Business is a Team Sport: Former Pioneer reflects on his pioneering career in computer science
Born and raised in Rockville Center, Peter Gibson P’82 was a kinetic kid, rangy and tough, with a winning spirit and the sort of game sense that made him a quick study and an effective leader on the court or field. At Oceanside High School, if it involved a ball, Gibson was good at it. He loved baseball and basketball, but his strong suit was football. A standout quarterback, he was “All County” as a junior and “All Long Island” a year later. His performance earned him a scholarship to Boston College.
But his destiny did not lie in New England, or in sports. As a freshman, his athletic dreams were cruelly tested upon the rocks of a winless season. “It’s a hard memory,” he said, with the reflective tone of a man who values the pragmatic world view that emerged from that blunt reality check.
When he returned to Long Island at the end of his sophomore year, Gibson was resigned that his chances of a professional sports career were thin. Accepting that fate, he redirected his focus into building the foundation for a career that would fulfill him for the rest of his life, similar to the way sports had in his early years.
New Field of Opportunities
At Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus, Gibson found that he could still make a difference on the gridiron. He started as a defensive back for the Pioneers during his junior and senior years. Then, looking for a new athletic challenge, he joined the lacrosse team in his senior year as a walk-on, having never before played the grueling sport.
But it was in the classroom that his knowledge of sports helped to distinguish him, and set him upon the trajectory that would lead to a career he’d never imagined. “Post had a great computer science program,” Gibson said, adding, “especially considering that computers were still relatively new back then.”
The first successfully mass marketed personal computer, the Commodore PET, had been introduced, in fact, only two years before Gibson arrived at Post. It was followed, in short order, by the Apple and Tandy’s TRS-80 and, close behind them, a tidal wave of other devices, most of which were destined to fall by the wayside. It was, recalled Gibson, “a very fertile time in the industry.”
It was Professor Brian Glazer who enticed Gibson to try his hand at the nascent discipline of computer science. “Glazer was young and he was a very engaging teacher,” said Gibson. “His classes were challenging and interesting, because he used a lot of real world problems to teach programming.”
Years of successful participation in sports had instilled in Gibson the value of hard work and discipline. “Computer science demanded both,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy discipline to master, but I could see, right away, that if you worked hard and you were ambitious there were lots of opportunities.” And, according to Gibson there will be many more in the years to come. “I would still recommend computer science as a major to any student. There is as much innovation going on in the industry as there ever has been.”
Gibson threw himself into mastering the skills demanded by the emerging industry and soon became so adept that he wrote a program to help coaches analyze opposing teams’ skills and tendencies. He tried,unsuccessfully, to sell it to the New York Jets. Though they declined the offer, he was undaunted. He knew he’d found his career, and the program was a strong feature on his résumé.
A Durable Career
After graduating from C.W. Post in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree, Gibson cut his teeth in the technology industry at General Electric and then a few years later with Digital Equipment Corporation, a leading competitor of IBM in the mid-1980s.
By the time he left Digital Equipment Corporation to join Trecom Business Systems Inc. in 1987, Gibson was a seasoned professional. It was at Trecom, a prominent national business and technology consulting firm, that he defined himself as a leader to be reckoned with. Within a few years he rose to the top echelons of the company on the strength of his role in more than doubling revenues, to nearly $150 million.
“At Trecom, I was fortunate to get introduced to Frank Casagrande, our Chairman, Manny Arturi, our CEO, and Shail Jain, who is my closest business partner and current co-CEO. They all have been great business partners for close to 30 years now.” Gibson outlined four business principles they have applied in the three firms they have run together: exceed expectations in how you deliver for clients; hire talent better than ourselves; foster a collaborative mindset; and respond with agility.”
Gibson was 30 years old and had earned the title of executive vice president. By 1999, when he left Trecom, he was group president of a growing business that employed more than 1,300 people.
