‘I knew nothing about software, but took a leap of faith’

10 Mar 2022

Richard Haxby. Image: MathWorks

MathWorks’ Richard Haxby talks sci-tech megatrends, how a friend’s advice led him to the software space, and getting out of his comfort zone with a job in Italy.

Richard Haxby is the managing director of MathWorks Ireland. MathWorks specialises in mathematical computing software, developing MATLAB and Simulink, and has its Irish base in Galway.

Haxby has been with the company for nearly two decades, with roles in the UK, Italy and Australia. He has held his current position for more than five years, leading the company’s EMEA shared sales and services centre in Galway city.

‘I am surrounded by smart people and I see a whole range of skills I’d like to have’

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

Future Human

The first is hiring great people – not necessarily great ‘out of the box’, but with the potential, imagination and desire to do great things.

The second is developing our staff to take advantage of megatrends. We need to make sure they are equipped to support our customers in addressing their needs, understand the capabilities of our products, and are they able to leverage all our resources to guide the customers to the right solution.

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

The megatrends of AI, the electrification of everything, and the endless imagination of engineers and scientists.

These experts demand a virtual representation of their ideas, so they can test, elaborate and refine their new product developments without the need for physical prototypes. Our software platforms, including MATLAB and Simulink, make this possible by providing the computations, data analysis, modelling and simulation that help them arrive at answers, find breakthroughs and develop new products.

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

A friend reached out to me and said, “You should get into software; apply for this job.”

“Why?” I said, “I know nothing about software.” His response: “How hard can it be?”

This was my first – and what turned out to be most important – leap of faith.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

My biggest comfort zone change was taking a country manager role in Italy. Not being Italian, not speaking the language, and having very little insight into the business landscape was a risk for me and the company I would be representing. Even getting around the market was a challenge. I remember trying to order four potatoes and getting 4kg!

In the work environment, I applied my mantra: trust and focus on the staff, their needs, challenges and opportunities for personal development. Support them at every turn and get involved where I can make a difference.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I am surrounded by smart people and I see a whole range of skills I’d like to have. I’ve a basic wish – to be able to touch type, so being able to use all my fingers and not have to look at the keyboard. A more adventurous wish then would be to become a polyglot.

How do you get the best out of your team?

A single-minded focus on their personal development. What is it that interests and drives them? What aligns their interests with the needs of the business?

Be clear with feedback, measures of success and a road map to realise their aspirations.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Yes and we are driven to address, in particular, the number women in our leadership team. We execute several initiatives each year to target awareness, unconscious bias, confidence and self-promotion within our company.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

As I said previously, having a single-minded and obsessive focus on personal development. In the case of my own, what can I learn next and from whom?

And then, as a leader, take that into an obsessive focus on staff’s development. Identify their personal interests and align those with the needs of the business.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Books that have had a huge influence of my understanding of and approach to leadership are The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Lead with Respect by Michael and Freddy Ballé.

Turn the Ship Around! by L David Marquet was also a huge help to focus the management team on how we should approach a business turnaround.

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

My yoga mat and running shoes, Microsoft Teams (in the absence of the possibility to meet in person), WhatsApp, Power BI and Excel pivot tables.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.