Hugh O’Byrne (IBM Vice President Brand Inside Sales Europe): “Make it mean something” – English version


Hugh is Irish, but we could say he fully embodies the famous American dream. Just after the school we started working without going to the college. His first job was for the Dublin City, until an advertisement saying “Apply for being trained as programmer” crossed on his path.

He completed this education and started working programming for several companies.


A little bit later, IBM presented the first PC and was looking for programmers to make it work on different environments. Once again, an advertisement changed the course of Hugh’s career and life.


It’s been over 31 years since, the now President of the most successful division of IBM, started writing code and visiting customers… customers who were increasingly demanding more and more. And that is surely the secret of his success, being able to understand what customers were demanding at all times and, above all, being able to adapt the IBM offering to that particular situation.


Hugh has been in charge of the Inside Sales (IIS) division since 2002, so he really knows what it represents.

“We are one of the fastest IBM’s growing Sales Channel. It is used to primarily manage customer day to day business requirements. In the past this might have meant more servers, more storage, more maintenance, today customers are happy to buy a range of new products and services such as Cloud infrastructure, Mobility and Security Offerings and they show no sign of stopping.  Second element is that customers are bringing their consumer habits into the business world and are expecting a consumer experience when they buy business products and services – putting pressure on delivering a best of breed digital sales experience”- explains Hugh.


The Inside Sales model started to work in 1998, time more than enough to learn and adapt to every change, specially coming from a world where all the business were done face to face, and this concrete model had very low penetration on the market. Now we have moved to an environment where the dominant trend will be the Digital Commerce over the next years. “The IT industry is changing faster than ever and not only that, but everything is happening at the same time, we have never seen something similar” – indicates Hugh about this sales model.


Barely two weeks ago, a new center where all the sales force have been moved, opened its doors in Dublin. Known as The Grid, this new facilities are equipped with the state of the art in technology and has become a world reference in digital commerce, paraphrasing Hugh “It’s the first of the next generation and the biggest, and we will keep being, since we have grown since 1998 by consolidating the service to customers in a big region”.

No doubts, the goal of this big project is to have a more collaborative environment for the different teams with the aim of providing a greater customer proximity and service.

In fact before the end of the year, Jon Iwata (Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM Global) will visit this center.




At this point of our conversation, I cannot help but ask to how many countries is this center giving service, how complicated is to manage people from so many different countries and cultures in the day to day basis.


“We have always been an international business. Firstly we were focused on Western Europe, although we also have Eastern Europe, we have a small center in Bratislava and between us we work with near 50 countries in 5 time zones, and course speaking numerous languages.

Getting people to join us in Dublin has not been difficult, the business has a good reputation built over a long time, Ireland is seen as a great place to get international experience in business for upcoming professionals and now we believe we have a very European culture at all levels of the business. It\’s also reflected in the strong coffee culture of the teams we manage. From a personal viewpoint working in an international environment like this has been one of the best experiences of my career, learning about them, working with them in the way that makes sense and also working to ring everyone together to run one International business for IBM in Europe”.


Beyond the reputation, choosing to locate the Inside Sales in Ireland has other bases. In 1998 IBM analysed the different options for hosting this division and the policies favouring inbound investment as well as a young, skilled workforce and a newly built digital infrastructure to support business really fit the bill. “Over the years we\’ve checked again and again whether we are in the right location and it still works for IBM. Ireland\’s competitive positioning continues to improve, our results in Ireland have been very positive and we all continue to work to ensure we stay ahead of everyone else. For customers it\’s seamless, you call a local number, you talk to a local person – it just happens to be in Dublin. Customers have adapted well to this and our Reps travel to meet them whenever required or indeed us the Digital facilities (Video, messaging, emails etc) to do it virtually. For the countries we act as their extended sales arm, working alongside our colleagues locally in the home country” – completes Hugh, no doubt he is excited for the challenge of this moment we are all living.


The time is going fast talking with Hugh, but I find time to ask him for the strategic priorities of IBM. I’m not surprised of noting that they match with those we have already seen on the IT sector: Cloud, Analytics (or Big Data), Mobility and Security.


Applying those priorities to IIS, it means that the target is to be part of the customers’ day to day requirements “…We also want to support those clients who are happy to do all or part of their journey digitally and we want to be available to support them through whatever medium works best…” – heexplains, putting once more the emphasis on the big effort everybody is doing to be more and more digital inside the company.


Before we finish, and since it’s my area of expertise, I directly ask him for the cloud, the acquisition of SoftLayer (a little bit more of one year ago) and the strategy of IBM on this subject.


Evidently, one of the points he highlights is the migration of customers from SCE (the former IBM cloud solution) to SoftLayer, it was completed at the beginning of this year. “IBM had just purchased SoftLayer. It represented the best option for clients moving forward and we wanted to migrate our customers quickly to the new environment as it offered more flexibility, scalability and security for the future. Since then IBM has invested $1Bn in SoftLayer to allow the business to scale rapidly and expand its capabilities. I\’m delighted the team we have in Dublin were a pivotal part of that migration project with clients. It has been a great success and continues to expand going forwards.”



To conclude our conversation Hugh left me a very interesting thought, \”we now have at our disposal some tools and a very impressive infrastructure … it’s in our hands to make it mean something.\”

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