David Webster: Leader by design

David Webster: Leader by design

Local EMC president, David Webster, was studying architecture until a chance meeting took him into IT.

What was your first job?
I delivered prescriptions every day after school and on Saturday mornings for Cliff's Pharmacy in Middle Cove [Sydney] as a 13-year-old. It was a home delivery service. I was later promoted to helping package the stuff.

How did you end up in the IT industry?
It was a circuitous route. I studied architecture at university and got interested in computer-aided design. I ended up meeting a guy who offered me a job while I was studying and I had to decide whether to continue studying or enter the computer industry. I entered the industry as a pre-sales guy demonstrating computer-aided design systems for an Australian software company called Pallet Systems. That was bought by Computer Power in the Roger Allen era and that started my career in IT.

How did you progress to where you are today?
I spent a couple of years doing application software with Pallet Systems before being approached by a company called Silicon Graphics (SGI) and joining as their first pre-sales engineer in Sydney. They did high-end graphics workstations and supercomputing systems. I worked my way up through the company as sales manager, channel manager and marketing manager over a period of eight years before moving to Singapore to run ASEAN countries. I spent four-and-a-half years in Singapore before coming back to Australia with Silicon Graphics to run sales and marketing for three years. I was then approached to run a British financial software company called QSP in Asia-Pacific. I did that for four years, left there and was approached to run PeopleSoft in Australia and New Zealand. I spent four-and-a-half years there until it was acquired by Oracle, at which point I left the organisation and took some time off. I joined EMC in my current role as president running Australia and New Zealand 19 months ago.

What do you like about your job today?
For me it's about people. I believe we design the best technology in the world, hardware and software, but in the context of a subsidiary it's about the talent you have in the team and how people work together for customer benefit. I get my kick out of hiring good people and seeing them work well together with other good people. That's where I spend most of my time. The business success we are having is a bi-product of that. Our tag line is 'EMC: Where information lives' but I believe it is also where the great people in the IT industry live. If you have a good culture the channel will work with you because they trust you. Our customers also trust us to look after the most complex organisations in Australia from an IT perspective. When you put all of that together it is a stimulating and privileged position to be in.

What do you dislike most about the industry?
The inability to position itself with 10- to 15-year-olds and convince them why they should have careers in IT. For some reason we fail to communicate that IT is not the domain of rocket scientists or great mathematicians. Yes, there is a role for the engineering side but kids in the first year of high school today should be thinking about working in IT and I don't think they are. The industry is not doing a good enough job to position the attractiveness of IT as an industry segment for people to work in.

What is going to change that and whose job is it?
We are all responsible including the media, which needs to demystify IT. If I asked my 14-year-old daughter whether she would go into a career in IT she would say it's for geeks and nerds but it isn't. IT touches every part of our daily life and I don't think people understand that when they walk up to an ATM it is an example of IT at work. The whole industry needs to take shared responsibility for communicating to children because there is wonderful opportunity. All of the world's large vendors are in Australia, all of them are in good business shape and all of them are hiring. It's dynamic and foundational to business today.

What do you do when you are not at work?
Between [my wife] Chris and I we have six kids, with four still at home so they take up a lot of our time. We spend a lot of hours at school sports events. When we have free time we go kayaking and have just bought ourselves new kayaks. We go down to Middle Harbour [Sydney] where you get a bit of a chop and a swell but there's no surf. You've just got to watch out for large motor boats that don't see you. It's good exercise and good fun. We both like anything on the water.

Do you like gadgets?
I like them to an extent but definitely wouldn't call myself a gadget guy. I much prefer talking on the telephone or face-to-face. I don't believe you can run an organisation like EMC on email or a gadget; you need to communicate with your team face-to-face. I have satellite navigation and Chris has the latest GPS in the car but that's because she gets lost in traffic rather than having a gadget for the sake of it. I'm not a BlackBerry guy. I don't need access to email at 2am and if somebody wants to get hold of me they can call my mobile.

What did you want to be when you were younger?
It would depend what age I was but I don't think I ever had a burning desire to be anything in particular. At school I was very interested in cricket and rugby. I went to university to do architecture because I liked the design and the problem solving but in reality I probably fell into this industry through luck and chance. I had an interest in IT but more on the business side rather than the technology. That interest in business was probably my biggest driver.

Did you play sport at a decent level?
I played A-grade cricket in the Ku-ring-gai comp until I was about 30. My rugby claim to fame at high school was playing against the Ella brothers two years before they went on to represent Australia. We got thrashed. I grew up in New Zealand so I'm more passionate about rugby than any other sport and am a keen follower of the All Blacks.

What's your greatest ambition?
Professionally I want to see everybody in this company do well and enjoy themselves. On the personal side, family health and happiness is most important to me.

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