Selfless leaders create a healthy level of trust necessary to create a culture based on authenticity and transparency, affirms Eric Goh, Vice President & Managing Director, Singapore, Dell Technologies. He tells Jerene Ang about his leadership style, the ideal CHRO, and bridging the gender gap in tech in this exclusive interview.

Q How would you describe your journey with Dell Technologies so far? Tell us what motivates you, keeps you passionate and driven?

In life and throughout my journey with Dell Technologies, I have often been guided by a phrase from one of my favourite books - The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In the book, the author talks about bringing balance to one’s work and personal life. Covey argues that to be fulfilled, one needs “to live, to love, to learn, and leave a legacy.” In short, this means that we need to satisfy our physical, social, mental and spiritual needs, even at work. I'm lucky enough to work in a place where my needs have been met. It is this, along with the thought of building on what I have, that keeps me going.

Besides that, two things continue to fuel my passion for what I do – the company's mission and the colleagues I work with. At Dell Technologies, we view technology as an enabler of human progress, and this objective is at the core of our innovation efforts. For example, our 2030 Progress Made Real plan focuses on advancing sustainability, cultivating inclusion, transforming lives and upholding ethics and privacy through innovative technologies.

I think that being a part of Dell Technologies family allows me to be a part of something bigger, and I say this after having had multiple chances to collaborate with many brilliant and like-minded individuals. I am motivated by the purposeful journey here and the strong, unified team that does not stop innovating. I count my blessings to be able to work in a company that positively impacts the communities it thrives in, as well as with team members who share similar passions and beliefs.

Q What has been your most memorable moment with Dell Technologies?

Meeting with Michael Dell just before the official merger of Dell and EMC.

It was about four years ago that I first met him at a global meeting in the United States of America. He struck me as a very humble and unassuming CEO, who took the time to connect with every one of us. His humility truly exemplifies the principles of leadership, which is deeply ingrained in the Dell Technologies Culture Code. I fondly remember the wonderful and authentic conversation that I had with one of the top CEOs in the world today!

Q How would you define your leadership style? What do you believe are the top qualities of a good leader?

I would describe myself as someone who believes greatly in the principles of servant leadership and a people-first approach. This means placing the needs of my team above my own, where I listen to them and encourage a shared vision of the future. More than just keeping my ears open, I believe in keeping my heart open. Being a skilled and empathetic listener has worked well for me in building a strong team. Accordingly, I believe that humility and selflessness are fundamental leadership principles to abide by. A team’s achievement is the sum of all the individual contributions, and it’s important always to be humble enough to acknowledge individual team members’ efforts and selflessly give credit where it is due.

Moreover, I believe servant leadership is vital to creating the right company culture for our work with customers too. Building an environment of honesty, excellence and integrity in the workplace is the key to inspire the right attitude in team members. Selfless leaders create a healthy level of trust necessary to create a culture based on authenticity and transparency. The right attitude internally paves the way for a winning attitude externally. When people are motivated, they infuse their positive energy into the work they do and work towards a common goal.

Q Having been in the information technology sector for more than 20 years, how has the industry evolved over the years?

I think technology has transformed nearly every business into an IT-driven business. From farming to pharmaceuticals, technology developments have led organisations to reimagine how they operate, compete and serve customers. Today, the explosion of data has resulted in and from an incredible increase in the amount of computing power, networks, connectivity and advancements in computer science. For instance, technology offers a promising solution once deemed impossible: extinguishing wildfires with sound waves or using 3D printing technology to produce face shields for healthcare workers on the frontlines.

Increasingly, many organisations and individuals are using technology as a democratiser that celebrates differences and promotes inclusivity. Advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) have helped companies make more informed decisions that allows recruiters to mitigate bias in the hiring process. Organisations have also leveraged technology to implement remote working, allowing team members to more effectively balance between work and personal demands. When I first started working in the IT industry, I was working with many male counterparts. Today, while the IT industry is still male-dominated and more improvements can be made, it has come a long way in achieving a more gender-balanced representation.

Q From a talent standpoint, do you find the oft-cited gender diversity imbalance in the sector improving? What do you think organisations can do to empower more women leaders?

