The WhereScape general manager of services, Dave Thompson, is just as passionate about the skills needed to drive fast cars, as those needed to succeed in business.
Thompson is national president of the New Zealand Ferrari Owners Club and owns a Ferrari and an Alfa Romeo Brea.
“I’ve been in the Ferrari club for eight years. We run a charity day at Pukekohe race track where we take kids with muscular dystrophy, heart disease and hearing impairments, around in the cars.
He also organises club social events and enjoys the like-minded group of car owners.
His other passion, computer science, began in high school in the late 70s. His secondary and tertiary IT education came at a time when punch cards and Unix were standard.
“I did computer science by correspondence so you would get sent punch cards to be mailed off and fed into a machine.” Thankfully, he got to use more modern computers during his first year at Auckland University in 1982.
“I did a computer science and maths degree on Unix, way before Windows came along.”
By his third year of study Thompson says he still didn’t have a clear career path in mind, so after graduation he joined Air New Zealand in 1985 as a trainee programmer.
“I was there for two and a half years and it was a fantastic place. We were up in the Newton datacentre [in Auckland] and I worked on all their systems, reservations, flight planning and rosters. They were one of the first users of IBM’s DB2 database.”
He moved on to the now-defunct NZI Finance in 1987, around the time of the global stock market crash.
“I had a couple of years there running its interbank clearing systems. We would clear up to $700 million a night. We were one of the first banks to do PC banking using IBM’s Tokenring. We even had dealer rooms with touchscreen technology. It worked, but the economics [of the time] were such that the bank didn’t survive.”
Rather than face redundancy, Thompson moved to The Alternative Telephone Company (now TelstraClear) in 1990 as project leader for its billing system.
“I was the second New Zealand employee. That was one of my fondest memories because we were setting up to compete with Telecom. There was no Bellsouth [now Vodafone], and we had to get an infrastructure up and running.”
According to Thompson, the company gave Telecom a run for its money. “In the first couple of years before Telecom got their act together, we were kicking their butt because we could be more flexible and introduce different call plans.”
He stayed with the company for five years, then moved to Microsoft in 1995 in a technical role. At the time, the vendor’s local business was small, agile and growing fast, he says.
“We would celebrate the end of the financial year with a trip to Queenstown. It was not a big company and didn’t have all the rules and restrictions of a multi-national that Microsoft has today. We had a lot of local control and as a result could be nimble.”Thompson says being agile became more difficult as the company grew in New Zealand. He managed several of its annual Tech Ed events that are held in Auckland, but spent his last five years with the company as director of services.
Thompson is proud to have established Microsoft’s Government Innovation Centre.
“I worked with the Microsoft negotiating team for a $100 million deal with the government every three years. We wondered how we could give them some value back without cutting the [deal] price all the time. The biggest frustration was that the government would buy the software and not use it.”
The centre rebated some licensing money back into projects for government departments.
“For example, we would have a mobile device in fire trucks, or wi-fi units inside Te Papa [the Museum of New Zealand].” Microsoft still runs the centre.
Thompson managed a team of about 45 people in the services group. He says the group had an “interesting” relationship with Microsoft’s partners at the time.
“The resellers saw us as a competitive threat in the services game. We tried not to compete with the partners so our charge-out rate was more than double [that of the partners] back in the 1990s.”
He stresses Microsoft was a fantastic place to work.
“In the end, I had done my bit in a big multinational software vendor so I took a break.”
Thompson left the company in July 2007. After that he worked at the Icehouse, a business incubator company based at the University of Auckland, for a year in a part-time capacity.
“I was an executive in residence. My area [of coaching] was IT strategy and what they needed to do from an IT perspective.”
Just before joining WhereScape in October 2008 he ran his own company called Nth Degree, with a couple of other ex-Microsoft employees. The venture only lasted seven months and Thompson says it was profitable. However, with a recession looming he decided to take up a job offer at WhereScape, which specialises in data warehousing.
“You have got lots of customers who have complex data systems. We pull massive volumes of data into a data warehouse that has billions of records, but has software which can query that in lightning speed.”
He adds that data warehousing is complex so the company provides consultants to help companies.
“The challenge is you don’t want to make it [data warehousing] complex for end-users.”
Thompson says he loves working for a small IT company.
“We can be a lot more agile and nimble as there aren’t a lot of constraints. Customers love that because we get on to things quickly.”
In addition to his role at Where-Scape Thompson works for Scotwork, a company based in Scotland that teaches advanced business negotiation skills.
“I’ve run 25 courses in the past two years both in New Zealand and Australia for some high profile clients.”