New at the top: Peter A. Altabef got his start in business at the dinner table
I remember as a child, my father would come home with his business problems and ask us kids to help solve them. I was barely a teenager. “Here’s what happened at the office today,” he would say. “How do I fix this problem? Let’s work on it together.”
Each kid has to have a fire lit in their soul. Once that fire is lit, it becomes self-sustaining. That was the fire that was lit in me — knowing I could help a substantial businessperson solve problems. (Whether I actually helped him or it was a staged act to give us self-confidence, I’m not sure. But it worked).
He also instilled in us the importance of being focused on clients. That has been my approach to leadership and business to this day.
I started as a lawyer and ultimately moved into the business world. One of the reasons I made that transition is because the best lawyers are extremely focused on satisfying their clients and I believed that the best businesses did the same.
Whenever you’re in a service or product business, you want the buyer to feel that they had you in mind when they bought the service or product.
In 1993, I joined Perot Systems, an IT service organization that was the second company founded by Ross Perot Sr.
I held a variety of positions there until becoming chief executive in 2004.
At the time, Perot generated about $1.5 billion in revenue at the end of 2003. By the time we sold in 2009, it was $2.8 billion.
I remember one assignment I had before becoming chief executive was to run our business-process strategy team. At the time, business-process outsourcing was barely beginning. People started to understand that you could use technology more effectively to do tasks that had been done previously without technology. There were ways people were trying to apply technology to business processing. I led that group for us. We had to look at a whole host of different things.
At the time, one of the hot items on the market was outsourcing human resource activity. Even though it was hot, I didn’t think we were well-suited for that. Instead of going left to human resources outsourcing, we turned right. We went into health-care claims outsourcing and life insurance administration outsourcing where the market was available and where we could be successful.
There was a judgment call of determining the hot thing of the day but also where your team can succeed. It was a turning point for me not only in the confidence that I could lead in those positions but in the fact that we had insight into not only where the market was going but where we could be successful.
The thing that attracted me to Micros is that they’ve developed a portfolio of services, support, hosting and software that now makes up a majority of its revenues because it distributes a host of other services along with its software.
We are fortunate to be a leader in this space. The challenge is to build on that success.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Peter A. Altabef Position: President and chief executive of Micros Systems, a Columbia company that provides cash registers and other systems and services for the hospitality and retail industries. Career highlights: Senior adviser, 2M Cos.; president, Dell; president and chief executive, Perot Systems. Age: 53 Education: BA in economics, Binghamton University; JD, University of Chicago Law School. Personal: Relocating from Dallas to the Maryland suburbs. Married to Jennifer Burr Altabef. They have two children.