Learning from the past

Express Data marketing director, Peter Masters, has always had a passion for helping others develop their skills. He talked to ARN about teaching, the beginnings of Express Data and his love of history.

What was your first job?

I graduated with a degree in psychology and education and I became an english and history teacher. I asked for a posting in western NSW at the time, which was easy to get because no one wanted to go out there, and I ended up in Cobar.

Why did you want to head west?

I was really interested in how people learn. My specialty was teaching people how to read and write, particularly those that had missed the boat. I was mainly teaching adolescents or teenagers who couldn’t do either and getting them back on track. It was a difficult and frustrating thing to do in the confines of the Department of Education – one of the best ways was to go into these little communities where there was real deprivation and try to do something.

There was a great sense of achievement out of it – there were many aboriginal kids who had missed the boat, and there was a lot of rural poverty as well. Many had grown up on hundreds of thousands of acre properties miles from anywhere. I spent five years out there then taught in other mainstream high schools across the coast, but found it dull.

Where did you go from there?

I got a job working in Newcastle Workers Club. It was the seventh largest club in NSW at that time. I was the secretary/manager for seven years and took the club from being an old-school, typical workers club in the early 1980s, to an entertainment centre. It was a trade union board there and they were terrific, intelligent people. How they came to terms with running a capitalist club with their socialist backgrounds was fascinating to watch. A lot of the good business we did was based on marketing. It’s very similar to running a good distribution business – you build a great business and you work with people to get them on-side and passionate about what they do, then you tell people about it and they come and buy from you.

I ran some clubs in Sydney then started my own marketing business called Dogstar Design. We had several clients – the biggest was the Organic Cotton Industry, who we marketed into Japan. We had five or six trade missions into Japan, which is a fascinating service-based culture to be involved in, and I loved it.

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Where was your first IT job?

I came to Express Data in 1996. It was Com Tech at the time, and I came to learn about websites because I thought that was the future for marketing. I had good friends at Com Tech who introduced me to the Shein brothers, and I heard a lot about their business. They told me they had a new start-up opportunity called Express Data, so I came here with the view of being the marketing manager. They told me bluntly that I didn’t know anything about the channel or IT, but if I started as a product manager, I could step up. So I was the Cisco product manager for 12 months before getting the marketing director’s job. The challenge was enormous – not everybody expected us to be successful and we were an unknown brand.

What are your major highlights with ED?

I think the success of Express Data is a tremendous achievement. It was always a gamble when we worked out what we stood for, because if we didn’t get that right we wouldn’t have a business. We wanted to stand for a high level of customer service and had a tagline “legendary customer service” we had to make that real. The challenge was how to genuinely empower your staff so they really do care about the business and get passionate about your success, buy into it and then make the customer experience strong. We have put a lot of work into looking after our people to build a great business, but the second step is to have good systems. But what we found was that if we had people who cared about the business, they would build great systems and we haven’t had to impose systems from the top down.

What do you like about your job today?

They are all the things I like about the job – genuinely trying and, hopefully, succeeding in building great teams involves people interaction and training. The typical ED employee is 26 or 27 and has been in the workforce for a few years. We have a 50:50 split between female and male, which is a rarity in the IT channel and part of the secret of our success. My pride and pleasure is being part of taking someone at that point of their career, and over three to five years teach them how to lead, manage teams, work in IT and even run a business.

What’s your focus for the next 12 months?

The channel is changing rapidly and Express Data has to keep changing. There’s been enormous consolidation and our data demonstrates that the number of resellers and where they’re focusing has changed dramatically in the last two years and will change again.

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What do you do when you’re not at work?

I’m passionate about a few things. One is photography and I exhibit my pictures at least once a year. I do a lot of ocean-scapes – if there’s a storm brewing I’m down at the beach trying to get a great picture of it. The other love is history and the connection it has to business. I get to do presentations on that, which is fortunate because I love presenting.

Who’s your favourite icon from history?

People laugh when they hear it, but my two favourites are Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, who are the only two to conquer the whole known world at that time. The reasons they were successful provide some fantastic lessons that businesses can learn from because they applied a lot of business principles; typically the balance scorecard methodology to massive enterprises, although I’m sure they didn’t think it would be reinvented at Harvard in 1993. I am also interested in World War 1, the diggers and battlefields of France.

Have you ever been to the battlefields?

Not yet – it’s my next ambition to walk across those fields. I also love rugby and have played rugby and rugby league and coached several teams as well.

What’s your next professional ambition?

Definitely to continue to participate in building ED to the best business it can be. I’m as excited by that prospect today as I was 12 years ago.