Behind the career: Peter Altabef

Position: The new president and chief executive of Micros Systems, a Columbia company that provides cash registers and other systems for the hospitality and retail industries.

Peter Altabef started his career as a lawyer focusing on mergers and acquisitions, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and technology licensing and transactions. But his sights were always set on becoming a business executive. He ultimately joined Perot Systems, rising to become its chief executive. Under his watch, the company grew to $2.8 billion in annual revenue from $1.5 billion. He later became a senior advisor to an investment company before taking the helm at Micros Systems.

When you ran the business processes team at Perot Systems, many competitors were offering to help companies outsource their human resource activities. You made a judgment call not to enter that business because you felt your work was better suited for other markets. Tell me about how you made that judgment call.

The focus has to be on the client needs. In this case, as we looked at clients in other industries, we thought we could provide a compelling proposition to them. That was because they had a need and we were well positioned. It has to be both. That’s the same when you expand in any business in any geography. Just because something works well in one area, doesn’t mean it will work well in another.

Why do some business leaders make that mistake?

The most senior people at the company are not necessarily the people that are most in tune with senior needs. You have to realize that it’s the folks that have the day-to-day working relationship with your customers that are actually most in the know. You, as a senior leader, have to have an ongoing dialogue with the people in your company. Then you take that and blend it with a view of where technology is going. Just because you’ve identified a client need doesn’t mean you can develop a next-generation solution. There may be a current way to solve the problem, but if you have a view as to the technology framework and where the landscape is going, you can solve a problem much more effectively with a solution that the client may have no visibility to.

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