How a dy­namic ex­ec­u­tive drives a tech gi­ant’s Asean busi­ness through teamwork and balance

His mul­ti­fac­eted strat­egy in­volves achiev­ing not only fi­nan­cial strength but also mar­ket, cus­tomer, and em­ployee ob­jec­tives through col­lab­o­ra­tion and in­clu­sive­ness.


When Damien Wong joined Red Hat over seven years ago, he faced the task of re­vi­tal­is­ing the re­gional Asean busi­ness and mo­ti­vat­ing a de­mor­alised team of less than 20 as­so­ci­ates.

“I had to over­come the team’s ini­tial skep­ti­cism as to whether I would be able to help them or even sur­vive long enough in the role to make a dif­fer­ence. I had to un­der­stand the strengths of each of the as­so­ci­ates, man­age out those who were overly neg­a­tive, help with op­er­a­tional is­sues and meet with cus­tomers and part­ners, and get ev­ery­one onboard with a sim­ple but holis­tic strat­egy,” he re­calls.

The at­mos­phere turned pos­i­tive when Red Hat started win­ning new deals, which gave the team mem­bers a sense of ac­com­plish­ment and greater con­fi­dence in the firm. Thus far, the bright­est gem in Wong’s man­age­ment is his suc­cess in util­is­ing a “bal­anced score­card” ap­proach as the foun­da­tion of Red Hat’s ASEAN

2.0 Strat­egy for the fis­cal years (FY) 2016–2018. This mul­ti­fac­eted strat­egy in­volves achiev­ing not only fi­nan­cial strength but also mar­ket, cus­tomer, and em­ployee ob­jec­tives through col­lab­o­ra­tion and in­clu­sive­ness. Ev­i­dently, this ap­proach has pow­ered Red Hat’s rise to the apex of its in­dus­try in South­east Asia.

Strong team en­gage­ment

Red Hat Inc., the world’s top provider of open-source en­ter­prise soft­ware, has for­ti­fied its pres­ence in the Asia-pa­cific mar­ket by of­fer­ing valu­able prod­ucts as well as first-rate sup­port ser­vices and train­ing pro­grammes. In crafting Red

Hat’s ASEAN 2.0 Strat­egy, Wong and his col­leagues jointly iden­ti­fied Lag In­di­ca­tors, such as dou­bling the com­pany’s book­ings (fi­nan­cial goal), driv­ing the port­fo­lio (mar­ket goal), de­light­ing their cus­tomers (cus­tomer goal), and de­vel­op­ing a rock­star team (em­ployee goal).

Fur­ther­more, a set of Lead In­di­ca­tors for each Lag In­di­ca­tor, as well as Ini­tia­tives to sup­port the Lead In­di­ca­tors, were for­mu­lated. The Ini­tia­tives in­cluded suc­cess­ful cus­tomer projects and a re­ward pro­gramme to in­cen­tivise clients. The re­sults were mon­i­tored and re­ported quar­terly, thus cre­at­ing a stream­lined path to growth.

The pre­cepts of modern lead­er­ship

Recog­nised as Ex­ec­u­tive of the Year in the Com­puter Soft­ware cat­e­gory of the SBR Man­age­ment Ex­cel­lence Awards 2018,

Wong cites The Open Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a book by Red Hat’s CEO James White­hurst, as an in­spi­ra­tion for his lead­er­ship style.

The book de­fines the “con­fig­ure–en­able– en­gage” ap­proach, which rep­re­sents a shift from the tra­di­tional “plan–pre­scribe– ex­e­cute” mode. Wong says that he iden­ti­fies closely with these prin­ci­ples. In­deed, his own ex­pe­ri­ence at Red Hat shows that ig­nit­ing pas­sion within a team is cru­cial in en­sur­ing su­pe­rior per­for­mance.

Specif­i­cally, con­fig­ur­ing en­tails “putting the right peo­ple in the right places” whilst con­sid­er­ing un­pre­dictable dis­rup­tions that may af­fect long-term targets. In this sense, adapt­abil­ity and agility are es­sen­tial.

Since top–down pre­scrip­tion is no longer ef­fec­tive in a fast-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy ecosys­tem, enabling is also nec­es­sary. This means “em­pow­er­ing the right peo­ple and trust­ing them to do the right things for the team.”

Fi­nally, in­stead of rigid im­ple­men­ta­tion of plans, en­gage­ment calls for open­ness to di­verse ideas across the or­gan­i­sa­tion. This ap­proach helps the team to fore­see dis­rup­tions and re­spond ac­cord­ingly based on a shared vi­sion. These in­no­va­tive steps are tied to­gether by a “spe­cific, mea­sur­able, achiev­able, re­al­is­tic, and time­bound” (SMART) method of eval­u­at­ing re­sults.

Chal­lenges as learn­ing experience­s

Wong states that ad­mit­ting mis­takes and fail­ures is an im­por­tant trait of a true leader. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!

The se­cret to suc­cess is to pick your­self up each time you fall, keep­ing in mind how you can do bet­ter the next time around. So long as it does not have cat­a­strophic con­se­quences, such fail­ures al­low us to im­prove in an it­er­a­tive fash­ion, be­com­ing

bet­ter by in­ter­nal­is­ing what we have learnt,” he af­firms.

Un­der his lead­er­ship and de­spite the chal­lenges posed by mar­ket un­cer­tain­ties, Red Hat has ex­panded its port­fo­lio of so­lu­tion of­fer­ings whilst dou­bling the size of its work­force. These mile­stones within a rel­a­tively short pe­riod have been pos­si­ble through sus­tained ef­fort and con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion in a man­ner that ap­pre­ci­ates ev­ery in­di­vid­ual’s role, as re­flected in Wong’s grat­i­tude for his team­mates’ con­tri­bu­tions. Mov­ing for­ward, he in­tends to con­tinue nur­tur­ing “free­dom, courage, commitment, and ac­count­abil­ity” in a ro­bust com­pany cul­ture.

“True lead­er­ship is about help­ing oth­ers to do the right things right, even when they have a choice not to fol­low you.”

Damien Wong, Vice Pres­i­dent and Gen­eral Man­ager for Asian Growth and Emerg­ing Mar­kets (GEMS)

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