A Conversation with Chris Hsu

12.15.2016

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A Conversation with Chris Hsu, EVP & GM of HPE Software & Chief Operating Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

In this Q&A, Hsu shares insights on his leadership style, his vision for the future of HPE’s software business and important lessons learned from his military experience.

Q: Many of HPE’s software assets were recently sold to Micro Focus in the UK. As the EVP and general manager of HPE Software, could you give some background on that transaction and talk about what it means for HPE?  

A lot of people say, “Well, we sold the software business.” Actually, we didn’t sell it. It’s a merger, and we’re creating a new company that we expect to be worth $4.5 billion and the sixth largest software company in the world. What we’re really doing is creating a truly pure-play software company that will continue to grow. It’s an industry-shaping deal.

Q: How will that play into HPE’s new software strategy?

We want to make sure folks don’t think that in our infrastructure business we were getting out of software. If you think about where the infrastructure business is going, it’s hybrid cloud and software-defined. That is HPE’s strategy: hybrid IT and software-defined everything. We provide our customers with a portfolio of best-in-class, enterprise-grade, scalable software with analytics built in. We have one of the broadest software portfolios in the IT landscape, and when we come together with Micro Focus, it will be even deeper and broader.

If you read any of the analyst reports, if you read any of the press, it’s all about all the startups. “They’re going to kill all the world. They’re going to eat HPE’s software, etc.” But the reality is, if it has to be enterprise-grade and it has to be scalable, Hewlett Packard Enterprise is the solution.

I want to make sure that we aren’t differentiating on being the coolest, hippest thing because, by the way, we’re not. We’re not the coolest kid in the school. We’re the straight-A student who’s reliable, always delivering.

Q: What areas are you most excited to focus on and grow within the HPE software portfolio?

The first is big data analytics. Big data analytics is in my core mission statement because it is required in every piece of software now—security, IT operations, application development, archiving. Customers want to be able to quickly search, find, and make decisions using big-data analytics. Vertica is—and will continue to be—one of the most prevalent big data analytics OEM platforms in the industry. If you look at companies that have big data as their models—Uber, Facebook, and a number of others—Vertica is at the core of that.

Second is security. We have one of the most complete security offerings in the industry. And we just announced that we’re putting security together with our information management and governance. Increasingly in security, every company is breached. The bad guys are inside, and what they’re trying to do is disrupt your data, disrupt your operations, steal your customer data, and steal personal information. It’s a natural fit to put security and information governance together, and you’re going to see us do that.

The third is hybrid cloud. We have a unique opportunity because we’re not Amazon. We’re not Microsoft. We’re not Google. We’re not any of these guys that are really fighting the battle for public cloud. We can be agnostic to who wins. We can build management tools to provision, manage, and automate your workloads in any infrastructure. Our cloud service automation asset is at the core of that.

Q: You just celebrated the first anniversary of HPE’s launch. What has the last year been like for you?

[Laughs] I now look about ten years older, and I’m about ten pounds heavier. Listen, there’s not been a company of this scale ever to drive the transformation that we’ve driven. This company at its core has the ability to drive transformation at scale and has a leadership dream team, driven by CEO Meg Whitman and our board, who are willing to make extremely tough decisions. In hindsight, this stuff looks easy because it’s turned out well. In reality, sitting in that chair and making these decisions is very, very difficult.

Q: In a company as large as HPE, what is the key to staying nimble enough to implement this kind of change?

You have to be honest about where these industries are going. The only way to make decisions like this is to be obsessed with the competition, obsessed with the external market, and to know it at a detailed, granular level. We’ve seen it work, and you hear Meg [Whitman] talk about it over and over again. Also, you’ve got to keep the end in mind. There are plenty of big people that want to jump and say, “It’s not working. It’s too hard. It’s too complex.” My job is to say, “Guys, remember what we’re trying to do.” Once you make the decision, there’s no turning back. You anchor on that decision and you execute like hell.

Q: You joined the Army at age 17 and rose in rank to serve as an officer. How has that experience shaped your leadership style?

My five-and-a-half years as a tank officer in the Army were all about leading though chaos—trying to figure out how to steer your team through all the stuff that’s thrown at you. A lot of what we’ve tried to do in the transformation of Hewlett Packard Enterprise requires similar global, complex planning and execution at scale. There are a lot of parallels.

Q: Are there daily routines that you picked up in the Army that you keep up with now?

I get up at 6AM every morning and go to the gym and I work out for an hour. Then I come in the office early, I leave late, and I focus on the details. I focus on motivating people, pushing people, challenging people. I always tell my team, “Continuous improvement means always improving and trying to get better every single day.” Yes, you might have had a great quarter. Yes, you might have shown growth, but how are you going to show better growth next time? What are you personally doing to develop yourself? To challenge yourself? To stretch yourself? Continuous improvement is at the core of my philosophy.

 

To read more about HPE’s plans to spin off and merge its non-core software assets with Micro Focus, click here.

Chris Hsu
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