Aongus Hegarty has a lot on his plate. The Irish executive took over as President of Dell’s International Markets just months before Covid-19 brought the world to a halt. Since then he has had to deal with a global chip shortage, the pandemic and then the effects of the war in Ukraine.
Now, with energy costs skyrocketing and inflation following, he faces a global downturn and a potentially severe impact on the tech sector. Facebook and Twitter have already announced global job cuts, as have Intel, Salesforce and Zendesk. At Amazon and others, hiring freezes apply. The once-buoyant tech sector has finally faltered.
But this isn’t Hegarty’s first technical downturn. He has spent over 20 years with the company, joining in 1999 as General Manager of the UK & Ireland Small and Medium Enterprises Division. That was just before the dot-com bubble burst and the tech sector experienced a gear shift. After moving to Amsterdam to lead Dell’s Dutch and Belgian operations, he led the EMEA sales department before eventually leading the consumer and SMB business in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Originally from Limerick, Dell’s decision in 2009 to close the company’s manufacturing facility there cut it to the core of Hegarty. But he has always remained suitably stoic and positive about the company’s activities in Ireland. Although Dell cut 1,900 jobs over the course of a year, the company and its workforce bounced back.
Prior to the loss of manufacturing jobs, Dell employed 4,500 people in Ireland at its peak; Today the company employs over 5,000 people across three locations in Dublin, Limerick and Cork and Ireland is recognized as the global hub for the company’s sales, centers of excellence, solutions development, manufacturing, supply chain operations, engineering, IT and finance .
On Monday Dell announced it has invested €2 million in a refurbished customer solutions center on its Cork campus. It provides “proof of concept” tests for companies and organizations worldwide to evaluate new technologies and solutions, along with practical demonstrations of complex IT solutions that can be implemented in an organization. It is one of 15 centers worldwide and strengthens Ireland’s position in Dell’s strategic infrastructure.
But what now for the tech company in the face of another tech slide?
Dell’s business, like so many tech companies, has been boosted by Covid-19. Investments in digital transformation have strengthened the company’s finances. Strong demand for PCs and laptops in the early days of Covid fueled growth in devices. Although that surge has subsided, Dell’s second-quarter results showed the company’s continued growth of 9 percent year-over-year.
“We are certainly seeing strong growth in infrastructure. Our own server and network business grew about 16 percent and the storage business grew about 6 percent,” he says. “The number of PC units has declined significantly over the last quarter or two from a market demand perspective, but what we have to note is that this has come off a significant peak increase over the previous 18 months. So if you look at pre-pandemic levels of PC spending and investment, it’s a much bigger market now.”
Hegarty’s new role, which covers Dell’s entire business outside the US and Canada, started just before Covid. That meant attending meetings virtually. Like many other long-time frequent flyers, months after restrictions were lifted, he still hasn’t returned to previous levels of travel.
“I’ve transitioned to probably doing about 50 percent of the trips I’ve taken so far physically and then continuing the other 50 percent virtually, which is working out well,” he says. Key destinations for him in recent weeks have included Korea, Japan, Mexico and Brazil. “I have chosen very specific locations that are of significant business importance to Dell from a market perspective.”
This flexible way of working continues at Dell, even as some companies embrace the remote and hybrid work arrangements for employees. Flexible working was already in place for some teams before Covid, but the pandemic forced the company to close offices almost overnight and switch to remote working.
According to Hegarty, it works for the company and its employees — and for customers who may not have the time or money for travel expenses. Using technology to eliminate travel can allow companies to think more consciously about where they invest their money, he says, with greater impact. There is, of course, a potential benefit for Dell if they decide that technology is where they are investing their money.
“Most companies, including those in the public sector, have realized that this way they can work with higher productivity. And when we move, it’s certainly a hybrid way of working. It’s a choice for our team members and flexibility,” he says.
“We have three locations [in Ireland], but we operate in all counties of Ireland. When we bring people together, it’s to work together, collaborate and engage. It’s important to have that flexibility in how people want to work. Measure output, measure productivity, measure results, measure innovation.”
But as with all new technologies and systems, there are also downsides in the form of greater risks and potential cybersecurity incidents or data breaches. All companies need to be aware of this, he says, regardless of their size. The notion that you are too small to become a target is no longer valid as small businesses get caught in the web of cybercriminals.
“The vast majority of attacks target small and medium-sized businesses,” says Hegarty. “I think the average ransom demands being paid are around $20,000 compared to the millions we’re hearing about. The reality is that all businesses need to address this and in Ireland nine out of ten businesses are currently working towards a structured approach to their cybersecurity.”
Cyber security and risks were a big topic at Dell’s Technology Forum held in Dublin in September. According to Hegarty, the tech giant is trying to encourage companies to take a holistic approach to their environment, building a strategy and plan, laying the right foundation and making sure they have a recovery strategy in place, and being extra cautious if they’ve already have become victims.
“That doesn’t mean there can’t be another attack tomorrow. They have to go and make sure their environment is safe and that they also have a recovery strategy in place.”
Balance is something that is very close to Hegarty’s heart. In addition to his day-to-day work at Dell, he is also Co-Chair of the Balance for Better Business Group, an independent business-led review group set up by the Government to improve gender balance in senior management in Ireland.
“Through B4BB, we are examining gender mix at the highest levels of business and have identified actions organizations should take to increase the representation of women on corporate boards and in senior management positions,” says Hegarty. “Together with my Co-Chair Julie Sinnamon, our aim is to build on the progress made to date by accelerating cultural change in the Irish business community.”
Since its inception in 2018, the average proportion of women at board level at Iseq 20 companies has increased from 18 percent to 32 percent. Leadership teams in the Iseq 20 now have an average of 26 percent women. The group’s latest report, the fifth installment, is due any day. “Early indications are that companies are continuing to meet their goals, although of course there are areas that require further attention,” says Hegarty.
Much emphasis has been placed on work-life balance throughout the pandemic. As the office and home became intertwined, employees found it increasingly difficult to switch off. Burnout has become a real risk for employees at all levels. For Hegarty, the key to solving this problem is leading by example. On a recent family vacation, he turned off all devices and left his wife Martina’s number in case of an emergency.
“It will never be balanced all the time. When we came back from the pandemic and I started traveling, I traveled a lot in the first quarter. But that was because I leaned in, got out of there. It’s about keeping it balanced in the medium term, ongoing. When you step into a new role, you might have to lean in a little more, but you have to balance it because I think one of the things the pandemic has taught us – one of many things – is to pay attention to the mental also the health side of things,” he says.
“Leadership must follow words with deeds. You must lead by example for others to see. But at the end of the day you have to own it yourself.
“The company should implement the policies and lead by example, but at the end of the day it’s up to the individual. You must decide to close this laptop. You must choose to turn that absence on, you must choose to turn off and empower your team and organization. Give them the opportunity to fill your role for a period of time to get that experience and trust them to do so.”