Female representation in the tech industry has been improving, but it is far from ideal, especially as you look further up the corporate ladder. There are a few reasons for this, including the social stigma around women in STEM fields and a lack of institutional support for women within the workplace.

To shatter misconceptions about women in technology, we first need to look deep within ourselves to address hidden biases within the workplace. At Dell Technologies, we’ve piloted and launched various programmes to not only enable our female team members but also raise awareness and educate all team members about the importance of diversity and inclusivity. Initiatives such as Many Advocating Real Change (MARC) provides a safe space for our team members to examine their beliefs and discuss challenging subjects directly and honestly. Our MentorConnect programme that was launched in Singapore in 2019 offers mentorship opportunities for female leaders so they can build their networks, develop new skills and gain insights in areas such as negotiations and personal branding.

To play my part in empowering more women leaders, I’ve made mentorship a primary focus both for myself and the team I work with daily. In fact, I’m one of the mentors for the inaugural MentorConnect programme in Singapore. Personally, I love mentoring and I think every leader should be a mentor to understand challenges within their organisation better.

Q What is your view of human resources as a business function? How do you think the HR function can contribute better to organisational goals?

Despite advancements in technology and HR processes, attrition is still a huge problem for many businesses in Asia. This is especially the case for the IT industry, with average voluntary employee turnover among technology companies in Asia-Pacific at 12.2%, according to a survey conducted by Radford. This has adverse business implications for companies that end up spending significant resources on recruiting and replacing staff yearly.

To combat this, HR teams are now turning to technology in the form of “people analytics”. Accordingly, HR is now becoming a data-driven function. While using data to improve employee experience is far from a radical new idea, new and more robust data systems, AI, machine learning (ML), and advanced computing have enabled companies to take these efforts to the next level.

At Dell Technologies, our HR teams focus on providing opportunities for career movement: we measure these opportunities, understand where they are present and perform analytics to figure out the movement within and out of our organisation. As an example of this, we’ve reconfigured our annual employee survey – Tell Dell – to allow users to customise feedback via a “choose your own journey” format that will allow them to address the areas most important to each employee. AI and machine learning technologies are then used to help us further analyse this data.

Q Describe your ideal CHRO.

My ideal CHRO is someone with a hybrid skillset. With the amount of HR data at our fingertips, it is important that CHROs can both understand and harness this data. I’m fortunate to work with a CHRO who can embed the company culture into our entire ecosystem of HR practices while utilising new technologies that use social recognition and continuous performance management. Having a CHRO who can blend human applications with traditional HR technology is essential to enabling an agile and cohesive team.

Q When you’re struggling with stress or a bad day, how do you unwind and re-energise yourself?

I often find that my faith acts as a bulwark against stress and work pressures, which includes juggling the demands of the business, customer expectations and team welfare. I begin each day by practising gratitude and taking time out to reflect on how best to work through challenges that I face. These quiet moments help me re-centre and re-energise myself. In doing so, I’ve found that the outcomes, when entering new stressful or difficult situations, have always been positive.

Besides that, I make it a point to take long evening walks to de-stress and unwind. Some of my favourite areas are the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens by the Bay. Appreciating the beauty of what surrounds me in the process helps me reflect on my blessings each day and reminds me to always be grateful and courageous in facing my challenges with a renewed perspective.

Q If not this career, what alternative career path would you have chosen?

I have always wanted to be a conductor of an orchestra. Whenever I attend concerts, I’m often mesmerised by the conductor who is a master in getting everyone to play in harmony or produce a beautiful piece of music. While I was signed up for lessons to learn how to play the piano when I was younger, I realised over the years that I may not have the gift to meet this aspiration.

I entered the IT industry at the start of the client server computing era which proffered significant opportunities for my career growth. Although I am not able to be a conductor of an orchestra, I take heart in the fact that my role as a leader is like that of a conductor. The business strategy is similar to the music score and I move the hearts and minds of my musicians to play the beautiful piece of music – just like how I would motivate and develop the strengths of my team members to execute the business plan for business and customer success.

Beyond that, I also hope to work with a non-profit organisation to serve the community, perhaps in my retirement. There are many unmet needs in society today and I believe that I can put some of my experiences in the IT industry to good use.

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