What were your steps toward becoming sales operations program manager?
Henry: My career at Dell started out in sales, as an account manager for relationship customers in Latin America and the Caribbean. This gave me great visibility to our core business, but I wasn't too involved with the inner workings of the company. I then transitioned into a solutions architect role, managing deployment services for large corporate customers. It was in this role that I started to get interested in sales operations. When I had an opportunity to interview for a program manager role, I jumped at it, and here I am, three years later, supporting some of our largest customers around the globe.
What do you like best about your program manager role?
Henry: I love that every day is a challenge, and every day is different. Even though I sometimes have to spend time on documentation and governance, the challenges that I field from customers - internal and external - are what keep my blood going and bring me to work every day, ready for battle. Whether it's coming up with a creative way to meet a customer's unique requirement or pushing our support teams to the limit in order to deliver to a customer's expectation, every day is different. I also love the fact that, despite being a large corporation, Dell still operates like a much smaller company and we pride ourselves in our flexibility and ability to react quickly and decisively to deliver a great purchasing experience. I probably have a lot more leeway than my counterparts at other firms of this size, and I appreciate the responsibility that I am given to go execute. A couple of years ago I was tasked with delivering a replacement notebook to a USMC corporal deployed to the Green Zone in Baghdad. It took a lot of creative thought and the dedication of many different people in the organization to get this done in a very aggressive time frame, but we rose to the challenge and accomplished our mission. At the time, our delivery confirmation came from the carrier and the generic acknowledgment from the marine's unit, but about six months later, I received a battered envelope at my desk. Inside was a hand-written note from this brave warrior, thanking us for all our efforts and telling us that his new notebook allowed him to keep in touch with his family throughout his deployment. It was one of the proudest moments of my career, and that letter is still on my desk, as a reminder that we don't just manufacture product and deliver it.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an operations program manager?
Henry: Wow, where do I start? We live in a world of limited (and often competing) resources and it's often a struggle to find a balance. Customers can sometimes take three months to plan an IT refresh, which allows us a robust procurement, fulfillment and delivery plan, but sometimes we get notified that we've received a large, previously un-forecasted purchase order and that can really impact our supply chain planning. Multiply this by thousands of customers and you realize how difficult this can get! Another challenge I often encounter is scope creep; we craft a plan around known variables and - sometimes within hours of pulling the trigger - additional variables are presented and we have to modify the plan on the go. That usually keeps things interesting! Finally, our company's expanding global footprint can also be very challenging. You can have a customer in Europe buying equipment for their operations in the Middle East and Central America, with our own resources based out of Texas, Panama and Quezon City in the Philippines. Bringing everyone together and overcoming language barriers and cultural nuances can be very challenging.
Can you recall any sobering moments from your program manager job?
Henry: Supporting some of our Department of Defense customers, we regularly encounter situations that challenge our logistics capabilities. Without getting into details for privacy/security reasons, we're often called upon to deliver product to very remote locations, during military operations, under very challenging circumstances. It is a sobering task that we take very seriously, and focus on meeting these challenges head on, acknowledging the seriousness of the mission, and the potential impact of failure. As we - and our biggest customers - globalize our operations, we're often caught juggling global challenges and having to craft very creative solutions. As such, it may take a conference call between an engineer in Singapore, a program manager in Texas, a support team in Panama and a logistics team in Poland to address an issue for a customer in Brazil that is trying to expand operations into South Africa!
Do you have any advice for those interested in a program manager career?
Henry: The best advice I can give you is to be open-minded! Throw away your preconceptions about the role of program manager, be willing to be flexible, to adapt, to absorb and accept the opinions of others. Don't spend all your time crafting the perfect plan, because variables that you don't control can often throw the plan into disarray in a matter of minutes, and your success will be measured on your ability to modify the plan to meet the new environment. Don't keep your head in the weeds! While our performance plan may be focused on tactical execution, it's often your ability to see and think and plan strategically that allows you to execute. Be aware of the business environment around you. Don't ignore corporate politics, but don't get bogged down by them either. Most importantly, enjoy what you do! Seek satisfaction in the interaction with peers from all over the world, take pride in what your company stands for, and try to have fun every day!
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