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  • Writer's pictureWill O'Brien

Friday story for lunchtime - could have, would have, should have !

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

After 2 years working for Digital, a comfy role minutes from home, I had this burning desire to enter the big boys UNIX market. This is where I felt the big hitters worked and I secured an interview with Sequent, the market leader in mainframe UNIX servers and the hot company to join. After 3 interviews, including the MD, they came back with an offer which was 20% below the advertised basic. They said I was the youngest guy they had hired to date and felt less experience meant less money. I stewed on this a while but I caved and resigned. My boss from Digital, a veteran schmoozer, seized on the low base salary offer and made all sorts of warm noises to keep me. Now 27 with young family I wobbled and stayed put.

I was given a more “strategic” role and asked to develop new business deals in key target accounts - Black & Decker, Intel, Nat Semi, and Komatsu UK. To help us win new name accounts Digital sent us to Nice to for manufacturing training. This involved exposure to SAP R/3 with the other European regions. This was my first real exposure to working with Europeans and I recall 4 things:

SAP R/3 was German application that was booming

Fins loved red trousers

The French ate meat that was nearly alive

Italian guys were cool – even back then !

But like a damp mist, my anxiety about the future of Digital did not shift. I came back from Nice thinking I needed to be in the action in the high UNIX market powering big software applications like SAP R/3. Around the same time a former Digital colleague left to join Pyramid Technology, the main competitor to Sequent. He knew I was twitchy and called me up and I was sold. No amount of schmoozing could hold me back so I joined Pyramid in Farnborough - 220 miles away from home.

My wife at the time was 7 months pregnant but they offered 30% more money, a guaranteed bonus plan and I needed the money. So in January 1993 I began working the North East sector from home using a screeching dial up modem to connect my laptop to the servers in Farnborough. This was1993 - pre internet and e-mail was still primitive so much of my forecasting and weekly reporting was done on faxed forms !

The Pyramid serviced office in Manchester was a ghost town and my sole colleague seemed to spend most of his time playing “Red Alert” on his PC when I visited. Undaunted I attacked the North East patch with gusto but soon found it a finite market for super computers with few large potential accounts like ASDA and Wm Morrisons. Most firms seemed to be content with existing proprietary mainframes and mid range UNIX boxes from HP, ICL, Sun, and DG. I chased down several accounts to no avail and concluded Silicon Valley finest servers did not pass the “so what test” in Yorkshire.

My boss at the time told me to camp outside Oracle and Ingres and buy them lunch and work with ICL who were a reseller for the Pyramid high end computers. I wasn’t wild about wining and dining sales guys as it felt a like bribery.

I did however bite off on the ICL partnership and spent a month preaching the Pyramid message to ICL offices in Wakefield, Manchester, and Birmingham. After doing the ICL rounds three things happened:

1) I got a £500k lead into a large kitchen manufacturer who ICL was working on. ICL promised to exclusively promote the Pyramid machine. The ICL rep then switch sold to their own platform, a move which resulted in the customer going to HP. Well done Gxxxx – you know who you are…

2) I then snagged a £450k deal for Granada TV in Manchester which was taken out of my hands and given to the Number 1 “Red Alert” game player in the North West.

3) I realized I made a mistake and knew software was where I needed to be


Firstly, a sales career can be a brutal one where effort is not always recognized or rewarded no matter how hard you work.

Secondly, when dealing with other sales colleagues in reseller relationship trust is not always rewarded and compensation drives behavior. Greed and dishonesty are shameful attributes that some sales people have even to the present day.

Thirdly, when you know you need to move on – then do it. In my case I should have taken the Sequent job and swallowed my pride. They were a fantastic company and I’m pretty sure it would have been a different outcome.

Fourthly, if you have a job on the doorstep value it as those hours on the M1 soon took their toll and I left within 9 months of starting.

Fifth, people buy solutions not components and in 1993 I went back into the application software market but that’s another story…


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