Name: Peter Dickinson
Title: CEO, Greentree International
Twitter handle: @greentreewe3
How long have you been in your current role?
Twelve years. Some might say that’s too long but as I’ve got a great company to work for with a massive opportunity in front of it, it doesn’t seem that long at all. I’d like to think I can make a contribution and there’s still a lot I want to achieve with Greentree.
What business technology issue is your organisation focusing on?
Greentree has always been about building the best business software. Today is no different. What is different, is that there is a whole bunch of technology that you would put under the banner of being disruptive - including cloud, mobile and data (big and small), the Internet of Things etc.
We can’t shield our customers from these technologies being disruptive in terms of business models but what we can do is help them to introduce new technologies without disruption.
Recent entrants to the industry somehow think that this wave of disruption is the only one we’ve been through. But technology disruption has been an absolute constant over the last four decades and it continues to come in exciting waves. Our focus is on staying ahead of those waves and helping our customers to ride them.
What are your interests away from work?
A lot of my time gets spent with my children, grandchildren and extended family. Outside of that there are two key elements to my life – food and water.
Water, because for some bizarre reason that my family can’t fathom, I have an unfailing desire to be on it, in it and under it. Think of every recreational pursuit involving water that you can - boating, kayaking, swimming, diving – and I am into it.
The second is anything to do with food – especially if it is out of the water: catching it, buying it, preparing it, cooking it, eating in, eating out…If food is involved, I’m up for it. This is not a new foodie fad; it is a passion that fired up 50 years ago and has been burning longer than my fascination of technology.
Recent entrants to the industry somehow think that this wave of disruption is the only one we’ve been through. But technology disruption has been an absolute constant over the last four decades and it continues to come in exciting waves.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Interestingly the best advice I’ve received has been more about observation of action rather than words. I was lucky enough to work with John Irwin, the MD of a major NZ insurance company early in my career. We did some massive projects with his company and by observation John taught me some pretty strong life lessons in terms of how much more you can achieve in environments of trust, loyalty and respect.
Similarly Don Bowman the founder of CBA and Greentree delivered many observed lessons in terms of persistence, courage and the value of “having a crack”.
One overriding piece of verbal advice I was given was; “In business, the most critical thing will be who you partner with.” I can’t recall whose advice it was but it has held true, particularly in terms of business ownership and shareholdings.
While you don’t have to agree on everything, it is incredibly important to work with likeminded people in terms of your values, beliefs and what you’re trying to achieve. If you have good congruence with your business partners then life will be marvellous. If you don’t have that – life will turn into a cluster &*^!
Too often people sweat the small stuff and ignore the big fundamental truths that control whether your life is good or crap. Interestingly Greentree has strongly applied a similar belief in terms of who we have in our wider business partner community – including both our implementation and technology partners. Having good congruence with them all helps us to keep what we’re individually and collectively trying to achieve, from unravelling.
Professionally, who do you admire most?
There are many in business that I admire. Some for their technological innovation and creativity, some for their leadership and some for their humanity in terms of what they do outside of the business square.
It is hard to name just one, as there are so many clichéd examples in our industry and in my opinion, while they might tick one or two boxes they certainly don’t tick others. If I was pushed to name a New Zealander that does tick all three, Sir Ray Avery would certainly be a candidate.
His creativity seems inexhaustible, he has the ability to draw diverse groups of people into his ventures and he is most definitely not just about commercial success.
How long have you been working in IT? How did you get into IT?
I’m proud to say I’ve been in the industry for more than forty years. I got into it from a combination of being a bit of a maths geek at school and extremely rebellious. My sixth form maths teacher desperately wanted to find something for me to do other than coming back to school the next year, so he pushed me into computing.
It wasn’t a sudden push; about four years before he had created a computer club for the maths geeks at school which was very unusual for 1969.
What was even more unusual was that as a Catholic priest he held a very strong belief that computers were going to change the world. From a young age, he taught me to have a love of maths, a passion for computing and that if you’re going to do something then throw yourself enthusiastically into it.
If you weren't working in IT, what would you be doing?
I’d like to think I would have created and be running some food empire but that sounds like far too much hard work.
How do you foster an innovative culture at Greentree?
Fundamentally an innovative culture comes down to building a base platform of trust, loyalty and respect. It might sound corny but without that foundation you can’t layer the other things you need on top.
Once you have that foundation you can create an extremely positive environment where people are able to constantly challenge and change the way things are done. I see it every day in Greentree.
There are a lot of people who’ve worked for the company for a very long time. Not because they’re slaves but because they’re in an environment where innovation is actively encouraged.
Admittedly some people don’t flourish well in terms of being constantly challenged. For those that do it ultimately creates an environment where they stand up, have an opinion and are prepared to argue and debate to keep change and innovation alive.
Can you share a key pointer for building a diverse team?
Diversity should be a natural occurrence rather than a prescribed goal. If you truly have no bias in terms of race, gender, age etc. then simply selecting the best person for the job will probably achieve a natural diversity with no algorithm required. And that is a big admission for a software geek.
We have an enviable mix at Greentree with great diversity across the company, representing dozens of different nationalities, which makes for some interesting allegiances during any world cup.
There is one caveat to this, however, and that is that the available candidate pool can skew the results. But we are pretty lucky in the software industry in that it is truly global and that New Zealand is an attractive lifestyle destination.
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