2 July 2018
What was your earliest childhood ambition?
I grew up in a Council House in a district of Liverpool called Fazakerley. I guess like the vast majority of working class schoolboys, I wanted to be a footballer, playing of course for Liverpool FC! I was captain of my school soccer team, I even made it to the “Liverpool Boys” team, however I soon realised I just wasn’t talented enough. I soon got over my disappointment and quickly focused my ambitions elsewhere.
What was it like growing up in Liverpool?
Sadly my dad died of lung cancer when I was 8 years old. My mum, who worked as a school cleaner, was therefore left to bring up myself and my three older sisters. Mum did an amazing job looking after us with next to nothing. We never went hungry, never felt cold, and all very much loved. There is a saying “what you have never had you never miss”, we had very very little, though I never felt underprivileged.
Private school or state school? University or straight into work?
Ha ha…..definitely state school, no other option.
I was fortunate enough to go to a secondary school in Everton, a district of Liverpool, this is where I got my first real lucky break. Although the school wasn’t great, in fact it was pretty tough in every sense of the word, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing math’s teach called Mike Howarth. Mike spotted a bit of talent in me and he persuaded me that I was good enough to go to University. I didn’t know anyone who had been to university. My only exposure to what it might be, was a TV programme called, University Challenge! It was hugely intimidating, as I thought all the students were the same, answering questions on Shakespeare, Greek Mythology or French post renaissance poets! I couldn’t answer any!
My second piece of good fortune was going to University at that time when education was state funded. I suspect I would never have gone if I had to borrow money, we had none and borrowing money was a no no!
What did you study at University?
Math’s was all I knew, so that was the subject I chose. I went to Cardiff University and after receiving my degree I decided to keep going and head to Manchester University to do a PhD in Theoretical Physics, which is basically applied maths. The PhD took me exactly 3 years, which was pretty fast. However, I had a big incentive, 3 years was how long the funding lasted!
Who was the most influential person when you were young?
My mum, my three sisters and my math’s teacher Mike Howarth.
What was your first job and how did you find it?
Well, I worked every school summer to make some pocket money. I had a variety of manual jobs from picking potatoes, stripping down old engines, to being a school cleaning (my mum helped me get that job!).
I guess you mean my first real job?!
After finishing my PhD, I realised I didn’t want to be an academic. So I decided to focus my ambitions on a new direction. I had used computers extensively to solve the equations in my PhD work and had become a pretty good Fortran Programmer. I looked around and found that people who could code were very desirable, as they still are today. So I applied to Logica (now part of CGI) from an advertisement in the New Scientist. I was offered the job as a programmer on a starting salary of £9,000, I was thrilled! Of course it meant moving to London which wasn’t so thrilling, especially when I realised the cost of everything.
Was there a point when your career really took off?
I worked at Logica for just over a year. My manager at Logica Andy Beecroft, left to join a startup called Oracle Corporation. Andy called and persuaded me to interview at Oracle. I quickly recognised that the people I met (who had just formed Oracle UK) were top quality with a vision and a passion I had never seen before. I wanted to be part of this vision, so I joined Oracle to run Technical Support in the U.K. It was Oracle that laid the solid foundations to my future successes.
Why did you leave Oracle Corporation, which was so successful?
I was at Oracle for 12 years, worked with incredibly talented people and learned so many lessons. I worked my way up and onto the European Management team (I was the youngest member). However, I always wanted to run the entire European operation. I had been inspired by Geoff Squire who had been number two to Larry Ellison. I could not see myself getting the number 1 position at Oracle Europe and I was impatient! So I left to start Siebel Systems in Europe with a handful of employees. Everyone thought I was mad, but I knew I had to step out of my comfort zone again to progress
Didn’t Oracle buy Siebel Systems?
We built Siebel from a startup to 8,000 employees and a market valuation of $60b at its peak. It was an incredible pace of life, too fast in fact and consequently I was burnt out after 5 years. I left and took a year off. Yes, Siebel Systems was eventually sold to Oracle Corporation, though I had long gone!
Looking back what was the proudest professional experience of your life?
No question, it was building Salesforce.com in EMEA. I am super proud of what we achieved and what the team continues to achieve. Salesforce.com today is the 4th largest software company with a market valuation of $100b. I can see Marc and the team overtaking SAP in the not too distant future. Everyone told me I was crazy to join soon after Marc Benioff started the company and just after the dot.com crash! I was with the company for over 13 years and retired as Chairman EMEA two years ago. I only stepped out, as I wanted a change of pace to my life!
Who is the best leader you have come across?
I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with so many amazing Leaders in the Software industry, the likes of Larry Ellison, Tom Siebel, Geoff Squire, Ray Lane, Stephen Kelly and more. However Marc Benioff is by far the best leader I have ever come across! He is only just getting started!
Outside of Salesforce what is your greatest business achievement?
I am very proud to have helped start a company called Fairsail, which I initially funded with a friend. It is a software application company in the Human Resources space. Colin Cooper (Founder) worked day and night to write the software and we not surprisingly chose the salesforce.com architecture to build the technology on. Together we built the company from scratch and recruited a superb management team. The decision was made to sell the company in 2017 for $150m to ‘The Sage Group’. Not a bad result for 7 years work.
Are you engaged with any charities?
I am a big believer that business can do well and do good at the same time. What I mean, is you can build Philanthropy into your business model. It’s a huge motivator for many great people. At Salesforce.com we pioneered an integrated philanthropy model, the so called 1:1:1 model. Subsequently, 1% of the product, 1% of the stock and 1% of employee’s time is given to helping people less fortunate in the communities we work in.
I was delighted to have personally helped Teach First get started in the U.K, who address the educational disadvantage in our inner city schools. I am also privileged to be part of the Royal Foundation. What I am really looking forward to however , is being able to spend more time on philanthropy in the future.