’t deliver.

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