In his spare time he breeds Angus cattle, grows olive trees and restores pinball machines. Peter Kazacos hasn’t needed to work since leaving the KAZ Group after transitioning the IT services provider he founded into Telstra following its $333 million sale back in 2004. These days, he goes to work because he still enjoys it.
Unlike most Aussie blokes, Kazacos has little or no interest in sport but he still likes to win and his game of choice is business. He freely admits he has had some luck along the way but that shouldn’t detract from the business and technical skills he has employed to capitalise on those opportunities.
Kazacos graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, before started his career as a graduate trainee with a shipping company called Overseas Containers where he was involved in programming, operations and systems analysis. He spent six years there, mostly working with old IBM machines running the Adabas Natural programming language until the company decided to experiment with one of the first IBM system 38s in the country.
“You don’t realise how your path is directed by things that happen but I spent a lot of time learning everything the machine could do,” he said. “It was the first small machine with a relational database built into the computer.”
His diligence saw Kazacos promoted to data administrator, a role that saw him trained by IBM and a software house called Aspect Computing. Before long, Trevor Campbell left Aspect and suggested Kazacos might be interested in taking the role he was vacating.
“There was more to the Aspect job than I thought,” Kazacos said. “I was told it was a mid-market position but I didn’t know I was going to be the sales guy, the trainer and the programmer. I used to go around and sell myself.”
One job Kazacos did for Aspect involved fixing manufacturing software problems for Hunt Douglas. The customer was impressed with the job and asked him to speak to the lady responsible for its manual superannuation records, which eventually led to the design of a superannuation system.
This was the first link in a chain of events that set Kazacos on the fast track to success. He knew from conversations with AMP that it was getting into superannuation, he knew IBM would put a lot of resources behind its recently released AS/400 mid-range servers, and he knew he had designed a language that could build things quickly. Driving to work one day, he decided to take a punt and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kazacos left Aspect to form KAZ Computer Services in July 1988, put a bid into the AMP business people and got it approved. He proposed to build the new superannuation system in nine months and it went live on schedule with 40,000 members. Following updates along the way, the AS/400 was eventually processing 3 million members.
“The economy was in recession in 1988 but superannuation was immune so the business was growing while others struggled,” he said. “IBM loved it and AMP was an anchor customer that helped us attract others. You need an anchor customer in business or you’re in big trouble.”