Interview with Paul Haverfield, CTO, HPE

A Man Is Not a Machine: When the Narrative Unhinges

Having been through 3 major company mergers in his career, Paul knows a thing or two about change management. After Compaq had been bought out by HP, the subsequent downsizing, then upsizing taught him that broad diversity and usefulness were much better survival skills than one vertical domain of knowledge. He admitted with a dry chuckle that as a result, “I recognised the need and usefulness of being humble in different situations.”

So, when exactly did Paul pivot to reinvent himself as a leader? For the longest time, that was the last thing on his mind. Up until 2010 for about 7 years before that, he was in a support, complex problem resolution role. Being the go-to-guy at the end of the chain where people in the company could go to for help, he had to bear the brunt of customer facetime overseas.

The net impact was a cumulative toll on him personally, physically and mentally. The negativity wore him down and it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. “The only customers that I would talk to were the irate ones. So, it was like the whole world hated me. And what I noticed was I couldn’t even have good conversations at home where I would be become very disgruntled, negative or snappy. That was when I realised it was not sustainable.”

If environmental sustainability is about harmony, then talent sustainability is ensuring that the organisation is tapping into capabilities for what they were truly designed to do. Maximised output is often mistaken as optimal performance from an organisation’s standpoint. Is competency the best indicator of efficient talent resource utilisation? Unless we take a step back to reflect on who we are and what we do best, work will be a mind-numbing routine of tasks that can sap the life out of any corporate executive. The onus is on the individual to seek change especially when a red flag rears its head.

There are a few lessons from Paul’s journey of reinvention that we can learn from:

  1. Recognise when to let go and recalibrate

It is a common problem. A tech guy is really good at what he does and then gets promoted to do sales. Many introverts rise to the occasion beautifully by learning how to flex but even the best will bend under the weight of frequent furores encountered in sales support. In the last 23 years, Paul has had around 6 different job roles which evolved as he continually built on his achievements.

However, the negativity in the penultimate stretch of 3-4 years threatened to be the last straw. A Duty Fulfiller’s sense of overt responsibility usually keeps one tethered longer than what most can withstand so it was a push factor that led Paul to recognising that, “My then job role based on the depth and capability of knowledge I had in the area was great for the company but it wasn’t good for me. So, I thought something had to change there. I needed to actively change and seek something different.”

  1. Recognise the right opportunity to pivot and reposition yourself

Fundamentally, it boils down to seeking the right fit. The gruelling challenges of yesteryears are what mould us to become the people we are today. As companies place higher a premium on agility and initiative, an entrepreneurial mindset is increasingly an asset in the workplace. And when the opportunity showed up, Paul grabbed it with two hands.

“Roughly at the same time, we bought a major company in the storage industry, and it was a startup company with no presence in Asia Pacific. I recognised very quickly we were going to need skills to get across this new company’s technology and help bring it to market in Asia. ….I thought that’s the train I want to be on.” By helping build the go to market capability for this US startup with his product knowledge, Paul could add “a little value, layer by layer.”

  1. Recognise the next frontier of leadership by finding your WHY 

Today, Paul is a different man. As extenuating his experiences were previously, they made him a more empathetic and compassionate leader. While still driven by efficiency, he recognises a bigger capacity for his current role. It is always a stunning intersection when purpose coincides with position. Paul now makes the time to teach yoga once a week.

More than just a feel-good activity, he wishes to bring a change to the lives of his colleagues. With an emphasis on personal sustainability and mindfulness, Paul is not going soft on his workplace mission. Having gone on a path of surrender to embrace restorative change, he is well aware that there are many stressors well beyond one’s control. It is, therefore, a mindset he wants to shape among his staff and work colleagues.