Genuinely caring about your team members is so important, along with taking a true interest in your employees instead of faking it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Davis. Phil is President of the Hybrid IT Business for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. In this role, Phil oversees the groups responsible for Hybrid IT infrastructure, Software-Defined & Cloud, HPE Pointnext, and Global Operations. Additionally, in his role as CSO, he leads the group of worldwide sellers driving profitable growth and market share for HPE via a best-in-class sales organization that includes the direct and inside sales force, channels and alliances partnerships. With more than 25 years of experience in the technology industry, Phil has a track record of success in both large company and start-up environments. Before joining HPE, Phil served as Vice President and General Manager of Dell’s Enterprise Solutions Group for Asia Pacific and Japan. In that role, he was responsible for the overall profitability of the Enterprise Solutions business unit including server, storage networking, and services lines of business. Prior to Dell, Phil served as Executive Vice President, Worldwide Field Operations for Dot Hill Systems, a leading provider of disk-storage systems and software. He has also held management roles with Chapparal Network Storage (acquired by Dot Hill), RLX Systems (acquired by HP), Vixel and Texas Instrument.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Igrew up in Fresno, CA, which is a very hard working, humble community, and I had my first job washing dishes at 15 years old, which helped me learn about commitment to hard work. I also played team sports growing up which, looking back, had a really big impact on who I ultimately became, since it taught me the value of teamwork. I was on teams that had a bunch of great individual athletes, yet we didn’t actually perform that well. I was also on teams that were comprised of mostly average athletes, but we played well as a team and performed so much better. I believe this really colored my view as I went into business. It showed me the importance of working together as a team and what you can achieve beyond the individual.
When it came to academics, I always loved math and science. It sounds nerdy, but it’s true! I ended up being class valedictorian and graduating top of my class. Because of my love for math and science, I decided to go into engineering. I attended Cal Poly, but since I wanted to do more than just engineering, I also minored in speech communication, which is definitely a unique path for an engineer.
Today, I’ve been in the industry for 30 years and had many different experiences. I’ve done four different startups: One that went public, one that failed, one that was acquired about a year after I joined, and one that was acquired four months after I joined.
This was in addition to spending 10 years in Asia, which gave me the amazing opportunity to be exposed to so many different people, cultures and business practices. It’s a very rich region with a lot of cultural diversity, which I think also helped me understand the importance of both diversity and inclusion. When I first moved to Singapore, I was intimidated by the fact that I might stand out, might not speak the same languages as everyone else, and by remembering everyone’s names since they weren’t ones that I was used to hearing. I would sometimes walk up to a group where everyone would be speaking Japanese or Mandarin, and I didn’t feel welcome or included because I didn’t look the same or I couldn’t understand what they were saying. But I think after a while in that environment, it made me a much more sensitive manager and leader, and I can forever empathize with others in that situation.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I first started my career with Texas Instruments, I was part of a one-year rotational training program. I had two different roles: one as an apps engineer and one in marketing, while spending a third of my time in training classes on topics like negotiating skills, presentation skills and quality management. It’s really rare nowadays to get a full year during the critical part of your career where there’s not much expectation for productivity, so it gave me a very solid foundation of practical business school skills.
There was also a point early in my career, where there was a lot of attrition on my team, leaving me with about ten times as many accounts and people to manage than before. It was a difficult period of adjustment and my regional director could have fired me that first year. But instead, he took the time to invest in me and sent me back to some management training courses.
Thanks to his patience, I was able to learn as a leader how important it is to recognize when you’ve made a mistake versus when to invest in raw material. I think it’s made me a better manager too, knowing there’s a balance between focusing on your domain expertise and making my people successful as well.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I went into sales at Texas Instruments, I was only 21 at the time. I started with a group of around 50 people and we were all in the same sales team training program. One day at lunch, I got a sales call, and the guy on the line said he wanted to buy nearly $1 million worth of chips — a big sale! I jumped up, looked around and there was nobody around to help. Since I was only a sales associate, I wasn’t supposed to give a quote or handle the sale. I asked the caller, “Do you mind if I go get someone?”, and he said, “No, I need a quote now!” I then ran to go find my mentor in the program to see if he could help — around a corner and into a conference room — and I see five of my team members around a phone bursting out laughing. It was them on the phone, watching me run all over the place to get a quote for this sale! I remember feeling so embarrassed at the time, but part of me likes to think that even a silly prank like that prepared me for some high-pressure, high-stakes negotiations later on.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?
