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The president of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Dell, has always had a fascination with numbers and he advocates bringing this analytical approach to business strategy and management...

How did you begin your career?
I’m analytical and I like numbers. I have continually wanted to know “what do the numbers mean?”

But I’ve always been more interested in how the numbers help you understand and then drive the business strategy and operations. This analytical approach is one of the most important competencies in my career.

I started my career in IT while a student at NIHE, now Limerick University, where I graduated with a degree in business studies. I started work experience in the hardware division of Digital in Clonmel and joined the company after graduation.

I started in finance, where I completed my CIMA qualification before moving into developing and implementing a procurement strategy in print and media.

What made you decide to take the CIMA qualification and how has it helped you in your career?
It was partly because my first real mentor and supporter, John Curtin, who was involved in CIMA Ireland and worked with Digital, suggested it and because I liked the idea of gaining a qualification that was directly related to the skills needed in business.

I knew that by using the financial acumen gained through securing this qualification that I would be well equipped to play a significant role in helping to shape the direction and success of whatever business I was in.

The skill set was always more appealing to me than the benefits of a qualification that was more geared towards working in practice.

In all the areas I’ve worked, I’ve found having a knowledge of finance and analytical skills hugely beneficial. It creates many more options in terms of where to go next.

For example, with Digital, I was able to move into the areas of procurement and then commodity management as a result of the core skills picked up in the qualification.

That’s also the case for the various roles I’ve undertaken in my 12 years at Dell. As well as my role as EMEA president with Dell, I am active in CIMA and the Executive Council of the American Chamber of Commerce for the EU. I particularly welcome the designation of CIMA graduates as Chartered Global Management Accountants.

The name reflects the fact that business is global now. CIMA is no longer the cost guy sitting in the corner.

How did you broaden your experience?
After a number of years at Digital, I joined Modus Media International, the subsidiary of Chicago-based media replication company RR Donnelley, becoming general manager for operations in Ireland at Dublin, Kildare and Limerick.

My work with Modus Media was followed by a year with RR Donnelley in Amsterdam. I joined Dell in 2000 and held a number of executive positions in sales and marketing before taking on my current role of president of EMEA earlier this year.

How would you describe the culture of Dell?
I have always been in the IT industry and admired the Dell Direct model. When I looked at the foundation of the company it was a solid, go-to-market model.

One of Dell’s greatest strengths is that as a company we have listened and responded to the needs of our customers, which showed that more and more of them want to work with existing partners.

It’s about giving our customers choice, so Dell’s go-to-market approach today also includes working directly with those partners.

We continue to work closely with our customers to understand their changing needs. If a company specialises in financial services we can now leverage the expertise that we have built with partners in financial services IT, as well as our own internal knowledge and expertise.

It works well with our channel and partner strategy, giving us more opportunities to grow our business.

This evolution is a key milestone in Dell’s history and demonstrates that the focus on doing what’s right for customers and delivering what they want, when they need it, is still at the very heart of business decision-making.

Twenty-eight years on and Dell, now a $60bn company, is still listening to what its customers want, and delivering, in a way that they prefer.

How has Dell transformed itself from being primarily an infrastructure and hardware provider to a solutions and services company?
Historically a PC company, Dell is now a services and solutions company. In addition to our consumer and small business focus, we have become an enterprise solutions company offering a growing range of technology solutions and services to governments and private companies across the globe, all with a common end in mind – to enable our customers, regardless of size, to succeed and grow.

We have also continued to invest and to grow our capabilities, working with customers from the desktop all the way to the data centre.

How has Dell grown through acquisition?
As well as growing organically and investing in developing the skills and IP of its existing team, Dell has also acquired more than a dozen companies in recent years, bringing in talent, technology and skills that complement the company’s existing activities and focus.

Examples include Perot Systems, SecureWorks, KACE and Compellent – all helping Dell to increase its core strengths and capabilities on behalf of our customers.

We are constantly growing our specialist skills, while developing our team. The entire company is centred on the customer. We design products for different sectors and provide professional support services at the crossover between consumer and commercial.

What are the company’s new offerings?
From a product-specific perspective, our latest convertible ultrabook, the XPS Duo 12, and our latest tablet, the XPS 10, is a good example of how Dell is offering high-end, innovative technology.

The cloud is the way many of our customers want to use technology and this will become even more apparent over the next year or two.

But currently, as with all new technologies, there are some questions and concerns about the security of data. This is why we are working closely with our customers to help them determine if a private cloud, a public cloud or a hybrid is the most appropriate for them at this time.

Also, many companies have invested heavily in technology at their own premises – so we are committed to helping them maximise the return on investment from what they have to drive efficiencies in their organisations. In tandem, we are helping them to plan for the future, and some of these requirements can be met in the cloud.

Start-ups, for example, can use the cloud from day one, reducing the need for capital investments up front. A good example of a company that sits on cloud technology is the success of Salesforce.com.

What are the prospects for Dell in Europe?
We’ve done quite well in the European market and have taken market share in the client and server spaces.

There are challenges, for sure, and a lack of growth, particularly in the EU from the consumer at one end to the state and public sector at the other.

In addition to its success in Europe, Dell is number one in the Middle East in its sector. We have also done well in parts of Africa, such as Kenya and South Africa, but have been hampered by political uncertainty in North Africa.

The emerging markets of Russia and Eastern Europe are also showing strong growth. I try to divide my time equally between meeting customers and meeting and working with colleagues around Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I also believe in measuring customer loyalty in order to ensure that Dell can constantly improve its customer experience.

What do those customers that you meet think about Ireland and its recent difficulties?
I travel a lot and the conversations I have with people is that they recognise that we have been laying out a clear strategy for recovery and are seen to be following through on our commitments.

A lot of people I’ve met tell me that we seem to be handling the economic challenges well in Ireland. As a country, we became an expensive location.

You need to provide higher value-add if your cost base is moving up. Basic sales activity is long gone. The type of work we do in the UK, France, Germany and Ireland is now very different to what it was.

It is higher, value-added work, providing more complex services and solutions to our customers.

What would be your advice to CIMA students and members looking to build their career, especially in a large multinational?
One of the key things you need to do early in your career is to assess your strengths. It is also important for any individual to understand that they own the management of their career.

They need to lay out a career map to find out in which areas they want to move forward in order to gain more experience. In multinationals you often have the chance to change roles, move to some other part of the group or work in another country.

Another piece of advice would be the importance of finding a mentor to give you good advice. My CIMA qualification and financial background have allowed me to progress my career in technology companies, proving that you don’t need to have that specialist knowledge to start with.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning what value diversity, whether in the form of skills or background, or gender, race and so on, brings to an organisation.

Something that I’ve found at Dell is that you need to have people around you who bring different skills and a different way of thinking, which I think is incredibly important for running a European business successfully.

Photo: Charles Shearn

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