December 15, 2017
Brian Tippens on Following Your Passion—the Right Way
Not many executives take a demotion out of passion. Then again, not every leader is Brian Tippens.
Tippens started at Hewlett Packard (HP) at the turn of the millennium in Roseville, California. He came to the company after a few years at Intel, where he was fresh out of law school.
As a lawyer by training, Tippens’ initial roles inside the company were all legal, with a focus in intellectual licensing property work. In 2004, he and his family relocated to Houston, Texas to do some Microsoft-specific licensing work.
However, Tippens felt a need to do more.
“I am one of these people that is naïve enough to think, ‘I can change the world,’” said Tippens. “I wanted to do well by doing good.”
Tippens has always enjoyed volunteering in his community and extracurricular work. So it’s no surprise that in 2006, he was engaging in supplier diversity involved in a multicultural procurement and sales support program, where he was able to attend trade shows and talk to people from underrepresented businesses interested in HP. After the people in this full-time role full-time left the company, Tippens was asked to take over, despite the position being posted at a lower level. He accepted.
“I chased after this role out of passion, and it was almost more heart than head,” said Tippens. “I was taking a step back to do it, but it was the best career move I’ve ever made.”
He continued with supply-chain diversity for several years, then took a brief diversion to work with the HP Global Real Estate leadership team. In 2014, he was asked to take on his current role of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), which he now serves as part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
“I thought it was an attractive way to match my passion with a real business imperative,” said Tippens. “I feel like I’ve got the best job in the company.”
Tippens has recently returned from Peru, where he was invited to speak to Universidad de Lima students for an international seminar on the topic of Technology Innovation Entrepreneurship to hundreds of next-generation leaders. He also took advantage of traveling to visit the HPE Lima office to discuss what drives leadership and culture engagement—something he’s practically an expert in after working 20 years in the industry.
Tippens with university students in Lima, Peru.
The Role of Diversity in the Valley
The role of CDO is rising in the tech industry nowadays, arguably due to heightened external scrutiny of workforce demographics. Yet, the role is so necessary to ensure employee diversification—especially in the historically predominantly white, male Silicon Valley.
“I feel like a lot of companies are appointing CDOs purely in a reactive way, which is not ideal, but at least it’s getting the momentum going to fill those roles,” said Tippens. “Inclusion and diversity doesn’t happen organically.”
It’s true that encompassment doesn’t happen naturally, which HPE recognizes. That’s why there are Business Resource Groups (ERGs). With over 120 chapters across 30 countries, these employee-led communities offer a network focused on leadership and career development, all while creating business value. Over one-third of these organizations are women’s groups, and there are many devoted to African-American employees.
However, diversity does not only pertain to gender and ethnicity. It encompasses a variety of differences among people in an organization, including age, ability, sexual orientation, education, and more.
Just last year, there was a deliberate choice made to retitle Tippens’ team “Inclusion and Diversity,” highlighting the focus on broadening the inclusive culture to ensure every employee is able to “bring their whole self to work each and every day.”
Tippens explained that there are “three C’s” to understanding diversity at HPE.
The first C is for compliance, because HPE does business around the world and meets global regulatory requirements regarding employing an inclusive and diverse workforce.
The second C is for corporate social responsibility, where the diversity of HPE’s workforce should reflect the diversity of the customer and supply base, in order to “live by the brand.”
The third and most important C is for competitive advantage. For HPE, having a diverse workforce helps to win in the marketplace. Diverse teams are more collaborative and innovative; it helps to attract and retain the brightest and best workers too. A lot of customers also value inclusion and want to see HPE aligned with the same goals.
At the end of the day, diversity drives business value.
Career Advice for Students
“University is the perfect time to begin to be conscious of the importance of inclusion and collaboration,” said Tippens. It’s vital to build inclusive practices now when working with others—this can be as simple valuing everyone’s opinions when forming student project teams.
According to Tippens, it is never too early for students to start considering personal brand image and networking.
“As future leaders, start thinking about your own brand and the image you want to portray and project, because someone is always watching,” said Tippens. He believes it’s especially important when seeking out first internships or jobs, because “reputation is everything.” This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where a lot gets done on the basis of networking relationships.
Tippens encourages those who are considering future employment to examine the cultural fit of the workplace, even if it’s not for the long-term.
“Be very conscious of the culture of the company that you’re going to work for when seeking a job,” said Tippens. “If you just chase the glitz and the glamour of the role because of the company brand name, it’ll be hard to be happy and successful there if the company culture doesn’t align with your personal values.”
He acknowledged that in this current economy, employees will often enter a company and not desire to stay there for their entire career. However, if there is a good cultural fit with a company, take the opportunity to work there, even if won’t be the rest of your tenure.
Tippens also noted that candidates should also take into account what value a job will give, as well as what skillset requirement or personal area of interest it will satisfy. Lastly, job-seekers should discern if the workplace already contains hires that resemble them, and if their career aspirations will be met.
Currently, Tippens continues to serve as the Chief Diversity Officer at HPE. In November, Tippens attended the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC) Silicon Valley Leadership Summit. He participated in a fireside chat with Andre Arbelaez, Chief Strategy Officer of Softtek USA, where they spoke of the need for companies to work collectively to make an impact on diversity and inclusion, as well as how current leaders can foster and develop future leaders.
Tippens with Andre Arbelaez at the 2017 HITEC Summit.
Tippens is a board member or advisor to several external organizations including United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council (HITEC), Operation HOPE, California Disabled Veterans Business Alliance, The Latino Coalition, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and the Executive Leadership Council Institute for Leadership Development & research.
He was recently recognized as one of the Top 50 diversity professionals in industry for embracing the “challenge to create a more inclusive and equal society,” especially regarding his work promoting supplier diversity outside of the U.S.
Learn more about HPE’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.
Follow Brian Tippens on Twitter.
Erin Fox is a junior studying marketing and journalism. She is the News Editor of The Santa Clara and an intern with Hewlett Packard Enterprise.