‘Technology sustainability is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet’

8 Oct 2019

Marc Waters. Image: HPE

Marc Waters of HPE discusses the rate of change in the tech sector, values-based leadership and why he doesn’t make calls before 8am.

Marc Waters is an experienced senior leader with more than 20 years in the IT industry and a track record of success in management, sales, operations and marketing roles. He is now managing director for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) UK, Ireland, Middle East and Africa.

‘It is good to go fast, however, to be successful you need to take people with you or you will fail’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am responsible for all people and business operations for one of HPE’s largest geographical regions, overseeing a technology portfolio that includes hybrid cloud, edge solutions and a comprehensive set of services capabilities.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
  1. Constant change. We focus on innovation, capability development and culture. Whilst this is a challenge, it is also an incredible opportunity. The greatest promise of technology is its ability to advance the way people live and work. Some of what we have already achieved and strive to achieve is incredible. Globally, HPE is partnering with the World Economic Forum to help solve world hunger by 2030 through the innovative application of technology under our Tech Impact 2030 programme, collaborating to bring together industry, technology, academia and government leaders to power meaningful societal change.
  2. People really do make the difference. Attracting, retaining and developing the best talent provides a clear competitive advantage. Our culture and the role of leaders in our business is critical to succeeding in the highly competitive technology market. Since taking on the role of managing director, my number one priority has been our Inspire Plan: to inspire our people, to inspire our customers, to inspire the market. Some personal highlights include opening a new Northern office in the centre of Manchester, significantly increasing our early-career hiring programme, signing as Global Diversity Champions with Stonewall and having 50 HPE employees walking in our first Pride parade.
  3. Technology sustainability is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet. From inefficient use of electricity to e-waste, there is a huge amount that technology leaders in every industry must take action on. Our technology renewal centre in Erskine, Scotland, helps extend the life of technology whenever possible, and securely and responsibly recycles materials where appropriate. In 2018, globally we processed over 4m units – including both HPE and non-HPE equipment. Of that, 89pc was refurbished and resold, and the rest was recycled in a secure and environmentally responsible way.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

One of the best things about being involved in the technology industry is the amount of opportunities available. A couple top of mind would be:

  1. The power of connectivity and the opportunities that exist in a world where everything is connected. Analysts predict that by 2022, 75pc of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside the traditional centralised data centre or cloud. At Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium we’re using data captured and analysed real time at the edge to help optimise the fan experience. For example, adjusting staffing levels to meet demand and understanding the effectiveness of retail outlets versus footfall.
  2. The transition of technology platforms to be provided as a fully metered consumption service. Our GreenLake portfolio, which provides technology on a subscription basis within a customer’s data centre, is growing at an incredible rate. It gives our customers automation, efficiency, flexibility and a differentiated technology experience.

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

I grew up in Portsmouth and was fortunate enough that my dad was an entrepreneur. He helped shape my value set on taking opportunities and appetite for risk. From that base it was a combination of determination, focus, good timing and a little bit of luck.

What really has made the most difference is the support, coaching and mentoring that I have received from so many people. A great example of this is an Accenture partner called Paul Rowley, who I worked with early in my career. At the start of our engagement he gave me such a hard time. What I came to realise was actually how much he liked me and how he was actively coaching and helping me. As I look back, the understanding he gave me over a number of years was instrumental in developing my capability. 

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

I make mistakes regularly and actively seek both critical assessment and feedback to keep learning. One of the biggest learnings for me was on managing organisational change. It is good to go fast, however, to be successful you need to take people with you or you will fail.

The cost of the change is always more than you expect so it is really important to be sure of the rationale and be firm on the benefits case. I have also come to appreciate that people value honesty from leaders, especially when they make mistakes. Strength comes from sharing your mistakes and learnings openly.

How do you get the best out of your team?

When I did my MBA in 2006, I researched values-based leadership intently and wrote my dissertation on the topic. That work really did create the blueprint for my leadership style that has developed over the following years. Trust, transparency and respect for individuals are key values to me, supported by the beliefs that our people make the difference, decisions should be taken as close as possible to a customer and that consistency is of huge value.

I am very open with my team on these values and we are agreed on their importance. With these guiding principles set we align on our goal and direction then I empower my team to make their own decisions and always support the key calls they make. Being available to consult with them when required and investing the time to feedback effectively.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Well the stats don’t lie. So, yes. There has been a lot of focus and progression, but the technology industry still has a lot of work to do to address the issue of underrepresentation. I believe much of this is about role models and understanding.

I had previously misunderstood how impactful the things I did and the words I used were. An example of this from earlier in my career was my approach of pre-8am calls to my direct reports. At the time I felt this was a sign of strength, but reflectively, looking back, I can see the negative impact of this approach on inclusion.

Inclusion and diversity is far more intricate than simply running programmes and events. To succeed it needs to be personal and fully aligned with values, behaviour and language. Even down to word choices in a meeting or those used to advertise a job. As leaders we don’t just have the opportunity to shape the culture of our organisations, we have a responsibility to do so. To make progress you need to start with self-reflection, openness to change and, most importantly, your personal values.

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

The biggest influence on my career was Andy Isherwood, who helped develop me as a future managing director and then supported my succession in that role. He challenged me, supported me, developed me and frustrated me in equal measure. Most importantly, he trusted me. I have huge gratitude for everything he did for me and significant respect for him. He is an outstanding leader.

An example of an influential mentor is Jan Zadak. He was a HP executive with very strong operational understanding and experience, an area that I actively wanted to develop. Jan took the time share with me his approach, key mantras, financial rules and the operational tools he used to run our EMEA business. His openness and willingness to share experience that I lacked helped me to shape my own operational system of management.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

The last book I read was The Battle To Do Good: Inside McDonald’s Sustainability Journey by Bob Langert, which I enjoyed and would recommend.

I also read the Economist every week (and fund a subscription for my oldest son), which is a really valuable. I highly recommend a subscription to anyone.

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

Well outside of my mobile phone, I think taking care of your own wellbeing is essential. I refuse to compromise on my exercise time, I plan my evenings to make sure I have the time to sleep well and I always drink plenty of water. On top of that, I make sure I have full belief in what we are doing and take time to celebrate our success.

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