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Alumni profile: Peter Donnelly and the world of finance

09 September 2021  |  Jill Lundberg  |  Posted in:

We caught up with Peter to find out about his successful career in finance and business. After leaving Richmond Sixth Form College to complete a BSc in Hotel, Catering and Tourism Management, Peter quickly realised that the Hospitality industry was not for him. After gaining a professional qualification in Chartered Accountancy, Peter has worked in a number of finance roles and has lived and worked in America for over 30 years. A former deputy headboy, Peter thanks his former teachers who have had such a lasting positive impact on his life and who he is today. This is a really interesting read for any students with a head for business and finance.

Peter’s final comments about the balance of IQ and EQ in working life are most inspiring – EQ being emotional quotient, a measure of one’s interpersonal and communication skills and how important it is for students to get involved with extra-curricular activities and to gain other life experiences.

What A-levels did you study at Richmond School and Sixth Form College?

Maths Geography, Biology and General Studies

Did you go on to university, if so, where did you study and what did you read?

University of Surrey in Guildford and Michigan State University, East Lansing Michigan, USA (exchange student for second year). BSc. in Hotel, Catering & Tourism Management

On graduation, what was your first job, did this set the scene for your future career or did you end up in a completely different industry/sector in later life?

My first job after graduating (albeit only for one summer) was working as part of a management training program for what is now known as Earl Enterprises, the restaurant holding company run by Robert Earl the prodigious branding guru within the hospitality industry. While this was an exciting opportunity to kick start my career, I quickly concluded that the hospitality industry was ultimately not going to be for me given the long hours at night and over the weekends so I shifted gears and decided to gain an additional professional qualification in the area of accounting. I started with KPMG Peat Marwick McLintock in the fall of 1987 and went on to earn my Chartered Accountancy qualification roughly three years later. I have subsequently leveraged both my undergraduate degree (which was essentially a business degree with a leaning towards the hospitality industry) and my Chartered Accountancy qualification to build out a 30+ year career in operational finance for some of the leading Hi-Tech companies in Silicon Valley, CA

What inspired you to work in the business and finance sector?

During my undergraduate degree I gained an interest in business through some of my core classes. When I conducted my industrial year I got first-hand experience around how a business ran and how making financial and operational decisions were key to a business’ success. While Hospitality ended up not being the business sector I ultimately ended up in, many of the principles were very translatable. I also found the challenge of problem solving to be both enjoyable and rewarding. Business is, in many cases, about addressing needs and solving problems. I have always enjoyed “rolling my sleeves up” and getting stuck into a problem. My practical upbringing and analytical mindset have certainly helped identify creative solutions to challenging issues facing the businesses I’ve worked for

Which companies have you worked for over the years and in what roles?

1. KPMG Peat Marwick McLintock (Auditor & Manager); 2. Oracle Corporation (Manager through VP in both Corporate and Operational Finance roles); 3. VERITAS Software (VP of Operations and Business Process Re-design); 4. Symantec Corporation (VP, Pricing & Licensing); 5. Precise Software (Chief Financial Officer); 6. EMC Corporation (SVP & Divisional Chief Financial Officer, SVP & Divisional Chief Operating Officer); 7. Dell Corporation (SVP, Marketing Operations); and 8. New Relic (SVP, Financial Planning and Analysis)

When did you move to America and why?

I originally moved to the USA in 1984 as an exchange student during my second year of college and then subsequently my industrial (work experience) year. Surrey University had an established program for students that performed well in their first year and that showed the propensity to do well on their own and away from home. I apparently fit the bill. I was always attracted to the US and the general mindset of the American people and culture. A lot of my friends have said that I was “more American than most Americans” given my “can-do” attitude, willingness to work hard to achieve positive outcomes and generally optimistic outlook on things. I ended up meeting my future wife at Michigan State University on my very first day there but it wasn’t for another eight years before we got married. We’ve now been married for nearly 30 years. After returning to the UK in 1986, I finished my degree and joined KPMG. After getting my Chartered Accountancy qualification I applied for an international assignment and was offered a choice of Boston, Chicago and Silicon Valley, CA. At the time my thinking was that Boston was a bit too much like England and Chicago was very similar to Michigan (both are in the same general area of the US known as the “Midwest”) so I ended up in Silicon Valley. I proposed to my American sweetheart and then we drove across the USA (from Detroit, MI) in a U-Haul in 1991 with all of her belongings and have been in California since. While being away from my family and friends has been tough at times, I have absolutely no regrets and California is very much my home now that I share with my wife and three kids (and three dogs)

Alongside the academic side at Richmond Sixth Form, did you hold any positions of responsibility (eg headboy or deputy?), help with charity work etc, take part in sport or outward bound?

I was a pretty active member of the Richmond School community. I was deputy head boy, played on the school rugby team, attended outward bound (a rather memorable experience), competed in dance contests at the youth club and then at a regional level, helped organise numerous school events and even participated in some charity work entertaining residents at local retirement homes and Scorton Hospital. I have such fond memories of my time at Richmond School, especially in sixth form and remain in contact with a number of close friends from that time to this very day including former teachers Austin Lynch and Timothy Culkin who have had such a lasting positive impact on my life and who I am today.

How important do you think the enrichment and extra-curricular side of education is in providing the additional skills and qualities required to succeed in the world of work?

In my work life I often talk about IQ and EQ. IQ is a measure of “book smarts” or pure intellectual capability. EQ or emotional quotient is a measure of one’s interpersonal and communication skills. EQ comes from your experiences (both life and work) and the interactions you have with others. I place just as much emphasis on a person’s EQ as I do on their IQ during any interview process. Is this someone that is interesting, that I’d like to work with, that would work well with others? Do they have an interesting background and diverse perspectives that will enrich the team? Can they relate to my other team members in a way that drives a more productive environment? Some of the smartest people around are simply not that good at interacting with others, getting things done or leveraging each other to drive scale and efficiency across an organization. The missing element in many cases is EQ. Being balanced in the way you grow and learn between these two areas is key so it’s super important to get involved with extra-curricular activities and to gain other life experiences. The businesses of today are looking for people that know how to apply themselves and not just individuals with a qualification and no life experiences.

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