Can HP actually disrupt itself?
By Desdemona Bandini
It is hard to imagine a giant global corporation like HP purposefully setting out to disrupt itself, but that is exactly the goal of a new organization within HP Software. This new organization began as an in-house startup tasked with building out a new e-commerce business and web platform for marketing and selling HP’s enterprise software online. The platform offers users a hassle-free way to buy and try software online using credit card, PayPal or a simple PO and invoicing process. This new venture streamlines the user experience and showcases how HP can innovate from within.
Caroline Tsay, is the Vice President and General Manager leading this new business venture. We sat down with Tsay to learn more about her journey and some leadership lessons she has picked up along the way.
Tsay grew up in San Jose, the eldest of four children. Influenced by her family’s policy of open and direct feedback, Tsay was naturally driven to compete and succeed from an early age. This drive eventually led to two degrees (undergrad and grad) at Stanford University, and a fast-tracked career to senior management at some of the biggest Silicon Valley tech companies: IBM, Yahoo, and her role today at HP.
Women 2.0: Let’s start at the beginning. What sort of academic work was most useful in preparing you for your current role?
Caroline Tsay: I am so glad I did my undergraduate study in computer science. It has been incredibly useful to have a foundation in technology, to know how things get built, and to appreciate the complexity involved. I received my graduate degree in Management Science and Engineering with a focus on technology, strategy and entrepreneurship. The blend between CS and MS&E – technology and business – led to the opportunities I’ve had in my career.
Also, throughout my time at Stanford, I taught a public speaking course, which I would strongly recommend to anyone. Learning public speaking fundamentals and practicing them are critical to communicating better, improving presence, and engaging audiences.
Women 2.0: Did you know what career path you wanted pursue after school?
Caroline Tsay: I chose to do consulting with IBM Global Services. This gave me a diverse range of experiences in different roles at different companies. From there I was able to narrow down my direction to be in product management when I joined Yahoo.
Building product is something she continues to do today, while running this new business. Tsay was tasked with building an entirely new software delivery system from the ground up at HP. From creating a new identity, to designing new go to market strategies, to building the actual platform — Tsay birthed HP Software’s e-commerce destination from an idea to an actual business in the short span of nine months. A miraculous feat that also required attracting and hiring new talent, alignment across very large organizations, changing culture, implementing new tools and processes, and figuring out how to best leverage broader systems, processes and people.
Women 2.0: Tell us about some of your biggest challenges in creating this new e-commerce business and platform, and how you overcame them.
Caroline Tsay: We are a startup in many ways. I walked in without an organization, strategy, product, or plan last year. Literally everything had to be built from scratch. It is an amazing opportunity to build a team from the ground up, but it is challenging and time consuming. It is one of the biggest challenges I have faced (and this is my second time doing this as I also built a new team at Yahoo) and the most rewarding.
The next biggest challenge after hiring the team is bringing all of these employees from different backgrounds together at the same time and creating new processes that will allow them to work together efficiently.
For example Agile; many people know how to practice the agile methodology to build product. Determining the best way for our team to do Agile is something we have had to work through together and it took time. There are moving parts, legacy systems and international team members. There are often many unforeseen bumps in the road that we have had to work through.
We make and market software for people who build software, just as we are doing today. We understand their needs because we have them too. Luckily, we have easy access to great software solutions and we hope to make it drop dead simple for users to have this same access to great software.
Women 2.0: What other major lessons have you learned as a leader?
Caroline Tsay: Right now I am focusing on work-life balance, because I didn’t have any for a long time and I didn’t even realize it. I was so laser-focused on my career and making what we’re working on successful — that I lost myself in my job. I was working non-stop around the clock and on weekends. There were no boundaries. I have had to learn about creating boundaries for myself and for others. I have had to become mindful to create space for my personal life where I turned work off.
I have also learned that not everything has to be so serious with your interactions with your team. We were all so stressed that it was heads down all of the time. It is not the end of the world if there is an issue that we cannot immediately resolve. Take some time to build relationships on a personal level.
Another big lesson was learning to ask for help. I know some people are afraid to ask for help because it could be perceived as a sign of weakness, but I have found the opposite is true and that I have gained more support. I’ve found myself so heads down that it didn’t occur to me to stop to reach out to people, or that they would be willing to help. It could even be a little thing, but in the end, the support others are willing to give you relieves pressure and makes things easier.
I would like to strongly encourage everyone to have mentors. Look around your network, identify someone who might have some experience and good advice, and then do not hesitate to reach out to them. I am lucky that many of my former bosses are mentors today and have been so supportive.
From a leadership perspective, I have found that it is so important to build a loyal and trusted leadership team around you. Build close relationships and trust by being transparent.Then empower those leaders to manage the team so that you can focus on other areas. Get to know your team on a personal level outside of the office.
Another important leadership lesson I have learned is to have an open feedback policy. I learned from my family the value of direct feedback and it has been extremely helpful in my life. By creating a safe space for open and honest feedback, problems are surfaced and get resolved. I am very direct with my team and visa versa. It has been amazing how much we have been able to accomplish together because of this.
Women 2.0: Thank you so much for sharing your tips with us Caroline!
More About Caroline
Caroline is a global senior executive, who has developed award winning products, business strategies, and marketing/advertising programs for top technology companies. She is currently Vice President of E-Commerce at HP Software. Prior to HP, Caroline was at Yahoo!, where she was Senior Director of Search and E-Commerce. Caroline also spent three years at IBM as a Senior Consultant in Supply Chain and Customer Relationship Management focused on providing forecasting, planning, order management, customer service, and channel marketing solutions to clients in the high-tech, travel, and retail industries.