Peter Fuller was working at ASG Group when he received an unexpected call from former colleague and current boss Stephen McNulty. The call was an offer: lead Micro Focus Australia through a critical acquisition. Peter was hesitant.
However, knowing and trusting Stephen, he agreed to speak with the company’s CEO and board members. He carefully listened to the story of Micro Focus’s growth and the philosophy behind the multinational software business. That was four years ago, recalls Peter.
“The role sounded interesting and the company was all about the people,” he says. “If anybody other than Stephen had phoned to offer the position, I probably would have turned them down on the spot.”
Peter and his family had moved from South Africa to Australia in 1999 and over the 20 years that followed, he worked in a variety of management roles at SAP, SAS, Progress Software and ASG Group.
He was at Sun Microsystems during its takeover by Oracle and he says this experience especially prepared him for his current role as Managing Director of Micro Focus Australia. Before the merger with Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s software assets and business in 2017, Micro Focus had around 4,000 employees.
The acquisition came with an additional 12,000 HPE staff. “We acquired a company three times larger than us,” Peter says. As a result, he needed to focus on two elements that would determine the success of the transition: people and culture.
“You may have the best products and technology in the world, but no organisation is going to be successful if you do not have a motivational culture and work ethic that is bought into by your employees. My aspiration is that every employee at Micro Focus is one who wants to be there because they believe in the company and its strategy, and are not just there doing a job for a paycheque.
“Acquisitions are disruptive and challenging, but the success at the end of the day far outweighs the disruption.” Peter does admit that it’s been a tough mission and that it’s almost impossible to please all people at all times.
That’s the message for the company. Face this adversity. We’ll come out of it differently, but we will come out of it positively.
“I’m open about this. If you’re unhappy in your job, find something else,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than waking up every morning and going to a place that makes you unhappy. Find your passion – this is what drives success.”
Several years have passed since the acquisition was finalised and Micro Focus now has an influential culture that it continues to invest in, as well as passionate employees and strong relationships with partners.
There is also crystal clear understanding across the company regarding needs and expectations. Peter admits that if the COVID-19 pandemic struck when the company was integrating it would have been an extremely difficult transition.
He describes Micro Focus’s employees as “essential workers”, servicing clients such as banks, utilities and the Federal Government. Many of the company’s partners, such as information management and governance specialist iCognition, also rely on the business to continue operating.
“If we don’t keep supplying our services and technology to our customers, our customers can’t supply the services to their customers. And our customers’ customers are us – they’re Australia. If you equate us to an office building, we are the electrical wiring or the plumbing. You don’t see us, but we’re an integral part of the building. If we stop working, the building stops working.”
In line with the company’s vision, Peter intends to continue growing the business gradually. “We don’t go to the market and talk about growing 30% this year; it’s moderate growth. But we do make sure that we grow and sustain the return for our customers,” he says.
“My vision is to grow the business, continue with the integration, deliver more value to our customers and have a great environment that attracts and retains the best people.”
Further, Micro Focus is aiming to increase its focus on legacy applications and COBOL-based applications by helping customers modernise them. “There are hundreds of man-years of IT development in these applications that reside in a bank or a government,” Peter says.
“Why throw it away and rewrite it or buy a new application, when you can take it and move it across into the cloud? That part of our business grew about 150% last year.”
Another focus is to do with the execution of a project or plan. Peter believes that one of the challenges facing industries is a lack of urgency. “The longer we delay making critical business decisions in executing a project or plan, the longer it takes to realise the value that the project was going to deliver to the organisation,” he says.
“That’s one of my personal bugbears and focuses. Our CEO constantly delivers this message across the organisation too. Simplify, simplify, simplify, and get things done quickly. Feel free to make mistakes because if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not going hard enough; however, don’t make the same mistake twice.
“Modern times are about making the best decision with the best available information,” he continues. “Execute then monitor consistently; if it’s going off the rails, re-evaluate, modify your plan, and re-execute.”
Throughout his 35-odd years of industry experience, Peter has learned many leadership lessons worth sharing. One that stands out is something he was told while serving in the South African military as it’s especially relevant during the current situation with COVID-19.
“We face adversity every day of our lives,” he shares. “It’s how we handle that adversity, how we let it affect us, either positively or negatively, that makes us who we are. That’s the message for the company in this current climate: face this adversity. We’ll come out of it differently, but we will come out of it positively.”
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