This week, Pipe Dream sat down with Peter Altabef, a Binghamton Univeristy graduate and the chair and chief executive officer (CEO) of Unisys Corporation, a global information technology company. Altabef graduated in 1980 with a Bachelor of Arts in economics.
Pipe Dream: Can you give readers a brief overview of your life and what led you to BU? Following up on that, when did you first become interested in the technology world, and how did you first enter it?
Peter Altabef: I am the oldest of three siblings all raised in downstate New York. We are all second-generation Americans (none of our grandparents were born in the United States) and neither of our parents went to college. My two siblings and I all graduated from [BU] and all went on to graduate degrees. So, [BU] has been very formative in the life of our whole family.
My favorite course at [BU] was introduction to microeconomics and I am holding my textbook from that course as I speak. I also took computer programming at [BU] which opened a window to the world of technology for me.
I graduated from [BU] with a degree in economics and had a choice of going to law school, business school or to pursue a Ph.D. in economics. I chose law school because I thought I could excel there more readily than in the other two disciplines, but always intended to have a career in business and specifically in technology. My law practice centered on technology and securities and after becoming a law partner, I was asked to become [a] general counsel at a technology company and ultimately became the CEO at that company.
PD: Following up on the previous question, could you give readers a brief overview of your professional career? How have you achieved such high positions in multiple companies during your career?
PA: After becoming a partner at Hughes & Luce LLP in Dallas, Texas, I became a general counsel and later CEO at Perot Systems Corporation and led the services division of Dell, after it acquired Perot Systems. I then became the CEO at MICROS Systems, Inc. until that company was acquired by Oracle. I am now the chair and CEO at Unisys Corporation.
I serve on the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC) and am a trustee for the Committee for Economic Development [of The Conference Board] (CED)and serve as co-chair of the CED Technology and Innovation Committee.
How have I achieved such high positions at multiple companies throughout my career? The answer is serendipity.
PD: What does being the CEO of a technology company entail, and more specifically, what do you do now as CEO of Unisys Corporation?
PA: Being CEO at any company requires curiosity of the industry in which that company operates and of the world in general. Being a CEO at a technology company is especially exciting because of the rate of change in the industry and the centricity of technology to our economy and our social framework.
PD: I think it could be interesting and fun for students to maybe get an example of a day in the life, and see how it differs from what they do, or give them a better idea of what it means to be the chair and CEO of a company, if that is something you would be comfortable sharing!
PA: One of the most challenging and fun aspects of my job is working with colleagues and clients all over the world. Over the past two years, I have had to adjust from physically traveling a majority of my time to a world of virtual video calls, all while ensuring I deepen the important and impactful relationships with colleagues and clients.
PD: Are there any fun or interesting memories you have from your time at BU that you’d like to share with readers?
PA: I lived on campus at College-in-the-Woods (CIW) for three years and was a resident assistant (RA) in my third year, moving off campus to Downtown Binghamton for my senior year. My experience as an RA gave me an early indication of the personal satisfaction I receive from helping others. My experience off campus greatly expanded my view of the [Triple Cities] area. I also worked for IBM at its Endicott facility, which was my first technology-related position!
PD: Finally, are there any lessons you would like to share with readers, specifically college students who are about to enter the professional world?
PA: The relationships you have established at college can be foundational for your entire life if you continue to invest in them and don’t abandon them when you disperse after graduation.