HP Inc's Pulford on people, planet, and purpose


Brad Pulford HP Inc. Brad Pulford HP Inc.

Bradley Pulford is a well-known figure in South African IT, and is known universally as Brad. 

As he says, only his wife calls him Bradley, and then only when he’s done something wrong.

After almost two decades at Dell, he’s been the VP and managing director for Africa at HP Inc. since December 1, and a little like US presidents, marked his first 100 days at the company, which fell due on February 28. He joined in the year in which remote working became the norm, and says, at the time of this interview in April, that he hadn’t physically met anyone on his team until quite recently.

He says the company was well set up for remote work, and marvels at how adaptable and productive people have been. Pulford takes over from Elizabeth Marino, who ran the region from Paris and who he says left to pursue a government position.
He says HP approached him in August, and a three-month conversation followed before he made the decision to throw in his lot with the company. Asked as to the nature of that conversation, he says it was ‘inspirational’ in what the company was attempting to do on this continent, which seeks to ‘rise above the technology piece’, and focus on ‘people, planet and communities’. Empowerment was also discussed, specifically its involvement in education in Africa. 

“That was pretty refreshing. I think a lot of the vendors focus around KPIs and measurement criterion, and we forget about the bigger purpose.”

He says the company’s people strategy also appealed to him, which entailed fostering its culture and making it a great place to work, as well as its route to market, which is channel-centric and seeks to avoid conflict, confusion and ambiguity.

As head of Africa, Pulford is stepping into a large role, which spans 54 countries, in which over 2 000 languages are spoken by about 1.3 billion people. He says half the population are women, and 60% are under 25, and that there are untapped opportunities for education and entrepreneurship. 

Productivity and purpose

All these people are going to need devices, specifically PCs, printers and supplies. He says while the ‘device conversation’ is also about 3D printing and VR, it goes beyond products, ‘and becomes a solutions conversation to make people’s lives, organisations and communities a better place’ by making them more productive and efficient.

How is the company doing that? He says the decade-long digital transformation discussion has, by now, wrought changes in how technology is used by consumers and employees, and that the trend accelerated during the pandemic. 

For students and consumers, this meant a change in the way data was consumed. Employees, meanwhile, were expected to be productive away from the office, in a secure computing environment. 

This leads Pulford to what he calls the ‘edge conversation’, or the end-device, ‘which is consuming data on behalf of a consumer or an organisation, as productively and efficiently as possible’. He adds that the end-device is not limited to a PC, because a printer is also a smart device that consumes data. 

HP Inc. and HPE split roughly six years ago, and there’s been a lot of debate over whether it was the right move. 

Pulford says diplomatically that while he came from an organisation that had an end-to-end capability, he’s now in a company that is focussed around its core capability of providing endpoint or edge devices, which ‘really works well’. 

“The solutions our salespeople bring to bear on a daily basis are well represented. It’s not a broad-based conversation that you need to capture that ultimately may lack some specific detail.”

He says HP and HP Inc. are completely separate, but with their shared history, and what he calls ‘legacy around culture’, they cooperate on certain opportunities. There are also referrals between them, and if, say, a datacentre opportunity presented itself to Pulford, he’d approach HPE instead of, for example, Lenovo or Dell. They also share an office, though are on different floors, with different entrances.

Continental business

He says the company has 400 employees across the continent, who work for a number of legal entities, or clusters, including one in Southern Africa and one in East Africa, which is run from Kenya. Its Central Africa region is run from Nigeria, and the North is managed from Morocco, and there’s an entity in Tunisia. Each cluster has an MD, who reports to Pulford. The Africa region is part of what the company calls its International Sales Entity (ISE), which is also composed of the Middle East and Turkey regions, as well as what it calls Emerging Europe, which is Russia and surrounding areas.

The Africa region contributes roughly a third of the revenue to the International Sales Entity. Overall, HP serves 10 markets worldwide, of which ISE is one. Others include North and South America, Asia Pacific, Southern and Eastern Europe.

Pulford says that, historically, Southern Africa was a mature market on the continent, and a key growth area. However, over the last five years, he says there’s been an accelerated growth pattern in East and Central Africa, as well as French-speaking North Africa.

He says in the last year, the Central and East Africa markets have been particularly resilient and buoyant. These regions have done better than the South or North, where there were steep declines because of the pandemic.

A massive opportunity 

“When I speak to the analysts, their feedback is that we’ll continue to see good growth in Central and East Africa. North Africa will take two to three quarters to recover, and Southern Africa will take the longest to recover. We’re looking at a year to 18 months to get to the levels of 2019.”

Pulford sees three trends across Africa. One of which is working from home, which has forced organisations, and educational institutions, to invest heavily in endpoint devices such as notebooks, tablets, printers and desktops. Another driver is the fact that in the past, there had generally been one device per African household.

“That’s created a massive opportunity. Based on where digital transformation is, an individual can’t survive without some shape or form of device. We’re seeing a rapid acceleration from one device per household to a device per individual. It’s been enormous.”

The third shift is that parents are buying their children a laptop or notebook, and not just a cellphone. Many of these are entry-level devices, but, perhaps surprisingly, are not those using the cheapest Celeron processors. The bulk of its volume and growth is coming from the devices using the core Intel processer, such as those with i3 or i5 chips.

