Peter F. DiGiammarino: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

D13_041_019Peter DiGiammarino is a senior executive with 35 years of success leading businesses that target tight public and private markets around the world. In addition to running companies, he serves public, private, private-equity-owned, and venture-capital-backed software and services firms as an adviser and/or board member and has consistently helped them to achieve their full potential to perform and grow. As a leader who has served successful companies in the role of CEO, Peter knows how to develop and lead teams of high-powered, driven professionals. His emphasis is to create and implement plans that are true to the organization’s market, offerings, competence, and purpose.

Peter currently serves as Chairman of Compusearch and advises a dozen other organizations as CEO of IntelliVen. He is based in San Francisco, California. He is also adjunct professor in the Organization Development program at the University of San Francisco where the workbook he authored, Manage to Lead: Seven Truths to Help You Change the World, is used to teach a course he developed on Organization Analysis and Strategy. That book was published by IntelliVen (July 2013).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Peter. To read the complete Part 1, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Manage to Lead (in Part 2), a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

DiGiammarino: My father. He and my mother raised six of us; I am the oldest of a generation on my father’s side. He was a high school teacher, football coach, and camp director who in mid-career got his PhD from Syracuse University in Education, became an assistant superintendent of a public school system, and taught at a teacher’s college. He guided us to be interested in new technology and tried constantly himself to use the latest and greatest to improve the work of teachers. His master’s thesis in 1954 was on the potential for the felt board to improve teaching. In the ‘60s he was the AV (Audio Visual) guy who brought home a projector and movies on reels for us to watch well before the days of VHS and DVRs, and in the ‘70s he led a team to design and implement a mini-computer based system to keep track of student data that is still ahead of its time.

He taught that a smart and motivated person could figure out how to do anything (work on a car, repair a washing machine, fix a computer) … and, further, that there is no point in figuring something out if you don’t also share it with others; starting with your siblings!

He had reservations about the big, bad business world so stayed in academia his entire career. We never seemed to have much money and I thought it must not be too hard to do well and vowed to one day have more than enough financially.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

DiGiammarino: Charles Rossotti has been my career-long mentor. He was one of a team of five that left the group known as McNamara’s Whiz Kids in the ‘60s to start American Management Systems (AMS) in 1970. I joined 7-years later in an annual wave of aggressive MBA recruiting. We grew AMS to a $1B and 10,000 people over 20 years. As our CEO, Charles modeled constant experimentation, learning, growth, and performance with intelligence, teamwork, and drive.

In the mid-80s the $30M/year unit I had grown from start-up was underperforming relative to plan. Charles called on me more frequently to review status and plans but didn’t take over; instead he showed interest, confidence, and patience and offered help and support. He knew we could get back on track…and we went on to generate nearly $200M/year within a next decade.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

DiGiammarino: After 20 years at AMS felt I knew too much; every day people came to me with problems that I knew how to solve. I wasn’t learning any more. I wanted something new and figured it was time to run an entire company, not just a large business unit. In 1996 I let myself be recruited to be president and COO of a $200M public software company.

I quickly found that I had a lot more to learn. While I had been successful at AMS, it was almost too easy in an environment that was familiar and insular. I knew I had figured out some useful and important things about growing past the start-up phase and crossing over to being a credible business but needed to test, hone, and further develop my ideas before I could credibly share them with others. It was at this point that I began a systematic process to immerse myself in different companies, in different markets, at different stages of evolution, scale, and business model in order to enrich and apply anew what I had learned first at AMS.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

DiGiammarino: I attended the University of Massachusetts for as an undergraduate because I was accepted only to UMass. I vowed that I would never let important things in life “happen to me” again. Instead, I would figure out what I wanted and then make it happen. On the last day of high school I decided to graduate in the top few percent at UMass and go to MIT for graduate school. Which is what I did.

At UMass I was accepted into a new interdisciplinary major for upper-class students who wanted to pursue an unconventional course of study. Even though the program was open only to juniors and seniors, I entered as a freshman because I only wanted to study computers and there was no other option for undergrads to take computer courses. I recruited as my advisor Dr. Wogrin, a 20-year veteran of teaching at Yale and Chair of the UMass Computer Science Department. He became interested in me and assisted me in developing a four-year plan to study math and economics (which is really applied math!) in order to prepare to someday study business (which is, after all, really applied economics!) rounded out with all the courses from the Masters Program in Computer Science.

For my senior project, which enabled me to graduate with honors, I designed, and led a team to implement, a system students could use online to find and register for courses that fulfilled specific requirements, such as being well-liked by other students, meeting a core requirement, and not held before 10:00 AM. In doing this I experienced first-hand the potential different disciplines have to create enormous value that did not previously exist when brought to together to bear on real-world problems.

From the interdisciplinary program I also learned to:

o Plan
o Be accountable to a plan
o Implement a governance structure; by having to review my progress against plan with my advisor twice a semester
o Master bureaucracy
Note: For example, I got the Computer Science Department and the interdisciplinary program to each pay half of the increase in costs relative to state school tuition to finance a semester of study at MIT in my junior year.
o Set high goals and then drive to achieve them no matter how lofty
o Follow through on commitments
o Work hard; because it generates worthy results and it is a waste of time and money not to
o Be comfortable being different
o Appreciate the value of outstanding counsel and advice
o Take full advantage of available resources

Conventional education tracks the best students to learn more and more about less and less as they go from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s and then on to a PhD in a subject area. The limit to this approach is that a student learns everything about nothing. Those that follow this path tend to be extraordinarily deep in their chosen specialty and remarkably inept on topics outside of it as they are intimidated by their own lack of knowledge relative to what they know in their field.

An interdisciplinary program prepares the best students:

o To learn a great deal in any field they want and so are not inclined to get good at only one subject but easily develop depths of competence in whatever they want or need to know.

o To be enriched by the insights, ideas and opportunities that unfold from the blending of competency depths, empowering them to synergize and innovate to create value far beyond what could previously have been imagined.

Upon graduation from UMass I went on to the MIT Sloan School of Management where I studied Information Systems, Strategy, and Organization Development (OD). I took all the OD classes I could because when I arrived I came across a study of alums 20-years out that said the number one course of study they wished they had had more of by far was OD! I had the opportunity to study with some of the second generation founders of the field including a course from Richard Beckhard and a class from Ed Schein.

* * *

To read the complete Part 1, please click here.

Peter cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites: web site that features a blog of tips and tools for getting organizations on track to fulfill their potential to perform and grow; subscribe to receive 2-3 short posts per month at no cost) (sample vision, mission, values) (HBR: strategy & change) (strategy & leading change) change) books for non-profits) assessment of national financial activity) (international site connecting MBAs and aspiring MBAs with key topics and each other) (for nonprofits) (graphic tools for strategy, change, et al) inquiry) (evaluation and measurement) (emotional intelligence) (cultural transformation/values) of life, development tools for people and organizations) and other resources for CEOs)

TWITTER accounts to consider following:


Formatted Version: Complete

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