Get to Know: Adrian Johnson, Vice President and General Manager – APAC, Hitachi Vantara

Get to Know: Adrian Johnson, Vice President and General Manager – APAC, Hitachi Vantara

Adrian tells us what time in tech has taught him since his first PC in 1983.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

It’s leading a team and being able to watch other people’s careers develop because of their work in the business and with you. Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen people who started out in entry level roles going on to lead businesses in their own right. It’s rewarding to feel you’ve played a part in their journeys and especially so when things move full circle and you end up working with them again in a new organisation.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I always had an interest in computers: I got my first PC in 1983 when mass uptake was just beginning. After completing university, I became an officer in the Royal Australian Navy. Military technology is highly complex – the investment is in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars – and the military has the capacity to build systems you don’t see anywhere else. Having that exposure allowed me to segue into the ICT industry in 1998 when I took up a role with Sun Microsystems.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I believe getting the right people into the right jobs and giving them the right tools to do those jobs is the core function of a leader. And then my management philosophy is one of participative management. Everyone has the opportunity to provide an opinion and contribute to the decision. Ultimately though, someone has to make the decision, particularly if there’s a range of opinions that aren’t consistent, and that’s the role of the leader. It’s also important to foster a culture of commitment to the decision that’s been taken – so you can move forward as a cohesive unit.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

Without question, AI. It’s on everyone’s lips at the moment. That’s an outcome of people thinking about the untapped value in all the data that’s sitting within their organisations. AI is providing the capability to monetise or extract value from that data. There isn’t a conversation with a customer where this doesn’t come up – how they’re thinking about it, what their strategy will be and what impact it may have. Not just on their company but on their industry and on society at large. People really are thinking about this on multiple levels.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Mostly via sporting activities. I swim a lot and play tennis. For the past 14 months I’ve been living in Singapore but back in Sydney I’m a member of the Coogee Surf Lifesaving Club and my summers used to be spent as a volunteer lifesaver on the beach. Spending time with a group of people who are giving their time to help others and keep people safe is a great way to unwind and leave behind what’s happening in the office. Swimming in the pool and exercising in omnipresent humidity here in Singapore is my current substitute. My three adult daughters live in Sydney and spending time with them when I go back is another important part of my life outside work.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I don’t think there’s anything I would change. There are roles you enjoy more than others and people you enjoy working with more than others but what you appreciate in hindsight are the lessons you learnt from each experience. They’re building blocks that enable you to get into the next role, and the next. Going back and changing one of those career decisions would likely create a sliding doors moment where I’d find myself doing something very different today.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

Customers are thinking seriously about sustainability right now. They’re assessing the cost of running their ICT environments – the cost of power, cooling, space and the impact they have on the natural environment. Mass adoption of AI is going to require a fairly major upgrade to digital infrastructure, in order for businesses to be able to run the types of workloads they’re thinking about and we’re seeing leaders becoming far more thoughtful about what they deploy and how. It’s a multi-faceted issue. The private sector understands it has a role to play in addressing the existential threat that is climate change and then there’s a commercial imperative they need to address too: the cost of power is increasing at such a rate that it makes sense to think about sustainability in terms of lowering your cost of operations.

What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?

The big one is being sensitive to the different markets in which we operate. APAC comprises a diverse range of economies and cultures, and a huge melting pot of markets. To be successful, you need to understand what’s unique about each of those markets and what the consistent factors are. Where we are able to take a consistent approach, we get efficiency and where we adapt our offering to match the unique requirements of a particular market, we get effectiveness. That’s the challenge: to achieve the optimum blend of those two things – efficiency and effectiveness – right across the region.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

The next 12 months will be an interesting time. There’s a lot going on geo-politically – a number of large countries have big elections coming up – and that has impacts on the global economy and market conditions. From a business standpoint, companies that survive and thrive will be those that can deal with change and uncertainty and use it to their advantage. That’s what our focus will be.

What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C level position in your industry?

Aim to truly understand the company and the industry you work in, beyond the job you’re in now. If you look at most people in C-suite positions, they’ve typically had a range of experiences and been willing to take a risk, whether that’s moving roles, moving between companies or moving overseas. Think two jobs ahead and be willing to get out of your comfort zone to amass that breadth of experience. Although I wasn’t necessarily as deliberate about it as I’d advise others to be, I’ve worked in tech support, supply chain, operations, pre-sales, sales, professional services, channel and the military.

It’s also important to be able to engage with customers and the broader market: to have conversations that add value and to bring back insights to help shape strategy.

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