With 17 years of experience under his belt—practically an epoch in the rapidly evolving world of late-20th-century computer technology—Gibson was determined to build his own company. “Our former chairman and CEO at Trecom, Frank Casagrande and Manny Arturi, decided to invest in two of the young guys to start a new business.”
Gibson and Jain launched BusinessEdge Solutions in 1999. Under their astute stewardship, BusinessEdge would become a robust national business consulting and technology solutions firm focusing on financial services, communications, and life sciences businesses. “Interestingly, two of our leaders at BusinessEdge, Nick Trentalange and Rob Shinbrot, were also C.W. Post computer science majors [both Class of 1984],” said Gibson. By the time BusinessEdge was acquired by EMC Corporation, one of the world’s largest providers of data storage systems, in 2007, it had more than 800 employees.
After the sale of BusinessEdge, Gibson and Jain launched 4Sight Ventures Group, a venture capital firm specializing in young startups in the information management and health care industries. They had learned a lot about what it takes for new businesses to succeed, and their expertise amounted to a large part of their investment in the new companies to which they took a shine.
In the spring of 2011 they joined Knowledgent Group as co-chief executive officers, an unusual relationship that speaks volumes about their long, successful partnership. “Business is a team sport,” Gibson said of his long business
collaboration with Jain. “Shail and I have always worked better as a team. We collaborate about every major decision and the outcome is always improved.” A five-year-old, New Jersey-based industry consulting and information management firm, Knowledgent also has offices in New York City and Boston. With 250 employees and more than $50 million in revenue, Knowledgent, “improves lives and business through data,” Gibson said. “We are a pure play data and analytics consulting firm. We were fortunate to get involved with “big data” technologies early in 2011. The key is that we have expertise in the traditional information management and analytics technologies, as well the new.”
The enduring lessons Gibson learned in athletic competition—“how to multitask; how to take feedback and learn from it; how to focus”—have served him well throughout his career. He invests those kinds of values in his philanthropic activities with a wide range of organizations and institutions that aim to make the world a better place. Beneficiaries of his charity include the Boys and Girls Club of Trenton, Rutgers Athletics Leadership Academy, and Dayspring Ministries and the Light and Peace Mission, which provides many kinds of support for impoverished people in Haiti, where Dayspring has played an especially important role in the aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.
But nowhere has Gibson’s commitment to athletics been more apparent than in his generous support of the Pioneers athletics programs. “My friend Sal Naro was instrumental in getting me involved with LIU in support of the athletic programs and later convinced me to join as a member of the LIU Board of Trustees.” Together, Gibson and Naro, a longtime member of LIU’s Board of Trustees, led a two-year campaign to build a new stadium at LIU Post.
When LIU’s new Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium opened for the Pioneers’ first football game of the season on September 6, 2014, the game was preceded by a dedication ceremony christening the stadium’s field after the late Durrell “Bronko” Pearsall P’92, a standout Pioneers football player during his years at LIU, and a member of the New York Fire Department’s Rescue 4, Engine 292 squad. Pearsall was serving with his unit in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center towers when he lost his life on 9/11. In addition to Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the generous support of more than 150 alumni and friends was also acknowledged. The new stadium features seating for 3,000 more fans than in the past and a new scoreboard made possible by B. Christina P’85 and Salvatore Naro P’83. The renovation also includes an adjacent grassy park space, known as the Rosalie Nuti Memorial Park, which was made possible through the generosity of Michelle and William Nuti P’86. It will be a hub for athletic, alumni, and community events.
For Gibson, the dedication of the field in honor of “Bronko” Pearsall was especially moving. “Our friend and Rescue 2 head Liam Flaherty was able to acquire a six-foot piece of steel from the Twin Towers,” he said. “It will be on display at the stadium forever, in memory of Bronko. Before the team took the field that day, each of the players paused to touch it. That was the best day I can remember at Post. We all sang ‘God Bless America’ in honor of a
true hero, Bronko.”