Ben Pecotich, Reflecting on 25 Years. Part 2: The AMP Years (1998-2001)

Ben Pecotich Reflecting On 25 Years Part 2

A couple of weeks ago it was 25 years since I started my first office job at 17. Reflecting on the journey so far… Part 1 of this series covered the Westpac Years (1993-1998). Part 2 covers the AMP Years (1998-2001).

June 1998-January 2000: AMP NZ AMPlus Production Services

The role I left Westpac for was Quality Assurance Analyst in Production Services at AMP NZ. While I was organisationally aligned with IT and projects, my focus was to ensure the availability of business systems to deliver quality service to customers.

It was an interesting time, relatively early in the AMP/Accenture (still called Andersen Consulting (AC) at the time) experiment called AMPlus – the internal technology function with a blend of AC consultants and AMP staff. Technology was very fragmented. The systems, processes, and teams.

I joined at a time of stabilising and maturing the technology. It was a time of transition for AMP as a whole, celebrating 150 years, demutualising, publicly listing, and of course a rebrand… and Y2K was getting dangerously close. These were the days when the blue AMP logo was everywhere… and they were busy making acquisitions in Australia, NZ, and the UK.

A time of change. My happy place. A key thing we needed to get a handle on was all the tech change. There was a lot of it and even more to come. Early on I spent a lot of time working with tech and business teams to design the new change and release management processes and systems. It was a complex environment with a mix of mainframe, midrange, client-server, even some old token ring networks, and plenty of legacy applications. At the same time we were rolling out internet access and remote access which meant new types of infrastructure (firewalls and proxy servers), and some interesting policy decisions.

Working on such a broad range of infrastructure, applications, security, service management processes, and team dynamics – I started spending a lot of time with Dave Carmine our solution architect, and Pete Caton who headed up client services – managing the relationship with our business stakeholders. I quickly got very involved in the full lifecycle of service strategy, design, transition, ops, and continual improvement from an ITIL v3 perspective – not that ITL was really a thing yet, but I was already an ITIL/service management geek.

The first person I worked for at AMP was Craig Good. A genuinely nice guy who showed me a completely different leadership style in the corporate context. His whole style was collaborative and nurturing, so even five years into my career as a 22-year-old, he made me feel valued and respected. Craig left AMP a few months after I joined, so I didn’t get to work with him long, but other than my experiences growing up as a brickie’s labourer and laying bricks, his leadership shaped my leadership style.

Craig and I spent a lot of time working with Paul Fraser, part of the AC crew. Another really good guy who had a calm strategic approach. He had a broad understanding of the architecture, a sharp focus on what we needed to achieve, and polished consulting skills. I learnt a lot from those two guys in a short period of time.

With Craig leaving and from memory never properly replaced, our small team started reporting directly to the head of Production Services, at least unofficially. This was a time of massive churn though, and in 18 months I had half a dozen different reporting managers. In the end I was working directly with the NZ CIO, Carol Abernethy on several of the projects I was leading.

It was in this context that I became fascinated with learning a lot more about organisational change, psychology, and culture. I was lucky to do a lot of leadership development alongside formalising my project management method and tools training. A new methodology was rolled out and I ended up helping out with the new NZ PMO (with John Halsted). I became the internal consultant working with business owners on all projects that had a tech aspect, facilitating Rapid Project Planning (RaPP) workshops to shape the brief, business case, and a bit of strategic design. Something I enjoyed and had no idea how valuable it would be later.

I’ll never forget a moment of complete naivety. I was talking to my senior manager about professional development. I said I wanted to do some training to know how to make good decisions. I somehow thought there must be a framework all these leaders use to know the right decision. There must be a way to know the right answer. I hadn’t worked out that everyone makes it up as they go. I felt a whole paradigm shift just looking at the confusion on his face, maybe it was fear. There was no such thing. At least it got me a spot at Edward de Bono’s seminar: Serious Creativity and Lateral Thinking.

I got involved in a lot of other initiatives and activities beyond my core role. The Total Customer Experience initiative working with our business stakeholders to design improvements and a better experience for them. I was a member of the AMP Rescue Team. Yes, we had our own rescue team – which was important, being in a high-risk area for natural disasters. We would be the first responders. We trained every month, often with emergency services, learning rescue techniques, triage, first aid, and emergency management procedures.

I was also the team leader of the AMPlus Social Club, which other than regular events included organising, securing sponsorship for, and playing in our indoor soccer, netball, and volleyball teams – all in the name of increasing the health of the culture and climate.

All of this and much more happened within 18 months. So many other memories, and things I learnt, and people I worked with who are still friends today… but this has already got really long.

