John Walters struggles to retain a healthy balance between his working and personal lives like most other people in the IT industry. He loves rugby, collects wine and gets a hit of golf in when he can. But having seen three months active service in the first Gulf war, he can put a bad day in the office into perspective better than most.
Walters spent 17 years in the army and it has clearly had a major impact on the man he is today. He fixes you with a steely-eyed stare if you ask him an uncomfortable question but you can always be sure of an honest answer.
“I was very lucky that I had very strong leadership training at an early age through [the Australian Army] Duntroon. My first boss ever was [General] Peter Cosgrove and even without the benefit of hindsight you knew damn well that this was a special man.
“I served with Infantry Batallions in Australia, as well as the Grenadier Guards overseas, and finished up as a major. The highlight was seeing active service with the Grenadier Guards in the first Gulf war. Seeing bullets flying and the pace of what goes on in armoured warfare makes you reflect on a bad day at the office and think ‘it’s not that bad!’”
Down a new road
After leaving the army in 1994, Walters spent the first few years of civilian life as a state manager and then national operations manager for transport company, TNT. He was completing an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management at the time and did an analysis of his career options, which led to the conclusion that transport wasn’t customer-focused enough to make the most of his particular skil set.
“I decided to get into one of the new age industries, which meant either wealth creation in banking and finance or the IT industry,” he said. “I went for a number of jobs but kept coming up against guys that had 10 years’ experience in finance or IT. After a few months of knock-backs, I decided to consult into those industries and one of the first companies I did some work for was LAN Systems.”
Back in 1998, LAN was a small distribution startup run by Scott Frew. Walters helped position the company for growth by introducing performance management systems and improving processes before being invited to join the company as COO. He was employee number nine.
“Scott ran a very good company so all I could do at the time was put his vision into foundation boxes to allow growth,” Walters said. “Nick Verykios came on at about the same time and as far as LAN Systems was concerned the rest is history. We went from $8 million in sales to $100 million and about 100 employees within a couple of years before selling the company to Westcon Group [Datatec] on 19 April 2000 – the night before the NASDAQ crash.”