In episode two of this podcast series focusing on career paths in the SAP ecosystem, we hear how Simon Persin went from being a trumpet playing history major to an expert SAP GRC and security consultant at Turnkey Consulting. (Hint: it involves an auto club and the usual post-collegiate parental pressure.)
Dave Hannon: Hello and welcome to The Path, a podcast series exploring the career path of people in the SAP ecosystem. I’m Dave Hannon with SAPinsider. I’m excited to be joined today by Simon Persin, a senior manager and GRC solution lead at Turnkey Consulting, as well as an accomplished musician, as we’ll find out more about in this podcast. Welcome, Simon.
Simon Persin: Hi Dave, thanks very much.
DH: So, Simon, I wanted to ask, you live in the UK now, is that correct?
SP: It is, yes.
DH: And that’s where you always lived, you grew up there and went to university there?
SP: Yeah that’s correct. I’ve traveled widely but never actually lived abroad for any great length of time.
DH: Ok, great. So, tell me a little bit about your background when you were young. What were you interested in, if I met you at age fourteen, would I have been able to guess you’d be an IT consultant today? Were you a technical kid?
SP: I wouldn’t have said so, no. I was very sporting when I was younger, in the teenage years especially. When I was out and about I did, I suppose, what most teenage boys did and got into as much trouble as possible without doing anything seriously wrong.
But no, not massively technical, I don’t suppose. More around more of the humanities subjects, I suppose, is what I focused on. But yeah, I suppose sports, music – some of the more artistic sides, but yeah, not particularly technical.
DH: Ok, ok, so, when you did go to college, what did you study?
SP: Actually, a history degree. I went down to western England, went down to Exeter, in Devon, and read history for three years.
DH: Ok. So how does a guy with a history degree wind up in the IT field? What was your first job out of college?
SP: Pretty much accidentally, to answer your question more directly, I suppose I came back from university not really knowing what to do. I kind of went to university, didn’t know what I wanted to do at university, so I picked a subject I was vaguely good at for my A-levels and took it from there. So, effectively moved back in with the folks for a little while and placated them by searching for a job. Landed a temporary job working for the Automobile Association in the UK, and was doing effectively end-user support for a recent SAP implementation they’ve been doing and, well -- effectively motor industry garages, they rolled out a project to put SAP in as a point of sale and manufacturing and timing and ordering and everything else and I was just answering the phones doing defect resolution for them, really.
DH: So were you at all familiar with SAP technology, had you ever heard of it or knew anything about it?
SP: No, absolutely nothing. As I said, went in as a fairly green person. Had a fair amount of common sense and logical thought from the background in academic studies with history and all that sort of stuff, and yeah just fell into it from there.
Treated me well and I kept trying to grow my role, kept trying to get more and more involved with more things that were on the page there and quickly moved off of the phones and more onto the defect resolution and there we go, that was SAP troubleshooting opening doors.
DH: Ok, obviously you liked the technology because you stayed with it for so long. Was there anything in those early dealings with SAP technology you liked specifically? Did you find it intuitive or did it just make sense to you?
SP: Oh certainly in that release I don’t think even SAP were trying to claim it was intuitive but certainly it impressed me as a technology set – just, the breadth and scale of it as a solution at that point, it just seemed like it could do almost anything with a couple of zeds in front of the style of programming and there you go. So it certainly seemed early on that it wasn’t going anywhere, as in it was here to stay rather than progressing.
But yeah, it seemed like a good opportunity and as I say most of my career has been about maximizing those opportunities rather than necessarily going hell-bent through a driven objective.
DH: Ok, you eventually moved into the consulting side. What do you like about that role, vs. being an in-house IT person?
SP: Well, I came into consulting via the big four. So, I was working for an end-user company that taught me absolutely loads so I really value that time because it taught me how to kind of have that brand loyalty knowing the job I was doing was directly impacting a particular company. And also taught me how get things done.
So, in operations you were more bothered about the costs of implementing, you were bothered about how that translated into progress and all sorts of things instead of just sitting back and writing a report. So, went to one of the big four here in the UK and that was a completely different world. That was almost like playing a game where people were trying to beat all those targets for utilization and sales and all sorts of those particular challenges to try and get promoted to the next rung on the ladder.
And I suppose consulting is a nice hybrid of that. I work for Turnkey Consulting and although we’re growing rapidly we’re not massive in the grand scheme of things. And so having the ability to directly influence the path that the company takes and to be involved in growing the business, as well as still getting involved in some difficult, challenging, and exciting projects, it’s a really fantastic middle ground for me. And it enables to focus on what I need to – in both my career and also delivers some fantastic value out to customers as well.
DH: Now in addition to your work as a consultant you’re also a very accomplished musician. How did you first get involved in music?
SP: Well, I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was first six years old. So that’s well over 20 years now. That’s been the constant throughout pretty much my whole life or certainly what I can remember of it.
It came about through having lessons first at my primary school when I was, as I said, six. And started playing for a local brass band at that point, and it just sort of carried on from there. I got past the point where I was benefitting from having lessons and some might say I should have gone back on that decision and had a load more. But certainly I wasn’t enjoying the structure of the lessons and trying to pass all the grades and all the rest of it, so I decided to take the decision to play for pleasure and I just keep it as an involved hobby rather than a profession.
From that point onwards I’ve never looked back. Playing in the brass band, in the UK, was a very, very active movement and great social-side, so it keeps me busy two nights a week except when we’re competing. Rehearsals ramp up strongly, so at the moment we’re rehearsing – my brass band is actually competing at the national championships at the Royal Albert Hall later in October. So that’s a fair amount of pressure to have alongside the day job.
It’s given me so much, certainly a distraction from when work is getting stressful, the team building of working with all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds, and not on a few occasions been able to help with an extra bit of pocket money for doing some paid jobs and paid gigs, certainly while I was as university.
So, yeah, it’s kept me sane. It’s driven me insane, but it’s been there and it’s something I hope to continue doing.
DH: Do you see any parallels between your work in music and your work in IT; are there things you learned in music that you applied to your work?
SP: Definitely. There’s actually a lot more than you’d think -- mainly the sort of people-management side. You don’t always have the luxury of people that are on the same wavelength or people who are on the same point in their lives and careers with the band, you’ve got people from all walks of life.
So, being able to break down those barriers and being able to communicate with them and all work together for a shared goal is absolutely paramount in work but it’s even more so in the social side and certainly within a brass band context there’s just so much of that that you do, just ultimately get to. I mean, I, in the band we play in, we have people that work in a DIY store, right the way up to people who C- offices for multinational companies. And all sit in there after rehearsal sharing a beer, there’s no better way of getting things done.
DH: Lastly, do you have any advice for folks who are maybe just starting out in the SAP world? Obviously there are a lot of directions they can go in. Any guidance you can provide them?
SP: Certainly what’s worked for me is working hard, clearly, applying yourself to the path that you’re doing, making sure you do the best job that you possibly can. But the only other advice really that I’ve got is keep your eyes and ears open, so if there’s an opportunity coming around, make sure that you’re interested in it and looking for it, rather than blindly following what’s in front of you. Because you never know what chance meeting or coffee shop liaison may actually get you into a better position or a new job or take you down a completely different avenue.
So certainly don’t rule anything out, keep your eyes and ears open, and work hard.
DH: Ok. Simon Persin, senior manager and GRC solution lead at Turnkey Consulting and accomplished musician, thank you for joining me here today on The Path.
SP: No problem, thank you very much.