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)