‘Enterprises are keen to grasp the opportunities AI and automation can offer’

27 Jul 2021

Renzo Taal. Image: UiPath

Renzo Taal of UiPath discusses opportunities in the automation sector, giving the next generation the skills they need for an automated world, and why a lack of diversity is a ‘missed opportunity’.

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Renzo Taal is senior vice-president and managing director for EMEA at UiPath, the enterprise automation software company that develops robotic process automation, or RPA, technology. The company, which was founded in Romania but is now headquartered in New York, went public earlier this year in one of the biggest US software IPOs.

Taal joined UiPath last year from Salesforce and he has also held leadership roles at Philips and Dell. He has worked all over the world from Singapore to Shanghai and the US, but he is currently based in Amsterdam.

‘When organisations automate mundane tasks, it unleashes human potential’

Describe your role and what you do.

I lead the UiPath team in the EMEA region, which makes me responsible for helping the business grow in the region and supporting our people to do their best and provide customers with the great service.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

If everything is important, then nothing is important. By that, I mean you have to make choices. Some things really do have a higher priority than others do. If you can’t recognise that, you can’t prioritise.

I spend a lot of time in meetings, so I always keep them to 30 or 45 minutes. Of course, there are always actions from these meetings, so I always consider how much time and effort an action will require and balance that with the outcome it could achieve.

Importantly, there is one quarterly meeting I attend where we discuss what to stop doing, rather than start. This is vital. It keeps us focused on what’s important and what will get results.

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

The biggest challenge is the lack of diversity – in gender, age and thought. This is a big missed opportunity. Half the world is female, yet women are underrepresented. Furthermore, the tech industry shouldn’t rely on youth alone.

We’re tackling this by actively seeking out team members from different lifestyles. Age in particular isn’t often considered in the diversity mix. I recently hired someone in their 50s because their experience and insight was just what we needed. Meanwhile, they were keen to find a role to share their expertise and leave a legacy.

The best way we can all address this lack of diversity is to see it as an opportunity. There are thousands of people available who would be excellent employees if we looked for them. It’s up to all leaders to do that. This also needs to be embedded in HR processes and I would urge all tech businesses to create an inclusive HR policy.

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

There are three key opportunities for UiPath. First, there is a sense of urgency from businesses to digitally automate processes end-to-end. This was accelerated by the pandemic and remains a key focus for organisations.

Second, enterprises are keen to grasp the opportunities that AI and automation can offer. Boards know that these technologies can transform the way they do business and could contribute significantly to their success. What they don’t always understand is how to deploy them. We’re here to answer their questions and help.

Third, we’re in the business of handing back employees and businesses time. When organisations automate mundane tasks, it unleashes human potential, allowing people to focus on creativity and empathy. It frees them to undertake more valuable work and they can also put that time towards build relationships with colleagues and customers. The businesses that are embracing automation are the ones that can stand out. They can also diversify and grow, unencumbered by menial activity.

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

A simple mantra: never give up! Life can be challenging and hard sometimes, but you should never give up. I’ve been lucky enough to live all over the world and experience many cultures. This has huge rewards, but comes with challenges. I’ve always tried to keep going. This is a personal as much as a professional rule to live by.

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

If I were to single out one mistake, that would be misunderstanding the importance of products versus people. In years past, there was a tendency to believe the product was the important bit.

This isn’t the case. People make the difference. They’re the ones who create the relationships and bring the expertise. They’re the ones who can solve problems, commit and achieve goals. Products can help them, but are just tools. The realisation of this fact was important for me. By building the right teams and skills with the right dynamics and diversity, I’ve been able to achieve much more.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By empowering them. The most disempowering thing you can do is disconnect a person’s activity from their achievements. It’s like putting them in the driving seat, but disconnecting the steering wheel from the axle. Whatever they do, however hard they try, their driving skills won’t affect the direction of the car.

If you want to suck the life from a team, disempower them. That’s why I allow my team to make choices and achieve in the way they want to.

What can be done to make your sector more inclusive?

Adding to what I already mentioned, I think that if we don’t look for diversity, we won’t see it. If you’re blind to diversity, your organisation is never going to reflect society and all it has to offer.

When I started in my role, all the people on my team were men in their 40s. Now I have women leading our central Europe team, our internal sales team and many others. My advice is to search out diversity and allow those people to hire too. This will foster the breadth of skills and thinking we need.

Also, to support efforts to ensure that a diverse pool of people can enter the software automation sector, we have created the UiPath Academic Alliance. We work with leading schools and workforce development organisations to equip students and professionals with the skills they need for an automated world. This paves the way for greater diversity in the number of people who have automation skills as they enter the workforce.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

One book really captured my imagination. It’s called Failure Is Not An Option by Gene Krantz. He headed the team that brought the Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to Earth, and the book describes what he did to make sure the outcome was a good one and avoid disaster.

The thing that grabbed me was the lack of time. He had one chance to save their lives. One shot to achieve something incredible – and he did it. He faced mechanical issues and mathematical challenges, but most of all, psychological pressure like nothing else. But he rose to the occasion and succeeded. I found that story very inspiring.

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

This is a simple one. The tools are 5G, my MacBook Pro, my iPhone and two sets of AirPods. As for what really gets me through my working week, that would be my family – they give me all I need.

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