His team might comprise people of different cultures, backgrounds and faiths, who hail from countries in Asia and beyond, but Mr David Tan, a team lead at HP Inc, knows what fuels them – literally and figuratively. It’s lunch!
A firm believer in diversity, which he feels promotes innovation, David finds that team lunches help his team bond. At these lunches, talking about work is a strict no-no.
“It’s a good way for team members to find out more about one another beyond their professional roles. But interestingly, it’s during these discussions that creativity gets sparked and we get new ideas,” said David, 48, who heads HP’s supplies business in Asia-Pacific and Japan.
And coming up with new ideas and creative solutions is often crucial to the work he does: Making printing seamless and secure in a fast-changing digital world.
David’s easygoing rapport with his staff sets a familial tone in their bonding sessions. Ms Lena Tan, regional business development manager, and Mr Satish Kumar, regional sales manager, are regulars at the lunches and enjoy the casual banter among their teammates. “One of David's key strengths is his sense of humour. Even in the most difficult or stressful situations, we can joke and then look for a practical solution to a problem,” Satish said. “We try to make the bad days good and that’s credit to his leadership.”
It was an eye-opening experience and gave me new ideas about leadership and how diversity changes mindsets and drives innovation.
– David Tan, on his visit to Silicon Valley startups as part of HP’s Leadership Acceleration Programme
David’s management style was honed through two decades of experience with HP, including being exposed to multiple roles in different offices. Having joined HP in 2001, when the company he was working for, Compaq, was acquired by HP, his managers quickly spotted his leadership potential and his career was put on a fast track.
HP sponsored his MBA course and sent him on several leadership and marketing programmes in Singapore and in the United States. The HP Leadership Acceleration Programme, in particular, David said, gave him an opportunity to visit Silicon Valley startups and understand what made them tick. “It was an eye-opening experience and gave me new ideas about leadership and how diversity changes mindsets and drives innovation,” he shared.
Learning to bring out the best in a diverse team has been key to David’s success in HP. Its Singapore campus alone is home to 3,000 employees from 35 different countries, and fostering inclusion in the workplace is essential to performance.
“Diversity is not just about different genders or ages, but also about different life experiences,” David explained. “When you put people with different backgrounds and experiences together, that’s where creativity and innovation truly happens.”
Walking the talk, he cited an example when he was the managing director of HP Indonesia. “To encourage more diverse perspectives, I hired more women as part of the senior leadership team and also invited interns to join our new-year planning meeting.”
BENEFITTING ALL IN THE TEAM
David’s inclusive management style has benefited many in his current team, like Satish. The 41-year-old moved to Singapore from India over a decade ago and is now a permanent resident (PR) here. He was pleasantly surprised that settling into Singapore and HP was smoother than he had imagined.
“Singaporeans are open to many cultures and traditions, and this can make anyone new feel less of a stranger very quickly,” he said. For instance, David who at first was intrigued by Satish’s interest in magic, now often asks after the latter’s hobby, and supports it where he can. A self-taught amateur magician, Satish is part of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and often delights his colleagues with his spontaneous magic tricks.
“Sometimes, David will come by on a difficult day and say ‘let's not talk work, show me a magic trick’. After that, we move on to work again,” Satish shared. The duo also bonded over common aspects of their day-to-day lives. “We have children of similar ages and used to live close to each other.”
Outside of work, Satish spends his time giving back to society through various volunteer activities – using his magic skills, of course. For the past four years, he has been actively involved in the Yellow Ribbon Project, a community initiative to help reintegrate former offenders into society. “We perform magic in the prisons because magic integrates people without the need for language,” he said.
Besides his personal volunteer commitments, Satish also makes cameo appearances as a magician in some of the volunteer work that teammate Lena does with elderly people and children.
Like Satish, Lena has also benefited professionally and personally from the diverse culture that HP embraces. “A lot of focus today is on leadership roles for women and there are many programmes being run today in our organisation to put talented women in these roles,” she said.
She has drawn inspiration from David’s steady rise – and inclusive leadership style – since he joined HP. She aspires to follow in his footsteps and to become a country manager.
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
Together, the trio – David, Satish and Lena – form part of a core print team within HP Singapore, an important hub for the research and development (R&D) and manufacturing of ink cartridges. They frequently work with colleagues in the region and countries further afield such as South Korea and China. HP’s latest print innovations – HP Neverstop Laser, HP Smart Tank and HP OfficeJet Pro – were developed by its R&D teams across the US and the region, including Singapore. Effective and successful collaborations, such as these, are made possible by HP’s investment in its workforce at all levels.
HP Singapore is part of the Human Capital Partnership Programme, a government scheme to encourage employers to develop and train their local workforce to set them up for success in a competitive global market.
While the three HP colleagues are happy that the company continues to invest in them, what makes them stay, and work together, is the bond they’ve built over the years – much of it over those delicious team lunches.
“My colleagues are like family to me and together, we make work fun,” said Lena. “As the saying goes 'when a family eats together, they stay together’.”
Read all the stories in our Diversity At Work series.