Former CEO of HP Inc. on cultural understanding and why planning your career path starts with values

6 Sep 2022

by Navid Shamsi

Dion Weisler

The Liveris Academy recently had the pleasure of hosting former president and CEO of HP Inc, Mr Dion Weisler. Mr Weisler has had extensive global executive experience, having been involved with companies such as Lenovo, ACER, BHP, Intel and Thermofisher Scientific. 

Discussing his key learnings and experiences throughout his extraordinary leadership journey, Mr Weisler highlighted cultural understanding as a key factor in his success.

“If I were to be asked what my superpower is, it would be to understand different cultures around the world, having lived in 10 countries, and truly understand them, you know, below the iceberg level.” 

But Mr Weisler was not born with his superpower. It is the product of many mistakes and uncomfortable situations, sustained by persistence as a side effect of curiosity.
“I realized that I can't take a culture that I've learned and grown up with in Australia and try to impose it in exactly the same way overseas. [Culture is] a cornerstone of trust. And if you don't have the trust, you can't do business because you can't build the relationship and the relationship supersedes the task. So, I became very curious about different cultures. And if we were going to develop products and sell them all over the world. How could you [go] about it?” And “sell them all over the world” he did. Dion Weisler regards his time with Lenovo as one of the most challenging, yet exciting and fruitful chapters in his life.

“I loved the culture of Lenovo. it was an incredibly interesting organization that was fusing Eastern and Western based cultures. At Lenovo, I was running Asia Pacific. And then a chairman called me in China, and he said, ‘would you move to China and start Lenovo as consumer business?’ it's a very different skill set to be able to create something versus run something. And so, I think getting uncomfortable was another core tenant of learnings along the way. And that became very successful, and then over went from nothing to number one in the marketplace, in consumer, and that kind of got the attention of HP”

Having made a significant impact at Lenovo, moving to HP was not as straightforward as one might think. Mr Weisler considers his journey “a systematic set of events, and a lot of focus on career planning and career mapping.”

So, what does that entail? The one-word answer is “values”.

“The values that [HP] had were way ahead of their time. They didn't call it diversity and inclusion, but they were the pioneers of diversity inclusion, the open-door policy.” “Their values of sustainability, they built factories in places that were integrated into nature”

“They had an entrepreneurial spirit that encouraged students to come into the company, and develop, and if they had a good idea didn't matter if they were a student, or they were an intern. They would be allowed to try, and if they fail, they will fail fast. And they wouldn't be reprimanded for that. And so those values really attracted me to that organization.”

In fact, Mr Weisler also discussed how straying away from these values, in recent years, had made HP lose its “engineering way”. Best explained by the three surfers’ analogy, the engineering way is an amalgamation of solving current problems, keeping track of trends and embracing innovation through risk. “Which value of which culture does Dion Weisler like the most, and how can you promote teamwork as a leader?” Liveris scholar, Diana Sanabria, asked Mr Weisler.

“Diversity and Inclusion are not just words. What I realize is that the power you get from building highly diverse teams that come from different cultures is much more exciting than just working with one. If you set up teams that all look and feel and operate the same way, you're going to get the same result every time, if you build that diversity of thought, and leadership, and encourage it, and embrace it, that's how you build high performing teams.”

In his closing statement, Mr Weisler had one key advice for the audience:

“I think when your backs against the wall, when you're perplexed or puzzled, or you're intellectually curious about something that you can't get an answer to, persist. Because you never know what will happen.”