A social game of netball in which he snapped an Achilles tendon led to an attitudinal change to risk for Steve Griffin. "I'd been in war zones (he was 23 years in the Royal Air Force) but I nearly died with deep vein thrombosis after the netball game," he says.
"That gave me a new attitude to life. I had a 250cc motorbike and immediately went out and bought a 1000cc model."
Griffin became country manager for Unisys New Zealand last December. He'd joined the company just three months previously as sales director global managed services, a role he retains.
When he applied for the sales director job, he had first researched the company. "It sounded to me like an organisation with a very strong focus on growth. I launched a crusade to put the 'service' back into services."
It's a philosophy, he says, with four basic principles.
"The first is: 'I own this.' That means you don't pass off a response to someone else.
"Second, Unisys has around 290 staff in New Zealand; it's small enough that each staff member deals daily with clients. There's no place to hide. Staff can make a difference. It's about building reputation." He's increased the number of account managers from two to five. "These are senior people who can hold C-level conversations."
"Third, we have no silos. I won't tolerate that."
"Fourth, and most important, we put the client at the centre. Face the client and you'll never be wrong."
"We're small enough to drive this because we can self-police."
Griffin joined the air force as a youngster, retiring as a wing commander in 1999.
"I joined EDS in the UK to head its management change team in Defence," he says. "I then moved to EDS Government as a management consultant, dealing with clients such as Inland Revenue."
He moved as programme director to a financial services organisation where EDS had a 400 million pound contract.
"My role was to take business issues into IT."
Griffin left EDS to join Rawlings, a company which specialised in strategic outsourcing advice.
He moved to New Zealand for personal reasons, rejoining EDS as client industry executive for government technology, subsequently becoming EDS' account executive for government.
EDS was acquired by Hewlett-Packard where Griffin became sales director for HP enterprise services. That layer of the business got taken out of Australia and New Zealand as HP continued to downsize. That's when he applied for the Unisys job.
"There was the attraction of running something, which I'd had from my military days," he says.
Unisys, he says, is profitable but he can't disclose any figures because the full global results are due in June.
"When I was doing due diligence on the company, I was surprised at its breadth in New Zealand. It was bedding in the McDonald's account for Australia and New Zealand, supporting 1000 restaurants, and was in the process of extending its Vodafone contract. (Unisys won the tender to amalgamate the vendors used by Vodafone: Unisys and HP were the incumbents).
"We now do servers, storage, print management and end-user support for Vodafone."
Since focusing on the service model at Unisys, he says he has "seen relationships change in the past five months.
"A senior government CIO explained to me: 'If you can get the operations right, the rest follows.'
"The ultimate metric is growth."
Griffin says it's the application that's the lifeblood in ICT.
"With our current thinking, we quickly ascertain what the critical application is for a customer. It's about optimising the business for the customer."
Unisys is seeing some mainframe growth in New Zealand, he says, particularly with putting a mainframe wrapper around the Intel platform.
Griffin says a vendor needs the right mix of government and private sector clients because the sectors are counter cyclical. "A good balance puts you in a position to weather changes."
He notes that clients these days are keen on vendors having an opinion. "You should know what the client expects you to know, being able to tell them where the pain is rather than asking them."
He's fond of quoting physicist Ernest Rutherford: "Gentlemen, we've run out of money; it's time to think."