Open Eye: Opening Up: John Barton - Grounded - but he's still a high flyer

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The Independent Online
John Barton is Managing Director of a European software services company, Satyam (Europe) Limited. He started his career as an Engineering Officer in the RAF but says he soon realised he needed to expand his knowledge in order to succeed in a commercial role.

At the age of 25, the OU accepted his application to study for an MBA and 3 years later he was one of the OU's youngest students to be successful.

What was your family background?

My parents were publicans, running hotels and restaurants, which meant that my forming years were spent moving around.

Like any child, I wasn't happy about having to make and remake new friends but I think it's given me the ability to embrace the opportunities that change brings. The other positive side was that by becoming involved in my parents' business, I was able to overcome that lack of confidence many children have around adults, and quickly learned how to interact with a diversity of people and cultures.

How were your school years?

During the early part of my senior school life I was a little overweight and therefore a target for other children.

Although it isn't a pleasant experience for any child it did teach resilience and forced me to look after myself. The consequence was typical and meant that I was always in trouble. Hence my early education suffered. However, at 14 after an illness, the weight disappeared and my school life completely changed. I started to achieve and began to get direction in my life.

What was your earliest ambition?

I was always fascinated by flying, and by joining the Air Training Cadets at the age of 12, I became even more interested. I loved being part of the team, loved the discipline, loved the challenges and the freedom and excitement of adventure training.

What was your first job?

Joining the Royal Air Force was a natural step: it sounded like the perfect life for me, offering all that I had come to enjoy within the Air Training Corps. I wanted to join as a pilot. Unfortunately, I only had seven O- levels and not the required O-level English. So I signed up as a Air Electronics Technician.

When I'd finished training (and taken my English O level), I had been internally assessed and selected as a candidate for commissioning and as a pilot. Then I broke my leg in a skiing accident, which nearly cost me my leg and my life. I spent nine months in hospital on my back while RAF surgeons rebuilt my leg using bone and lots of metal work.

By the time I'd learned to walk again my leg had not lost any length but my eyesight had deteriorated and I subsequently failed the medical requirement for fast jet. Not disheartened, I was offered an engineering commission instead and went on to train and work in satellite and communications.

What made you start studying with the OU?

I always knew I would outgrow the Royal Air Force and although the experience was invaluable I recognised that it would not be sufficient to make it in the corporate world.

Ironically, as I started progressing through my MBA studies I found I was getting more and more frustrated with inefficient internal processes and the bureaucracy of it all. I increasingly felt that my creative side was being hindered.

What difference has the OU made?

It has made all the difference. It gave me a new direction and opportunity to accept new challenges. The MBA material has a lot of information and rhetoric and you quickly recognise that you need to be able to extract the useful parts and create your own toolbox. The chance to participate in group discussions was invaluable as was the opportunity to challenge the group and talk through ideas in a safe environment.

Where did you go from the Air Force?

Another turning point in my life came at the age of 30. I had just finished an operational duty and decided I had achieved as much as I had wanted to in the RAF. I was spotted by a recruiter, who placed my CV in front of Andy Roberts, then Chairman of Data Sciences , which was being taken over by IBM.

From there I was head-hunted for a European management role within General Electric and in March of this year I was appointed as managing director of Satyam (Europe), a European software services company.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The ability to lead, communicate a vision and empower people to make a difference. GE taught me a great deal, it is a great company with people that really believed in themselves and each other. I love working with people who are energetic, who really want to grow and who believe that by working together, including the customers, that as a team we can achieve just about anything

...and least?

The commitment and time required to establish, grow and lead a business is considerable. I am conscious of the time I spend working and of the need to spend time with my young family. I hate spending too much time away.

Would you do more OU study?

I'm in the second year of a diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and have always been a believer in life long learning.

I would be very surprised if I don't enrol on another OU course in the medium term.

What are your goals for the future?

Clearly, I have a business to grow which is my prime goal. However, I have a personal business mission, to take out the mystery and high cost of software services and make such services affordable not just for large multi-nationals but for the small and medium sized companies that have a real opportunity in the increasingly virtual economy.

At a personal level, I would like to become more involved with a global cause, not just supporting by charitable donations but physically.

I always believed, from an early age, that I would make a difference but I don't as yet know what that will be. I just know that I haven't found it yet.

To what do you attribute your success?

Very simple. Energy and drive.