Conversations at the Top: Antonio Neri Talks

Quoted excerpts from Ruben Navarrette's interview with Antonio Neri, CEO and president of HPE, for our "Conversations at the Top" series

CEO and President Antonio Neri on his love of art, his multicultural background, and what it’s like to lead at Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Antonio Talks: Leading a Tech Business

“If you’re not going to disrupt yourself somebody else is going to disrupt you. I’d rather do it to myself than have someone else do it to me. . . . I’d rather move faster than slower and go aggressive against the new opportunity versus trying to hold tight onto that thing that gravity will take you down anyway. . . . This is all about leadership, making the right bets and continuing to innovate, [then] align the talent and resources against those opportunities. As I said many, many times: innovation is not just what do you inside, but also through capital location. And we have done both.” 

Antonio Neri
Antonio Neri, CEO and President, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Photo: Gillian Fry

Antonio Talks: HPE Culture

“If you come to our environment here you’ll see an open floor, people can come and see me anytime. I dress like normal people with jeans and shirts and sneakers. I love to get my hands on the technology and engineer [work]. I’m very hands off and about empowering people, but I also care about the details. One thing I’m actually really proud of is that I think I have a very strong followership because I grew up in the company. People recognize me as one of them and that’s a big advantage. I’ve been with the company for almost twenty-five years and that gives me a unique advantage in terms of understanding our processes, our systems, how we do things, our portfolio, our financial architecture, and whatnot. But I think, to empower the team, I’m very approachable. I always apply the open-door policy. Because I grew up in what I call ‘The HP track,’ I had the honor to work with some very, very smart leaders here that [also] grew up in the HP culture. I actually practice this principle every single day.”

Antonio Talks: His Love of Art

“My love of art started very early—when I was ten years old. A good friend of mine was an excellent drawer. He loved more of the caricature side and I went more to the art side. We grew up together, and [art] was something fun to do. With art, with painting, it goes back to creativity. You can start with a blank sheet of paper or a white canvas and get inspired to something different, something unique. For me, drawing and painting is a way to get to a new space and think about things, inspire myself, and come up with a new idea. Obviously you practice new techniques—I’ve painted many different ways, whether its oil or spatula, whatever. It’s a way to get relaxed but at the same time it’s a way to get my own space and think about the issues and ultimately be creative about certain aspects of what we need to go do.” 

Antonio Talks: Storytelling in His Third Language

“Telling stories makes it real for people, makes it simple. My challenge is that, until I was twenty-seven, I didn’t speak any English. When I joined HP in 1995 as a contractor, I could communicate in English, but I was very strong technically. But when I did the written test, I failed. I failed the English test. The hiring manager, who was a British Jamaican, said, ‘No problem, he speaks Italian, he speaks Spanish, those are two languages we need and we need that technical expertise.’ So he gave me the chance to join the company, and that shows you need to take chances on people. If it wasn’t for him I would not be here. . . . [Over time,] I learned more and more skills to communicate better. But English is still my third language. For that reason, the ability to communicate and tell stories [is something] I am actually very proud of.”

Antonio Talks: Being an ‘Insider’ CEO

“In choosing a CEO, the board decided to, after almost eighteen years, go back to an insider versus an outsider. The last inside CEO was Lew Platt, who retired at the end of 2000 beginning of 2001 when Carly Fiorina came onboard. Between 2002 and early 2018 we have had outsiders. Ultimately, the board decided that we need someone who understands the technology space much more deeply and the culture of the company. And that’s why they decided to go with me. Having that DNA is important. For me, it’s a huge responsibility but a great honor.”

Antonio Talks: The Cultures in Which He Was Raised

“I think Italians are way more ambitious than Argentinians—partly because they went through very dramatic experiences with two world wars, and they understand what that can do to a country and rebuild it from there. Italy’s economy is number five or six, depending on how you look, in the G20 summit. They have survived through all the challenges. So I think that makes them stronger and more understanding of what needs to be done. Argentina came actually from the other spectrum; it was a very wealthy nation with a lot of resources and prosperity until the late ‘50s and then came a series of political issues and wrong decisions. Italians went through an industrialization path, Argentinians went through an agricultural path and then forward. Now here we are.”

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