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Get to Know: Peter O’Connor of Snowflake

Get to Know: Peter O’Connor of Snowflake

AustralasiaGet To KnowTop Stories

On the lighter side of things we ask Peter O’Connor, Vice President Asia Pacific and Japan at Snowflake, about what makes him tick.

Peter O’Connor, Vice President Asia Pacific and Japan at Snowflake

What would you describe as your most memorable career achievement?

I’ve had such a long career that it’s hard to say – but one of my proudest moments came in 2010 when the company I was managing, NetApp, was ranked Australia’s number one best places to work in Australia, by BRW Magazine. When I joined in 2006, it was challenging to attract quality talent but focusing on hiring motivated people and building a collaborative team transformed it into a healthy, vibrant place people wanted to be.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

As much as I’d like to say I had the foresight to pursue a career in tech it was actually my mother who encouraged me to explore opportunities at IBM. Back in 1981, I was fresh out of school and had been accepted into the Royal Military College in Canberra but shortly before I was due to move to Canberra, I had a change of heart and decided to study civil engineering and remain in Sydney. Given I’d be staying at home my parents were keen for me to work as university was only 20 plus hours a week so getting a job became a priority. I had no clear idea what I wanted to do. IBM was the major tech firm at the time so she encouraged me to knock on their door in North Sydney. Luckily, I was granted an interview with the head of HR. Three months later, they gave me a call and away I went.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

I’m a believer in treating everyone equally and respectfully and I like to encourage a collaborative environment, in which everyone has a voice. Using the intelligence of all your team members has always made sense to me because several brains are better than one. There are some very smart people out there and if you’re not taking advantage of their ideas, you’re potentially going to fall short of your goals or limit your options. It’s also important to have fun and enjoy each other’s company so putting the time aside to allow this to happen is key.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

Business outcomes, without a doubt. The days of selling tech for tech’s sake are gone; today’s customers are completely focused on return on investment. Whether you’re talking on premise or in the cloud solutions, if you’re not resolving pain points and providing the opportunity to improve productivity and increase revenue, you’re missing the mark.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

A lifetime in tech and nine years living in Asia has meant plenty of time on planes – I’ve made a return trip to the US every three months for the past 20 years – and I don’t really like working while I’m flying. I allow myself that time to catch up on movies and reading. When I’m on the ground in Sydney, I like to get out on the golf course with my three sons. They’re all keen players and very competitive. They haven’t beaten the old man yet but it’s only a matter of time, possibly weeks, before they better me. They can all hit the ball longer than I do – fortunately just not as straight!

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

There isn’t one. I’ve had a very fortunate career working for some stellar companies and I’d like to think I’ve taken advantage of all the opportunities that have come my way. Of course, there have been surprises – I’ve been with two companies that were acquired and both times it came out of the blue – but you have to roll with the punches and make the best out of challenging situations if they arise. Using my influence to help others develop their careers has also been very rewarding.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

Cybersecurity is a perennial focus; now more than ever. We’re also seeing companies harnessing Machine Learning and AI to derive deeper insights from data. Not just from standard structured data from ERP and CRM systems, but data generated from IoT devices, web log data, sensor data and a plethora of other sources. Efficiently joining different data sources together, potentially from third parties as well to enrich a company’s own data, is powerful. Using intelligence to make informed strategic decisions is a key focus both now and into the future.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?

The biggest one at the moment is travel. Snowflake is growing nicely and we’ve employed new staff across the various countries we’ve entered but I haven’t had the opportunity to meet some of them in person. Working in new territories is always challenging and not being able to support our team members as they connect with customers on the ground is frustrating. In these COVID times, it’s something we have to live with. Changing rules around data sovereignty is also a big issue. Most governments these days are wanting data that’s generated in-country to stay in-country and it’s good to be able to bring solutions to market which can satisfy that requirement.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

When I joined Snowflake in 2017, I had the great fortune of being its first employee in Asia Pacific. When leading a young company into a new territory change is expected. It encompasses building brand awareness, ensuring every customer realizes the full value of our service, recruiting and enabling a strong channel ecosystem to service customers effectively, hiring great talent, going into new markets and adapting our offering to local needs…every day is different. Building a solid business platform is the key to future sales success. As our Asia Pacific team continues to grow my focus changes, roles become more specialized, our sales priorities change as do the opportunities we create. Currently, the priority is to ensure the team remains safe and effective while dealing with unique circumstances. Over communicating and team collaboration is important. Selling and leading virtually is new to me and is not my preference but these are the times.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

The key thing is making sure you have a mentor who can help you through the different stages of your career. Someone you trust who has an interest in your wellbeing and can help you avoid pitfalls. Hard work and having a great attitude goes without saying but you also need to work smart, think creatively, care for your team, build relationships and an industry business network. Enjoying your work and the people you work alongside is also critical. If you don’t, move on and find something you’re really passionate about.

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