Humble beginnings become great things

Life after Peter Thompson’s MBA

Last Friday, September 13, Peter Thompson alumnus of the Fulltime International MBA (2007) was keynote speaker at the annual FT & IMBA Alumni Event at Nyenrode Business University in Amsterdam. Peter founded at the age of 23, in 1996 an IT company called GCOMM, which was not something he planned. Peter wanted to achieve something positive in life, he believed he was destined to be in business, and he had a strong desire to explore the world. Today, more than two decades later, the company has grown into an award-winning provider of connectivity, cloud and managed IT services to businesses in Australia. Peter remains Managing Director and is closely involved in providing strategic direction to the business.

GCOMM provides telecoms and managed services to customers across Australia. It has an operational, customer facing team in Australia and an Information Services, finance, marketing and technical team in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia where Peter has resided for the past 10 years.

Peter Thompson

From nowhere to somewhere

How Peter ended up at Nyenrode went as follows: “I remember at one point about 10 years after I founded GCOMM that I thought, I don't really know exactly what I am doing and maybe a proper business education might help me with that dilemma and fill in some of the missing gaps. I held deep respect for Holland and Belgium. I was intrigued by how such small geographic countries could be so successful and after discovering the values that Nyenrode espoused, it became my number one choice for my study.”

“There are so many things that don’t need to be said with a fellow Nyenrodian, that kind of “you know that I know that you know” understanding.”As the end of the formal education approached in 2008, Peter had to write a thesis. By good fortune, one of his classmates introduced him to a Nyenrodian alumnus who owned a successful inland shipping company located in Rotterdam. He had recently purchased a shipyard in the middle of Serbia. He asked if Peter would be interested in writing a thesis on the shipyard. “I must admit, all I knew about Serbia was that they had a war with Croatia that seemed to go on a long time during the 90’s. I knew nothing about ship construction, but it sounded adventurous and appealing.”

Shipyard modernization

Peter was charged with modernizing the shipyard. It had approximately 200 employees and it was a very intricate organization. He drove the implementation of modern IT, project management and HR systems. The key strategy was to transform the shipyard from a steel hull construction facility into a full hull and outfitting operation.

With most of the skilled workforce leaving the country because of the effects of war, Peter knew he had to do something different: “I took the approach of recruiting the best local university graduates I could find in ship building, electrical and mechanical engineering. I focused on creating a learning environment, ensuring these graduates documented their plans in advance and recorded their day to day experiences. We gave them the tools and processes which would help them advance and excel in their positions contributing to the overall goal."

Expanding GCOMM worldwide

At the start of 2012, Peter was still not ready to return home to Australia. “It was time for me to turn my concentration to GCOMM. I had been on a 4-year sabbatical.”

Peter founded a company in Belgrade, rented an office and hired a team to focus on providing marketing services to GCOMM, such as building the company brand and other marketing functions. This is how GCOMM Serbia started at the beginning of 2012.

Close to your people
“As you can imagine, operating a company with offices on two sides of the world comes with several challenges, one of them being the management of human resources. It’s not easy to feel all the nuances about momentum and the general temperature of the environment in two countries at the same time. You don’t get the water cooler chats or the chance to have lunch or a beer after work to talk about the wins and losses.”

Peter and his team implemented a sophisticated video collaboration technology that has helped to bridge that face to face gap. Thanks to tech it's almost possible to be in two places at the same time.

“One of the toughest challenges is making the transition from being face to face with your team and directly supporting them. The challenge of letting go and delegating that responsibility and creating a management team who understand the culture and the company objectives, a team that you can rely on and can confidently execute.”

Lessons learned

Peters experiences has taught him several lessons. The first lesson is to stay curious, keep learning and keep growing. The second lesson is: “Be a teacher. Share what you know with others.

It’s not enough to just learn. You need to share what you learn with others. Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. So even if you are not a teacher, always strive to be a teacher.” The third lesson is: Explore the word. It is an intriguing place.

“My pursuit of education and my work has taken me to more than a dozen places around the world. I have the incredible opportunity to lead a company on two sides of the world, meet, interact, work with and learn from people from different cultures and walks of life."

Peter concluded his speech with an advice to the new MBA students:
“My advice to you is to be open to new experiences and to venture beyond what is known and comfortable, to explore the world and you will find that it is full of opportunities.”

Nyenrode MBA Alumni Event - Peter Thompson