Mariya Kosanova: Transparency is the only way to build a sustainable and resilient business

Interview with Mariya Kosanova, Managing Director, Hewlett Packard Enterprise operated by Selectium (Bulgaria)

Ms. Kosanova, how has Hewlett Packard Enterprise (herein: HPE) changed and continues to change the industry, what are the solutions and approaches the company has undertaken for the first time in Bulgaria?

On a global level, the company has created many trends and innovations – from Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard’s garage, which is considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, to the world’s fastest supercomputer at the moment – Frontier, created for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)* . I wouldn’t elaborate on changes particularly, but I’d very much like to point out what sets us apart from other companies. I am proud to work at HPE and what I have always liked about the company are the values it professes and the way it does business. We are absolutely open, transparent and honest in our overall treatment of customers – all the information we give them is very detailed and can be verified.

This doesn’t always bring instant benefits, because sometimes customers prefer to see something more pretentious. What do I mean by that? Every technology works differently under the so-called “perfect conditions”. But these conditions often differ from the actual conditions in which a given solution will work. Therefore, it is important to present the customer with the actual performance parameters of the solution, not the perfect ones. This is the business standard for HPE not only in Bulgaria, but worldwide as well.

Of course, the company puts at the highest level values like its attitude towards its employees, healthy working environment, diversity. We serve as an example with internal initiatives that are related to the equal treatment of people regardless of age, gender and religion.

The company is known for being among the pioneers in Bulgaria in the concept of “open space office”, in which employees and managers work in a common environment, without physical barriers between one another. Does this also contribute to the company’s transparency and values?

The open office concept is still in place. This is determined by HPE’s open door policy – you can go and talk to anyone in the company without following a strict hierarchy. There is a rather popular story that Meg Whitman (HPE’s CEO from September 2011 to February 2018) removed two of her office walls to avoid isolating herself from her fellow employees.

To what extent does the local management of each country office have operational autonomy in decision-making? How are teams selected?

Each manager has the freedom to make their own decisions, for example whether they need people and what people specifically, in what direction the team should grow, where it can be optimized. But whatever flexibility there is, it always involves following certain rules (compliance). The compliance policy applies not only to people, but to every single decision. There are strict rules about how pricing is done, how products are positioned, there are rules that even apply to the image of executives and their public representation. Lots of the decisions are made locally and we are held responsible here on local level, but those decisions are always linked to global policies and procedures of the company.

How is your staff selected, trained and developed, what do you focus on in recruitment and career development procedures?

What’s great about us is that anyone can ask to go through various training courses and the company will either partially or fully fund those. The company itself has an Education Hub where different modules are offered to employees. For example, I’ve been through Sales training, Management skills training, Negotiation skills training, and I’m actually currently participating in a training as well.

Which of your main requirements apply to partners, suppliers and others? Do you also have trainings available for them?

Partners must comply with absolutely all the rules that the company follows, including our Business Ethics Code. Initially, if a company wants to become a partner, a process of screening is being performed. Among the mandatory conditions are that child labor is prohibited, the company must treat its employees equally, harassment and corruption also must not exist. All these things are listed in a set of rules that not only we as employees have to follow but they also apply to all our contractors. If there is an allegation of misconduct in the course of work, cases are taken up and dealt with swiftly. Monitoring is in place and any company can be audited at any time.

Regarding trainings – yes, our partners do undergo trainings in order to be certified.

What does your Ethics Code include and are there other rules of conduct within the company?

We have anti-corruption rules, we have equal treatment requirements, and requirements for confidentiality of information, which apply to any information that may be considered sensitive. Even any computer in the office must always be locked whenever an employee is not in front of it.

In your early days with the company, what were the main challenges you faced?

As a university student, I worked for a company that had some common ground with the IT industry and we worked with the then Hewlett-Packard Company (HP). I would often pass by the HP office and I would say to myself that I really wanted to work for this company. In early 2009, there was an open position, I applied, went through interviews, and started working at HP in February. I was impressed by the neatness of everything, how there are rules for everything. It is funny to me now to remember that in the first month I didn’t really understand what my colleagues were saying – they were using a lot of abbreviations the meanings of which were unknown to me at the time.

One of the biggest challenges in corporations is that there is always a lot of internal change. They are determined by the business environment – if you stick with a status quo for too long, the results start to be affected. And that’s why we accept change as something natural. This helped us a lot during the pandemic, for example, and it helps us a lot now in these turbulent business conditions. And most employees wouldn’t even get stressed that much anymore, because each year there has been some change – it might be something small, some process, but when people accept change as something normal, they tend not to stress over it too much.

What was the most difficult and, as opposed, what was the most pleasant surprise for you related to the company?

When we have new colleagues coming in we often tell them about things that have happened to us over the years we have been with the company, we usually share funny stories, fun, positive things. So I believe that remembering the good things is a sign of positive attitude towards the company and the good times we’ve had and shared in the company.
Certainly, there have been many difficult moments. As in any large corporation, the pressure on the sales team is enormous – in terms of targets, forecast, how much you’re going to make, when you’re going to close deals, here’s what you’re going to do, why it’s not happening yet, etc. So you have to be in the know and ready with answers at any moment.
However, the attitude of the company towards employees has always been top notch, so the positive moments and recognition make working there worth all the effort.

How would you assess the business environment in Bulgaria and what would you change if it were up to you?

I think the Bulgarian market is not as mature as people think. The mismatch between the maturity of people in general and the maturity of the IT sector in particular, and even the maturity of the public sector, in my opinion, confuses the environment here. Fortunately, perhaps, the IT sector is not tied so much to the local market and it has made itself available in markets outside the country. There are large foreign companies that have come here, but their business is entirely focused externally, while using the advantages of local tax breaks and human capital and resources. But if we talk specifically about the local market, I think there is a lot that can be improved. What I most believe is that if each person does what is right or what they want to see in the future in terms of development – whether for themselves or for the country – then that will be a steady step towards contribution to progress.

The interview with Maria Kosanova is published in BGlobal magazine, no. 27, November-December, 2022.

Photos: Tony Tonchev