Genuinely caring about your team members is so important, along with taking a true interest in your employees instead of faking it. It’s simple — treat people the way you’d want to be treated. I also think there’s a lot of value in trying to understand what’s important to your team members, both personally and professionally. Too often, managers fail to acknowledge that work is only one dimension of people, so I think there’s value in recognizing the person beyond their role and the work they do.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
A large part of my role today is driving alignment across the team. From my experience, one of the most important things you can do to synchronize teams is maintaining very clear expectations and communicating those expectations constantly. Secondly, ensure you are making the time to drive that alignment, whether it’s through one-on-ones, team meetings or performance reviews.
There’s an old saying that you get what you inspect, not what you expect. I believe that when you’re running a large-scale organization, the reason inspection works is because when I choose to inspect or focus on a certain initiative, it forces dozens or sometimes hundreds of people to also focus on that. By driving a cadence that focuses the organization on the key elements that are going to move the business forward, you then also reinforce the key priorities. Overall, I advise leaders to be clear on communication, be clear on priorities, and drive your cadence and inspection that reinforces those priorities with consistency.
You can see this in action by looking at small companies versus large companies — synchronizing teams across each of them can be compared to steering a speedboat versus steering a battleship. With a large company, you need to set alignment with your teams and have that vision set in place long before you see the impact.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”? (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1. Care about your team
2. Set expectations
3. Drive alignment by communicating clearly, consistently and often
4. Have a vision, and stick to that vision
5. Lastly, have fun while doing it
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I’ve learned that leaders who are inspiring and charismatic understand how to balance being tough and having high expectations, while also creating a positive work experience. Once you realize that work is an experience itself, you can make it a place where people want to go, not have to go, and therefore make it fun. This is something I truly believe in.
In reality, most of us spend more time with the people we work with than with our family and friends, in many cases. So, you don’t want to sit back at the end of a 20, 30 or 40-year career and think, “What a grind this all was”. You want to think back on your accomplishments and relationships you’ve built, and all of the fun and experiences you’ve had.
As a leader, this goes back to thinking about creating the type of environment that makes work a positive experience. Experiences stick with us a lot longer than just monetary rewards or recognition. Remember the last time you had a special one-off bonus; you were probably pretty thrilled for about a day. A month later, you may have already forgotten about it. But if you had a great experience at work, such as giving back to the community by volunteering, you’ll more likely remember that for years later. Fun and experiences really do play such an important role in the workplace.
It is often sad that leaders are born in a crisis. As the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important for leaders to differentiate themselves and set examples on being a force for good. When this pandemic is past us, employees will think back and remember how their company leadership reacted, cared and empathized with their employees and the communities around them. Find ways to help your employees thrive in times of uncertainty by setting an example.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
I love this quote because King is touching on the importance of having a vision, and then working to align people to that vision. If you’re becoming a leader to gain popularity, be liked or be loved, or to be feared or respected, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. Your drive to become a leader should instead come from the belief that you can help lead the company in the right direction. Unfortunately, that means when you’re molding this consensus, sometimes you have to make tough calls which occasionally put you in a lonely position. This is one of the challenges of leadership.
“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go” — Oscar Wilde
This quote is a fantastic barometer to gauge leadership style, and it underpins my belief that good leaders create an experience for their team members. Consider when you’re interacting with team members, do you generally make them feel better about themselves while you’re chatting, or are they in a better mood once you’ve left? If people are happier once you’re not around, then you probably need to change how you lead.
Thank you for all of these great insights!