“The consumer can’t afford the top end, but they do still want critical features that will enable them to be productive for now, and for the next two to three years.”

Desktop is not dead

As to its supply, he says it’s been enormously affected by the pandemic, and the manufacturers have not been able to produce a sufficient number of components. 

“We’re loaded at about 2.5X to what the supply is today, and you’re looking at lead times anything from two to six months at the moment. The world is in a spin, and it affects us (the IT community) specifically,” he says, adding that component manufacturers also serve the motor manufacturers and healthcare industry, for example. The supply squeeze is a vendor-wide problem, he says.

What emerging trends is he seeing? What of the desktop, the all-in-ones, and Chromebooks? He says there are niche opportunities in all of these categories. 

Desktops continue to surprise the market .“A decade ago, at my previous company, we were predicting that the desktop would be obsolete by 2020. And that’s not been the case; there’s growth in certain markets, and we’re going to continue to see that. A lot of people find a desktop far more efficient when they’ve got a home office.”

Parents, too, sometimes prefer to buy a desktop for their children, because the device is less likely to get damaged, or stolen.

He says the all-in-one device will continue to dominate the desktop market, driven, in his opinion, by a mixture of space-saving, aesthetics and performance. 

Chromebooks are relevant in the education market, but outside of this, he isn’t seeing much interest.

Printing alive and well

He’s also seeing phenomenal growth in the printer market, being, as he believes it to be, an essential device.

“We’re seeing people purchasing print hardware more and more. I print out documents that I need for legal and financial purposes on a daily basis. My printer has never been more relevant, and if I look at my kids, they’re using a printer every second day to review their work for some of the graphics and artwork they need to send back to their teachers.

“The printer has become relevant, more efficient, and more cost-effective and many vendors are developing these great choice points where people have now got more choice in how they want to purchase a printer.”

He also wants to talk about 3D printing, which he says is an ‘enormous opportunity’ for the planet, communities and productivity in areas such as motor part fabrication and healthcare, for example.

I ask if the buzz around 3D printing has not been overblown: much promised, with little delivered, but he demurs, saying it’s rapidly evolving in certain areas.

“If you work in healthcare or manufacturing, you’ll know it’s evolving rapidly,” he says, adding that the soles of some running shoes are now printed. “There’s a brand that I don’t want to mention, but it’s the biggest on the planet; it prints the soles of its shoes on HP printers. ”Seeing results I ask about the company’s Q1 results, reported at the end of February, of which CEO Enrique Lores said were an ‘exceptional start to the year’.

Revenue for the three months to December were up at $15.65 billion. Its personal systems, which includes PCs, saw net revenue at $10.6 billion, which is 7% growth. Consumer net revenue increased by 34%, while commercial revenue fell by 6%.Total units saw a 15% increase, helped by notebooks, which saw a 33% rise. Desktops fell by 23%. The printing side of the business saw net revenue of $5 billion, up by 7%. Total units were up 16% and consumer hardware units saw a rise of 18%. Commercial hardware was flat.

On an earnings call with analysts, Lores said while it had a strong quarter, and strong growth, this had not been the case ‘on relative terms’. 

Asked by an analyst about its PC results, and the fact that some of its competitors were showing much stronger growth, Lores replied “…being as competitive as we are, this is not something that we are satisfied about…we are looking at what we can do to improve our relative performance.”
I ask Pulford how it’s addressing the gap between it and its competitors.
He says it’s doing it in a number of ways, and he’s not overly concerned. 
“The pragmatic comment made by Enrique refers to the fact that the number could have been far greater if we had the supply to meet the demand of the orders we have in our systems. Based on where our order loads are, were not concerned where some of the competition is. The nature of shipments as it relates to market share and growth is very different across organisations.
HP's year-end is end of October, and Dell’s is the end of January. There’s a financial difference in how products get shipped, and obviously how they were impacted by availability depending on the commitments they’d made to the component suppliers. Seven percent is an outstanding performance in the context of year-on-year, and it beat all the analysts’ expectations.”
What about the company’s channel strategy? He says it builds partnerships in a way that allows it to build trust, as well as an ecosystem where partners are representing the company in front of their customers and communities.
Its recently updated partner programme is called Amplify, and is aimed at creating value for its partners. I put it to him that it’s hard to mount an effective partner programmes: it has to be simple enough to encompass the partner ecosystem, and complex enough to cater to their diverse needs.
There are many partner programmes across the industry; every vendor has one, and every vendor will tell you that theirs is the best. The reality is that at the previous company I worked for, there was a massive, direct, go-to-market. HP is focussed around its channel and it’s the essential core of what drives our route to market.

“What we hear from our partners is around the question of how we create value together. The ticket to entry is simplicity, and profitability. Actually what differentiates you is how you create value. As the vendor, the starting point is saying ‘insight without data is meaningless’. How do we start creating insights with the data for our partners, so that it can become meaningful?
“That may sound like motherhood and apple pie, but what does it mean? If I can arrive at a partner, and say to them, ‘We’ve been focussing on the following solutions in the following verticals with you for the last three to five years, and we’ve been somewhat successful. But we neglected this opportunity, in this vertical, and if we do the following things, we can double your business’.

“That becomes a meaningful conversation as we start creating that success together.”

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