Sunday 24 March 2019

Commitment to diversity driving Dell's success

The computer technology giant thinks a range of voices boosts the bottom line, writes Louise Kelly in Las Vegas

Dell EMC’s EMEA president Aongus Hegarty. Photo: Damien Eagers
Dell EMC’s EMEA president Aongus Hegarty. Photo: Damien Eagers
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Developing and retaining a skilled, diverse workforce that feels included in the company's vision is crucial to the success of any organisation, according to Dell EMC's EMEA president, but it's important not to forget one thing.

"You can never compromise. You should always appoint the best person for the job, regardless of culture, gender, etc - and you can never deviate from that," Aongus Hegarty told the Irish Independent.

Limerick-born Hegarty faced challenges in establishing a diverse team when he was appointed Dell's head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) in 2011, with a significant gender imbalance at the top of the company.

Almost seven years on, he has organised the business under six managers in six regions - UK, France, Germany, Middle East and Africa, Eastern Europe and the rest of Europe.

"The good news is that, at the moment, three of these leaders are women and three are men. That's another balance that you have to drive."

But it's always the right person for the job at the end of the day, according to Hegarty.

We spoke at the Dell Technologies World 2018 event in Las Vegas this week. Hegarty noted that during Michael Dell's presentation on the first day of the event, the company founder shared the stage with two female executives from his leadership team.

"It has to start at the very top of the company, it has to be driven, and you have to walk the walk," said Hegarty.

"But it's not just gender. If I have a more diverse team it means I have differences of experience and differences in dominance of competencies. Ultimately, you have a stronger team."

On Monday, Dell Technologies' venture arm announced that it had boosted its investments since emerging from stealth mode a year ago.

Of 11 exits in the last 12 months, Dell Technologies Capital said that the initial IPOs of three - DocuSign, MongoDB and Zscaler - had a combined market value of $11bn.

The company's focus is on creating companies Dell can work with, to help to get started and grow and develop their businesses, said Hegarty.

"Good economic growth means a good investment and expansion in technology, which is good for our businesses," he said.

"The second piece is that we want the skills of the entrepreneur - the risk-taking, the creativity, the innovation - in our own company, so we really encourage our team to work with these companies."

In terms of diversity in the startup arena, the group runs the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network Summit, which takes place in Toronto this July.

"It's our effort to try and bring more diversity around entrepreneurship. Only 20pc of entrepreneurs are female, so we're trying to create a greater degree of diversity of private entrepreneurs and startups," said Hegarty.

The summit was held in South Africa in 2016, he said, as 50pc of the entrepreneurs in Africa are female.

"If you go to countries like Kenya and Ethiopia there's a very strong culture of small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs - and often it is the female who is driving that on behalf of the family."

Ireland is an important location for the global Dell group and the EMEA region, not least due to its access to a skilled pool of talent.

With an objective that 40pc of employees are 'early career' with three years or less experience, the company has relationships with universities across the island.

"The idea of that is that you bring in also new ideas, new thinking - you get a really positive mix of experience and knowledge," said the University of Limerick graduate.

Dell's hubs in Cork, Limerick and Dublin employ over 5,000 people, and jobs website Indeed named the company the 'Best Place to Work in Ireland' in 2018 for the second year running.

"We have very low, single-digit attrition so we have very high retention - and yet we operate in an environment which is fast changing and requires people to be flexible to want to learn and build up skills.

"You bring the team together and you tell them: 'This is where we need to get to, but here's how we help you navigate through that change'. Communicating with people and putting that support in place to explain the reason why, that's very important in terms of retention."

Hegarty, who joined Dell almost 20 years ago, said the company has undergone huge changes, including the 'key significant milestones' of going private and, more recently, the merger with EMC.

But the "energy and passion and vision for the future" of the group's founder, who is still at the helm, remains constant, he said.

"You can have diversity, but if you don't have a leader that listens, engages and empowers that diverse team, you won't hold on to them for very long.

"And you won't get the benefit of diversity from that team."

In terms of preparing for the impact of Brexit, Hegarty said the industry is reacting in different ways to an unusual situation, as "we really don't know what that end plan is".

"Some companies are recognising that they don't have services or manufacturing capabilities in the UK and are looking to put them in place. But we're also seeing a more general trend of decisions of investment, in technology and otherwise, as being deferred and pushed out more.

"Ultimately, it's not having a negative effect on the confidence on the rest of Europe or Ireland, as economic growth is probably the strongest we've seen it in two decades.

"The UK is still a very big market for us and we're still fully committed and fully engaged. Companies are still going through digital transformation and they need to invest in technology."

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