Reaching for the Stars - in conversation with Tara J. Agen

Talking Trends
5 min readJul 11, 2023
The ice cream cone with the stars was a painting/drawing done by Tara at age 5 and won an award at an art institute she attended at the time. Now, this piece is affiliated with Pratt, the art school she will be attending in the Fall of 2024.

Reaching for the stars and aiming to be the best can be intimidating — realistically, you won’t ever achieve perfection; however, this should not stop you from setting “better” as your goal. When aspiration and commitment work together on a journey toward being the best, then your better will always be the destination.

We’re in an ongoing conversation with Tara J. Agen, an inspirational, people-first leader who is future-focused and always looking ahead. She is an innovator, navigator, and listener with a gift to see the potential in anything and anyone. She embraces the future, faster, in all she does and delivers as an artist and as a businesswoman.

Most people who know you know that you have a successful career in business at a Fortune 50 company. As part of that success, you ran a $3.5B business unit at HP Inc. Can you talk to us about your unusual journey to get there?

“I initially came to Hewlett-Packard as an entrepreneur and working in the advertising business. What made me stay with Hewlett-Packard/HP Inc for a good portion of my career, were the company’s values aligning so closely with my own, trust and respect for the individual and when you make a profit, you make a contribution to your community in a significant way. Additionally, I was inspired by Carolyn Ticknor. SVP and General Manager of the LaserJet and Networking division. In my first eighteen months at HP, I had just created HP’s first sports marketing partnership with the Boston Celtics — as part of that partnership, we brought HP executives to meet with our key enterprise customers and channel partners in New England. At one of our customer/Celtics events, she and I happened to be in the bathroom and had a sidebar conversation while washing our hands. I know it sounds a bit trivial, but I never thought I’d be having an impromptu business conversation with a talented, visible, and important female executive. Seeing someone like myself was significant at that time. I had many early career experiences that never exposed me to women leading, especially a significant business for the company I had just joined.

“At that moment, this exact experience changed my mind about what was possible in my own career path. I felt that there was somebody I could aspire to be like — you don’t know how to get to the top until you see somebody there that looks like you. Through Carolyn’s openness to speak with me, and throughout my career, ongoing conversations with her, I could see that women could be at the top; I wanted to be there too and aspired to grow in that direction. I also wanted to bring other women up the ladder with me, as Carolyn and other HP executive women did for me. Even early in my career, I knew I wanted to lead people to a more impactful place for HP and felt very encouraged that HP embraced leaders from all aspects of diversity.

“On my mission toward becoming an executive leader, I embraced continuous learning to be the best person for the role by being ready. I had a terrific boss who said ‘Tara, if you want your next job, start doing that now’. I took calculated risks, drove for first/best/only in the work/products I created, and I positioned to get the necessary experience, capability, or skill through both formal learning and on-the-job training. Curiosity was my compass and guidance.

About twelve years into my career at HP, I was interested in my first executive position leading Office Product Super Stores as a Sales Leader — I didn’t get the role. I came in second. I was told I had to have P&L experience and this is what the person had that was awarded the role. My then-manager and I agreed we needed to take that deficit off the table for the future. He supported my growth by investing in my education to learn finance in an immersive six-week course through Columbia University Business School’s Executive Education.

“I loved the program, especially since I had the opportunity to learn with other people that worked at Wall Street trading firms, Finance/Consumer Banks, Investment Banks, and NYC’s entertainment industry. This opportunity gave me the education, training, and deep confidence I needed to understand business fundamentals and financials, how to look at growth in a business and financial analytics — I even walked away from it thinking, ‘Why didn’t I ever think about investment and finance as a career path?’

“As a leader, I have encouraged people who are on my team to find the time to go beyond on-the-job learning and really understand how you can grow their capabilities and skills faster Lifelong curiosity inspires lifelong training and learning. When the time was right, I was ready to lead financially at HP. This experience and investment that HP made in me, and I made in myself, gave me the confidence to lead a $3.5B business for the corporation.”

Thank you for this insight into your experience, Tara.

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Tara J. Agen is a future-focused, creative collaborator with a 360-degree problem-solving perspective. Having led huge business transformations and driven growth for years, Tara is an inspirational expert at guiding strategy from inception through execution as well as attracting, developing, and retaining talent. A holistic communicator who creates win-win situations, Tara is an optimist.

Connect with Tara on LinkedIn.

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