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How putting people first paved the way for tech’s largest merger, ever

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on November 9, 2017 by Erika Van Noort

Even as a 13-year-old boy, Dell EMC’s John Byrne knew the secret to business that would one day help drive the largest technology merger of all time: put people first.

“I started my first business at 13, selling bread buns to the people of Scotland — people who were suffering from, let’s say, being ‘over-served’ on a Saturday evening,” said Byrne, President of Dell EMC’s multi-billion-dollar channel business.

And while selling snacks to late-night bar patrons is a far cry from the cutting-edge solutions of Dell today, knowing what people want, and being there to give it to them, when they want it, is a winning strategy all IT leaders should take to heart.

Cultural revolution  

In fact, it was that kind of focus on people that enabled Byrne and his team, helmed by Michael Dell to successfully execute the $60 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016 — the largest merger of its kind in history.

To make the merger happen, getting the fundamentals right was obviously important — such as aligning financials and business processes. But Byrne said it was finding a common cultural ground, and focussing on the people, that made all the difference.

He explained how the two tech goliaths spent months of preparation, exploring their values and comparing core priorities. Every step of the way, the two companies discovered their visions for the technology world today, and for the future, were in unison.

“What was interesting is we had the exact same priorities, ranked in the exact same order” said Byrne, explaining that common ground helped establish the trust needed to move forward.

Yet, more than just seeing eye to eye on the future, Byrne said the real secret sauce came down to “EQ” and “PQ”. He said having the “emotional intelligence” and “positivity intelligence” was crucial in motivating the two teams to come together, and act as one. At every chance, leadership stressed the exciting opportunity that lay before them — driving human progress through technology. They wanted to motivate people’s hearts, as well as their minds.

“A lot of times, when two teams come together, one side thinks they lost and the other won, but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “We kept communicating over and over again the massive opportunity that we had, saying ‘let’s go attack this massive market together!’”

The trick worked. A cursory look at Dell EMC’s latest earnings would show the company has turned a page, adding thousands of new customers and billions in revenue year over year.

What is needed from a modern CIO

While most CIO’s could only dream of taking part in such a monumental merger, Byrne says the same principles apply when planning for digital transformation of all sizes. In particular, he argues those same values make for a great CIO in the modern world of digital transformation.

The successful CIO gets the fundamentals right, of course. First and foremost, he or she is a technologist — well versed in the growing trends of the industry. But the modern CIO also has to have a firm grasp of the business angle, both from the company’s perspective, and of the customers. Only with that business insight can the CIO understand exactly what IT needs to do to enable the business to be agile and stay competitive.

“The CIO needs to be a bridge,” said Byrne, “connecting all the technologies, on premise, off premise, hybrid and security, to fully enable the business at all times.”

So how can IT leaders foster that knowledge of the customer and the business needs? It all comes back to people skills. Dell is a company known for its “big ears,” he said. If you listen long enough to your people, they will tell you exactly what you need to do.

More formally, he said Dell welcomes technology leaders to drop by their Executive Briefing Centers, to share insights and be briefed on trends and emerging technologies. And he said partners such as Softchoice are crucial in sharing those learnings focused more on the art of the possible, giving IT the direction it needs to direct the business, strategically.

Certifications, formal education and training are certainly important. But nothing beats a great culture, backed by a deep focus on the people behind the tech. And that’s perhaps the strongest lesson any IT leader can take forward, as they lead their businesses into a digital future rife with opportunity.

“Throughout my career, I’ve been taught to put people first — and the profits and products will follow,” he said. “Everything I ultimately do is about people.”

People first, always

IT leaders can be forgiven if they focus on all the shiny new tools and technologies at their disposal. But doing so is a sure way to lose sight of what truly drives transformation: making people happy.

As Byrne pointed out, a businesses without emotional smarts and cultural strength is doomed to fail – regardless of whether they are creating new products or undergoing a major operational shift.

In other words, whether you are selling bread on the streets of Scotland, or hyper-converged infrastructure to the world’s largest enterprises, focusing on people is all that counts!

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