Entrepreneur working at the intersection of enterprise software, outsourcing and digital media who has built technology/media ventures in Europe, Asia and America. Combines the ability to identify major market trends with pragmatic business execution.
You can find my work history over at LinkedIn which uses the reverse chronological format (most recent work comes first). That does make sense for a quick read on “does this guy work in an area similar to me, should we talk”. However I usually find that when I meet somebody, I want to hear their story, their “history” if you like. Maybe that is a habit I acquired from studying History at Oxford. I find it a good habit as it helps me to understand the whole person. To save time when we talk, here is a quick history in normal chronological format. It is my story, I am not attempting to fit myself into the sort of box you find at LinkedIn or in a Corporate Bio or Resume/CV.
I was born in Berlin, we then moved to Beirut, two cold war hotspots because my father worked for MI6. Aged 7 I started at British Boarding Schools. Wherever we lived, I always went to the Swiss Alps for 4 weeks every winter as my father was a fanatic skier. So Switzerland feels like home and that is where I live now.
I studied History at Oxford University (Oriel College) and was lucky enough to hear lectures from a brilliant Historian called A.J.P. Taylor. I had a small twinge about the decision to study history (“useless liberal arts degree”) but a wise fellow told me that it is about training your mind muscle and what you actually learn is irrelevant to work as everything changes so fast. History proved a surprisingly good training for navigating the hyper-change of the technology industry, helping me to quickly evaluate information from multiple sources, being sceptical of motivations behind information, to arrive at a decent approximation of reality.
I briefly considered an academic career but was too keen to be in the real world. The real world of toil and trouble in 1977 when I left Oxford was pretty tough. This was the 3 day week, strikes, riots, far worse unemployment than today – the Sex Pistols and Clash resonated with this reality. After a few totally dead end jobs (night shifts in factories have interesting characters), I sold encyclopaedias to American soldiers in Germany for 9 months, which was enough to pay off my debts (tiny by today’s college debt standards). Then I started looking for “real” work, the type of work that college graduates are supposed to do. The conversations went like this:
Me: “I got a 2.1 in History from Oxford”
Employer (stifling a yawn): “Yes, what else have you done?”
Me: “I sold encyclopaedias successfully for 9 months”
Employer: “You can sell! Well that is interesting. Let me tell you about what we do…”
I was typecast. The shy academic had become a salesman. Oh well, it paid the bills and as I loved to ski, my bills were not small. Luckily, I stumbled upon the IT industry and a pre-cursor to the Internet that is now a footnote in IT history. I sold ad space for a publisher that became a pioneer of online publishing using Prestel videotex in 1980. This videotex/viewdata business was uncannily like the Internet today, at least in it’s ambitions, but this was before the PC so it never took off. I was hired by a software start-up (funded with Government money) that had a mission to sell the Prestel videotex technology globally. We had some successes before that market collapsed. The company had a good scalable platform and superb developers and I was given the mission of “find a problem to solve”. That led me to the City of London when it was in it’s Big Bang deregulation process and we found lots of problems around real time event driven technology (what became known later as Information Bus and Publish/Subscribe). The UK market crashed in October 1987, so I took the company into Europe and then into the big one – Wall Street – in 1990. This front office trading systems company (Aregon) merged with Kapiti (back office banking systems) and I took over the combined sales team in America. The company was all set for IPO and then got bought out by Misys who were on their way to become the UK’s largest software company by applying Hanson Trust’s roll-up and re-engineer model from industrial companies to software companies. Then I was asked to run the Asian operations. That was a fun learning curve and led me to India (new banks were being licensed and they were great sales targets and we did well there).
In India I found the nascent outsourcing industry and lots of scrappy start-ups that wanted to pay me (mostly in equity with enough retainers and success fees to pay the bills) to help them with global business development. I did that for many years with a great Indian partner and we learnt that founding companies was more profitable and enjoyable than advising very early stage companies, so we did some of that.
The technology nuclear winter required some tough deal-making to get by and some soul-searching. I decided to stay in IT (despite siren voices saying it was dead and I should move into something else) but move more into consumer and media as I could see the early stirrings of what we now call consumerization, cloud and SaaS. That about brings me up to date and hopefully gives a bit of colour to my bland statement that I like to work at the intersection of enterprise software, outsourcing and digital media.