Unsurprising, my time at AMP NZ came to an end with a complete restructure of AMPlus NZ at the end of 1999. A whole new proposed structure was presented and we all had a few days to make submissions and to try to claim a box on the new org chart. My role was all about change and projects, trying to find funding to deliver improvements. It had been made very clear that we had no funding. I took my proposal to the NZ CIO showing where all of the operational work I was doing belonged – with how and when it should transition. I politely made the case that it made sense that I should be gone… so I didn’t waste their money, and they didn’t waste my time. Thankfully she agreed. The consulting skills I’d learnt paid off!

This all coincided with me coming out of a long-term relationship and I was about to take my redundancy cash and move to London. Then another option presented itself. Chris Macdonald from AMP Australia (who I’d done some work with) flew over to have a chat. He’d just taken over IT for AMP Banking working for the group CIO and he wanted me to come and help him shape up a few things, especially change and release management. It was a tough decision but I chose to take the paid transfer home to Sydney. It was good to be home after 14 years in NZ. London could wait.

January 2000-June 2001: AMP Banking Australia – AMPlus/IT@AMP

It was great to be home. To rediscover my city as an adult. Though I lived in Wellington from the ages of 10 to 24 and I’m a proud Wellingtonian, I was never a Kiwi – and Sydney was where I thought of as home.

It was a completely fresh start. Other than family, I didn’t know anyone. Chris Macdonald did a great job looking after me and introducing me to a bunch of people. AMP set me up with a serviced apartment close to the office, I had a rental car on the weekends, shipped all my stuff over, and I had some time to explore and see where I wanted to live. I like a short commute, and Paddington seemed like a fun place to live. I found a room in a three bedroom terrace with a couple of flatmates and got setup.

It was time to get to work and I couldn’t wait. But I had to. Chris was settling in, and AMP Banking ran quite independent from the rest of AMP, or at least thought it did. I was coming from outside into an environment with a lot more AC people, especially in leadership roles, and a lot of people from the banking system partner (NTBS). It made for complex reporting lines and relationships. It also operated a lot more like a scaling startup than a bank – which isn’t surprising because NTBS was basically a fintech startup working onsite at their primary client (only client at the time I think) designing and building their product.

AMP Banking is an online/direct bank. A lot of this was still emerging tech and not particularly mature, especially when compared to mainframes. There was a lot of new architecture to learn, people to meet, and relationships to build. After spending some time with Khanh Lam playing with PVCS Dimensions and learning the config management side of the builds and deployments, I jumped into the role I was brought over for – Implementation Project Manager/Release Manager, managing the release and implementation of all of the bank’s tech change. This was across online banking, IVR, ATM/EFTPOS, and call centres… in Australia, NZ, and the UK.

There was plenty to learn but what I’d learnt over the previous 6.5 years gave me a lot of context and experience. This was mostly about cranking through the work and delivering. There were a lot of people and teams involved in each implementation, and everything needed to be carefully orchestrated to ensure minimal disruption to service. I had to understand every aspect of the change: who built it, who would deploy it, what it was dependent on, what was dependent on it, what could be done in parallel, when were the go/no go decision points, and if things went sideways… how would we recover. My project plans timed tasks to the minute. I regularly worked 30 hours straight without a break during an implementation. We deployed most major releases at different times in the three countries, which meant planning and leading these implementations multiple times for each release. A lot of long hours, regularly clocking 70-80 hour weeks.

During this time the AMPlus experiment was called to an early end, which meant the AMP tech function was rebranded as IT@AMP, and less AC people around. Not long after Andersen Consulting also rebranded as Accenture.

My timing to be back in Sydney was pretty awesome. It meant I was here for the Sydney Olympics, and AMP was a major sponsor. It was a special time in Sydney, especially when I had zero dependence on driving anywhere or public transport.

I worked with a bunch of great people at AMP Banking, and many are still good friends now. It also worked out well that I went to the UK to do one of the big implementations and took some time off to hang out in London and Dublin in December 2000 and new years before heading home.

When I made the tough decision at the end of 1999 to take the AMP Banking role and transfer back home, instead of taking my redundancy cash and moving to London… I gave myself one condition. That condition was that I’d be at the 2001 Montreux Jazz Festival, and I’d be travelling from London… not Sydney. So June 2001, I packed up my life again, said farewell to AMP Banking and everyone in Sydney, and moved to London.

Reflecting on 25 Years. Part 3… The story continues in Dynamic & Adaptable. Dynamic4: The 20th Year with a reflection on 20 years of Dynamic4 (2001-2021).