Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dell Ireland boss: how I learned that business jargon is not all bad

Dell's new Ireland country manager outlines some of the challenges the tech giant is facing. He also assures Adrian Weckler that saying one is "passionate about transformation" can mean something solid.

Dell-iberate: Country manager Mark Hopkins faces challenges including Brexit
Dell-iberate: Country manager Mark Hopkins faces challenges including Brexit

Adrian Weckler technology editor

Think of the longest -standing multinational tech companies in Ireland - it really comes down to just five or six that have deep roots.

Apple, Intel, IBM and Microsoft are certainly there.

And then there's Dell. The company once as closely associated with Limerick as Tim Cook's iPhone firm is with Cork, or Intel is with Leixlip, has been in Ireland for 28 years.

But while Dell EMC employs around 5,000 people here, Dell Technologies actually has 6,000 people in Ireland under all of its umbrella firms, including VMWare and Pivotal.

That makes whoever runs the company one of the bigger country managers around.

Northern Irish boss Mark Hopkins has just assumed that mantle, after former chief Aisling Keegan took a step up to become vice president and general manager of consumer and small business for Dell in Europe.

Hopkins has spent most of the last 20 years going from big company to big company. A seven-year stretch in Microsoft was followed by eight years in British Telecom before joining Dell less than two years ago.

Aside from their sheer size, I put it to him that all three tech and telecom giants are known for their highly repetitive levels of business jargon.

Hopkins is no stranger to jargon, as one of his first Dell pronouncements illustrated.

"As emerging technologies accelerate the pace of change within all sectors, there's a significant opportunity to help drive business transformation and generate real results for customers here in Ireland," he said soon after he got the job.

I can't resist asking him whether he's 'passionate about transformation'.

"Absolutely," he says with a grin.

Is this a real answer or a wink?

Moreover, is business jargon a particularly Dell thing?

"I think sometimes within the industry we can be guilty of using jargon," he says. "But I think the sentiment behind that is very real. I think the opportunity is there, certainly in the last four to five years. I've never seen anything like the pace of change that we're currently seeing. And I think genuinely that the opportunity is there for the companies to…"

At this point I cut him off, aware that we're straying into the danger zone. I'm not sure whether Hopkins' answer is a clever parody or a real point.

What is real is the challenge Hopkins faces for Dell to stay on top. It is still managing the after-effects of a megamerger with VMWare.

In Ireland, that has meant consolidation and transfers between some of the businesses.

The most recent accounts for 2018 show this in action. Dell Direct, which handles sales and support in Cherrywood, saw employee numbers slide to 936 from 1,107.

But Dell Products, which is involved in the sales and distribution of Dell technology around Europe, saw staff numbers increase to 919 from 846 in the same period.

And there are other moving parts.

"Some of those are company transfers," says Hopkins. "As we continue to evolve to the new structure that was set up three years ago, you'll see transfers from one side to another side. But we still have the same size numbers. We're actually growing in Ireland."

Hopkins faces other issues common to some of the big tech firms here.

Because the company is run as an all-island (and pan-European) firm, a no-deal Brexit means serious potential problems.

Put simply, the transfer of data in and out of the UK from Ireland could be legally problematic and open to sudden disruption if challenged.

Is Dell ready for this?

"Planning has been ongoing for some time," he says.

"As an international company, we've got options from a supply-chain point of view. We're set up so that if we need to get goods and products moved around between the UK and Ireland, we can do that. But every company's going to have to look at that and turn to the customers, the markets that they serve and have their own contingency plans."

Standard contractual clauses, likely to be leaned on by many companies after October 31st, may only be a temporary reprieve.

Hopkins has other things on his agenda. He takes a particular interest in education and technology's role in it.

Does this mean selling Dell kit into the sector?

"It's more in terms of the research and development functionality that we have here," he says. "It's something I'm very passionate about, making sure that we open that up and not just from a selling point of view. It's making use of the collaboration and the skillsets that we have in Ireland and beyond, to open that up to the research and development sector. Look at things that we're doing with the University of Limerick, opening up our AI, virtual reality and augmented reality research."

Hopkins references the University of Ulster, too.

"That's not a 'sell to' activity," he says.

"That's something we bring to life and actually help the research and collaboration between government, academia and industry. Because none of us can do it alone."

To listen to the full interview with Mark Hopkins, download or stream The Big Tech Show podcast from iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud or Independent.ie/podcasts.

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