Peter Russell: From the rugby pitch to the boardroom

  • Peter Russell is the Managing Director for Ireland at CANCOM UK&I, which has recently been acquired by Telefónica Tech for almost €400m. Sync NI takes a look at the career that led someone who once played rugby for Ireland against the All-Blacks, to heading up one of the island’s most prosperous tech firms.

    At one early stage in Peter Russell’s career, he was working full time at one of the largest local banks, playing rugby for Ulster, and studying for a degree - in which he achieved 1st Class Honours - all while he and his wife were raising their young family. So, in many respects, you could say he was well prepared for a busy career in the tech sector.  

    But it wasn’t until a few years into life with Northern Bank that he was actually working in any kind of tech role. That’s when he moved into the bank’s computer operations department, and there he stayed until leaving the business after 17 years to join what became Steria. There he rose from project manager to the role of General Manager for Northern Ireland and after seven years was headhunted for a senior role in Microsoft. 

    After four years as Microsoft’s Ireland Head of Public Sector Peter, moved to BT as Head of Business and was then Managing Director of BT in Northern Ireland. Following this, he joined Neueda, a fast-growing and agile tech company with its eye set on international growth. It was here that Peter experienced the need for speed and agility to compliment corporate business, and he played a central role in expanding Neueda’s sales and marketing, leaving after four busy years to set up his own company. And that’s when CANCOM came calling.

    CANCOM had recently acquired Novosco, and as it was integrating the former Novosco operations with its other UK businesses to create CANCOM UK&I, it needed a senior leader to take forward its business on the island of Ireland. Peter was appointed in January 2021, and he has a three-year plan for significant growth, with a big focus on the health market and value propositions focusing on cloud transformation and cyber security services. It’s no doubt a challenging brief in a competitive market, but it’s one for which the man who once played rugby for Ireland against the All-Blacks is well equipped. 

    Offering advice for those hoping to develop a career in the tech sector, he said: “When I joined the bank, it was seen as a job for life; and for many people who joined at the same time as me, it was. But I think the days of a job for life are now gone. I think when you start out on your career today you have to view it as a series of journeys. You should progress your career with an open mind and be prepared for changes – particularly in the tech industry. Do your best, have the right attitude and really develop an ability to work with people. Having good emotional intelligence is more important now than ever before.”

    “In fact, I think that’s what I really focus on most as I’m not actually a technical person. In CANCOM I have tech people around me to complement my skills, and I see my role as getting the best out of the team. My approach is to provide a clear strategy and vision, to be realistic, open and honest with people. Taking a structured approach, being disciplined, and having strong execution is also something I have relied on throughout all my career and would definitely recommend to others.” 

    “These are the key principles I have followed throughout my career and the blueprint that I have always used. Anyone who takes a similar approach through their career shouldn’t go too far wrong.”

    This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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