Executive interview: Antonio Neri, HPE

We speak to the man taking over from Meg Whitman as CEO of HPE about how he will continue the company's turnaround

“It is an incredible honour to get the chance to lead this fantastic company – I grew up in this company for the last 22 years,” says Antonio Neri, HPE’s president and next CEO.

In an interview with Computer Weekly during HPE Discover in Madrid, Neri, who will take over as HPE’s CEO in 2018, says he uses events like Discover to speak to customers.

Since the announcement of his new role, Neri says he has spoken to more than 50 customers. “I spoke to 50 directly on day one,” he says. “I just reach out. Most of them I know directly, and I told them I am very excited to continue working with them. They appreciate this. The personal touch makes a huge difference. It is something I learnt from Meg. I spend time with customers and partners and also some investors as well.”

During the Discover conference, HPE executives often dropped in the term “more relevant” to describe the company’s commitment to its customers and partners.

When asked what HPE means by being “more relevant”, Neri says: “Relevant is about when a customer has a business problem, they reach out to you first as a trusted adviser and they know you have the solutions to deliver the outcomes they are looking for. For me, the first thing a customer should think about is Hewlett Packard Enterprise as their trusted adviser.”

To achieve this, Neri believes the company needs to ensure it has a strong brand, innovation and has the best people working for it.

It is HPE’s stated ambition to put itself at the heart of hybrid IT. Neri says: “We believe the world will be hybrid. Customers want to leverage IT in a simple way. We will make the CIO the service broker of the future.”

Multi-year roadmap

HPE Next is the multi-year roadmap led by Whitman to reposition the company, refocus its product strategy around the hybrid cloud, edge computing and digital transformation services and re-engineer HPE’s back-end operations to support new ways of working with customers and partners. Neri says HPE is in “full execution mode” of its Next strategy to transform the company. 

HPE Next will be part of our DNA going forward,” he adds. “Today we have an umbrella programme, but the reality is we are shaping the culture of the company. Change will be the way we drive our business and the way we organise ourselves.”

Given that employees may be worried about continual change due to the massive disruption to jobs that has occurred as Whitman transformed HPE, Neri says: “In the IT industry, change is constant. Change is part of us. This is the best time to be in the industry because you can be part of the change and be the one shaping that change. The people who come to work at HPE want to make a contribution. As long as we create an environment where people can grow, they will be fine.”

Before Whitman joined HP in 2011, most of the people from director-level and above were hired externally. Neri says: “Today, 65% of posts are filled internally. I am an example and it is the culture we want to establish.”

Read more about the HPE turnaround

  • Hybrid IT represents a $100bn business, and is a segment HPE has set its sights on.
  • HPE’s financial results suggest it has not had a good time in the IT services and outsourcing business. Will it be third time lucky?

He adds: “I am a prime example of someone being given the opportunity to grow in the company.” Neri started at HP 22 years ago as a customer service engineer in Amsterdam, supporting customers directly. “I never lost my north star,” he says. “My north star is the customer, and I had the opportunity to work across the company and eventually get to become CEO.”

When the young Neri was interviewed for the customer technician job at HP all those years ago, the interviewer probably asked him about his career aspirations. “I would definitely never have dreamt of becoming CEO of the company, but I had big ambitions,” he recalls. “At the time, I was probably a little bit over-qualified for the job. I loved the opportunity to join the company and it has been a rapid progression. As people in HPE know, I never applied for the job of CEO. The board asked me to be Meg’s successor. You have to aspire big to accomplish big things.”

Asked which industry leaders inspire him, Neri says: “In the end, what really stands out is the culture of the company. It is not just about leaders. I think Satya Nadella is doing a wonderful job at Microsoft. He went to the heart of the company and changed the way things are being done. Meg and I have been going through the journey to transform HPE. Culture is so important. It is a team sport.”

Changing the IT back-end

Neri is committed to back-end modernisation of HPE’s IT, which is an important aspect of the company’s Next strategy to become more relevant to customers.

“Our systems were designed for a company that was more like a supermarket than a company in the technology space,” he says. “When you do that, you can’t meet the needs of everyone. Now we have an opportunity to tailor the processes and the systems to make them relevant to what we do at HPE. We are going to drive more consumption-based models. The processes in IT to achieve this are very different from processing an order, building it and shipping it. It is a different experience for the customer.”

Neri wants to rearchitect HPE’s back-end business processes end to end, then select appropriate platforms to run new forms of customer engagement. He claims to know every single system at HPE. “I worked in the printers business, the PC business, the server business and the infrastructure business,” he says. “So I know all the flaws.”

The Brexit question

“I am sorry for you guys,” says Neri, when asked about Brexit. HPE has a major footprint in the UK, including a world-class research facility in the form of HP Labs in Bristol and works closely with several universities. “The UK will continue to be an important market for us,” he says. “The reality of Brexit has an impact on the UK economy. But we are committed to the country and we will help UK customers transition and deal with the impact of Brexit, which I think will be significant over time.”

One of the key requirements of the new system he has in mind is to establish a core set of data. “All the acquisitions from Compaq and Digital to EDS drove complexity,” he says. “I don’t have one single view of the customer. I will now start with a clean set of master data and one global ERP system so I can take care of products, solutions and services and have one e-commerce platform sitting on top of this.”

Over the next few years, as the IT is replaced, Neri hopes HPE will be able to execute its strategy much more quickly. The end result will be a single view of the customer, which will shape HPE’s culture and support its partners, who Neri says complement the company by working in ways it cannot do itself.

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