The Many Faces of SUSE Global Services: An Interview with Kenny Stewart
In the first of “Many Faces of Global Services” blog series, we interview Kenny Stewart, the VP of SUSE Global Services.
During the interview, I learned a lot about Kenny. For instance, Kenny spends his spare time with family and friends. His passions are watching his favorite football team, the ABERDEEN FC and fine whisky (not necessarily in that order). I would never have guessed it but Kenny shared that he is quite the musician and that his “secret talent” is playing the Celtic drums, the Bodhrán. (And if you don’t know what a Bodhrán is, watch the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Not only will you see the Bodhrán, but you’ll see a great movie!) Kenny finds that playing music provides an escape from the day to day of working life and helps to relax him.
Continue on to learn a little bit more about the man heading up SUSE Global Services.
Kenny, tell us a little about your early career and how you got into IT.
I started work in an insurance office as an office admin, which I loved. A few years later a role opened in IT. This was in the days of the large, 24-hour manned data center. Because I started as a shift operator on IBM and ICL mainframes, I worked a lot of back and night shifts to ensure the CICS/IMS/JCL jobs ran as planned and intervened where required. This was great fun because I had my days free!
I eventually moved to the network team, planning, upgrading and installing new Wide Area Networks and Local Area Networks on Token Ring, Ethernet and FDDI. Switches, routers and cabling that are neatly installed in computer rooms and patch panels are works of art in my eyes!
So if you started in an insurance company, how did you end up at SUSE?
After working in on the network team for a couple of companies, I teamed up with a few other guys to start my own consulting, services and support company in 1996. A few years later, Novell wanted to expand services capability and approached us. And, after about 9 months of negotiation, we ended up selling our company to Novell (Novell acquired SUSE in 2003; MicroFocus spun off SUSE as a business unit in 2014).
I joined Novell in Sales running the Sales team and moved to Services some years later. In 2017, a decision was made to move SUSE Global Services out from Micro Focus. At that time, I was managing all services for EMEA spanning all the various business units, including SUSE. I was approached my Nils Brauckmann and instead of having “a chat,” we ended up having a very intensive 2 – 3 hour meeting, which turned out to be my interview. I accepted the position and formed the group that May with 64 people. By the end of the year we were at 85 and today we stand at over 90 with a number of open headcount. The growth of this team has been outstanding and the people are amazing. It’s in our DNA to be customer focused and I really believe it’s the people that make the difference.
Shifting gears a little, tell us who inspires you.
This might seem a bit sentimental, but I would have to say my Dad. He was right all along. He gave me some advice when I first started working that has stuck with me. He told me that I would do well in business as long as I adhered to three main principles:
- Honesty: be honest and be true to yourself
- Kindness: try to get along with people to get the best out of them and always be straight forward to work with even when difficult conversations have to happen
- Work Hard: always do your best and make sure you end each day knowing you gave it your best shot
These are principles that I have adhered to and have helped me become successful. I will definitely be sharing them with my children as they go off to start their careers.
Moving back to SUSE Global Services, tell us a little about the most difficult services project you’ve worked on?
Running network projects are always on the difficult side because you have incredible deadline challenges. Since you can only take the network down during the weekend, the team often works long hours on weekends to get systems implemented or upgraded so they are up and running for Monday morning. Some of those went to the wire but none missed the deadline.
A more recent difficult project I worked on was the integration of services from The Attachmate Group to MicroFocus. This was tough as we had very different business models and tight deadlines. Despite this, we succeeded and we hit our numbers in the first year of integration. (MicroFocus spun off SUSE Global Services as its own business unit in 2017).
Obviously “failure is not an option” for you! Moving from difficult to fun, let’s talk about one of the most satisfying consulting project.
One of the most satisfying projects was setting up a new services business in the UK from scratch in 1996. It is risky starting your own business but we did it! We had great people in the company and it ran successfully for 4 years before agreeing to sell to Novell in 2000. I am still here as a result of that!
And we are very glad about that! Shifting again away from work, what was the best concert you have ever went to?
The Rolling Stones at Hampden Park in Glasgow in 2006 as my expectations were blown out of the water, after all they have been around since 1962! I thought they would be good but they were outstanding. The way they jumped around on stage proves that age is merely a number!
Amazing, isn’t it since both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are 74! Moving on, what’s the book that made the most lasting impression on you? Why?
While I’m not a huge fan of business books, I did enjoy a book called “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson. It’s a short book on how to cope positively with change. The story involves four characters who live in a maze: two mice called Scurry and Sniff, and two ‘little people’, Hem and Haw. It is a simple story that shows the impact of the choices we make when faced with change.
And we know that nothing changes faster than software, right? Kenny, As the VP of Global Services can you give us a glimpse into what a day in the life of your role looks like?
Planes, trains and automobiles! I can tell you that it is interesting, challenging, fun and no two days are the same. I spend a lot of time on the road visiting our people and our customers – from Provo to Beijing. The SUSE Global Services team are absolutely brilliant. They are very dedicated and professional who just love doing the right thing for our customers. It is a joy and an honor to lead such a talented team!
I agree 100% and I am super excited to interview a number of them for this series. We say SUSE is the “open, open-source company.” What does “open” mean to you?
“Open” to me means more than just the technical aspects of being open which we all know about. It is also about how we deal with each other and with our customers and partners. It is all about the special culture we have at SUSE; a culture that gives us our edge. Just ask some of the recent hires, they will tell you that we have something special going on here.
What are three things you love about working at SUSE?
- The people. I have already mentioned how brilliant my team are. I have to say that the people that I interact with in other teams are also fantastic. The talent we have here at SUSE is outstanding. Most companies have good software solutions. It’s the people that make the difference.
- Culture. There is truly something special about the culture at SUSE that is driven down from our CEO and Executive team through to our engineers and consultants. It is so refreshing to have no politics at play in SUSE.
- Continuous improvement. There is never a dull moment at SUSE in our dynamic and adaptable company. There are lots of positive things happening with our Emerging Solutions which we are all exciting about.
I want to personally thank Kenny for his time and authenticity during the interview and opening up about his role at SUSE, the company culture, and the passion he has for our customers – making him the perfect fit for his role as Vice President, SUSE Global Services.
Wondering who’s next? Watch the blog for our next SUSE Global Services interview!