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September 2000 It was a rare opportunity to shadow a man who travels over 400,000 miles a year and at least 22 times out of country - Prof. Peter Cochrane, Chief Technologist, BT and author of 'Tips for the Time Travelers' is a leading visionary of the digital age.
At the BT office, Prof. Peter Cochrane strode in with a smile, "Nice meeting you" he said. After driving me around the BT Laboratories 200-acre site, we reached his office where Peter introduced me to Mary and Dipak, his personal associates. It was an informal setting. Peter's laptop was connected to a bewildering network. Besides, there were electronic gadgets lying in a corner of his room. After swiftly replying to a few e-mails Peter looked at the days' schedule. Meanwhile, I briefed Peter and Dipak about my company, Smartifacts.com. I explained the reason for my visit. To learn from him the next 10 days. Peter rattled off almost endlessly on Personal Radio Transmission Devices (PRTD), Direct To Satellite Boxes (DTSB) and other futuristic technologies, which would replace the conventional telephone and Internet and discussed future strategies for BT labs. Then he offered me an autographed copy of 'Tips for Time Travelers'.
Dipak, a British born Gujarati took me around the campus. The next day was hectic. Peter received me at 7.10 am, spoke highly on Indian talent in IT. We were off to London on the 7.35 AM train. En route, Peter connected his laptop to his mobile and checked mail several times. He gets an average mail of over 200 per day and usually replies to each within 24 hrs. On reaching London we headed straight into a meeting with Sally Davis, Director, Group Internet and Media, BT.
Peter spoke on threat technologies, the future course of action to be adopted for BT to stay as a lead company. It was a wonderful experience to see Peter driving home his point. He spoke on how BT projected the value of Internet companies as early as 1992, like amazon.com, yahoo.com and ebay.com. The day culminated with an appearance at a TV studio of eMoney channel. Peter was to appear in some of their shows.
Later, we headed to Loughborough University. On the road, we discussed personal matters as well business. He advised me on how to turn around Internet start-ups by focusing on marketing and early revenues. We talked about the history of technology and the UK and he explained that it was the right weapons that established the British Empire, and that in future it would be the 'simple to use' technology that would conquer the world.
Peter struck some deals on his mobile phone as we reached Loughborough. He was constantly in touch with his personal assistants, following up his proposals, schedules etc. Peter came across as a simple yet practical person, leaving nothing to chance. He plans his schedules well ahead and follows them up with his assistants till the last detail.
At Loughborough University Peter addressed a large student group on "More Machines than People". It was sprinkled with graphics, sound, movies and oodles of real-life incidents and jokes. He said that we should avoid imposing useless technologies on people. The presentation he said was a representation of his own family and work - a life experiment!
'Our true destiny lies in mastering time itself', says Peter in his book. He is 53 years old but really has energy and enthusiasm as a 9-year-old! Peter has been with BT for over three decades. He is involved in several Internet start-ups (ebookers.com) during the weekend. He is a manager, an academic, a researcher, an entrepreneur and a time traveler. Peter loves talking about Brenda, his wife and his four children. Peter took me to his home. This was the first English home I ever visited.
Monday morning and it was off to the University of Birmingham. There were 200 enthusiastic students and couple of teachers thrilled to hear him. Students were very happy and teachers were wee worried looking at the future Peter projected! The following day, we spoke on work ethics in changing times. Increasingly, an individual is working with at least two or more organizations simultaneously with the penetration of net culture. The manager should encourage and support the employee. The company would benefit in the long term with better employee retention and faster growth. We reached the Institution of Directors by 9 AM for a meeting. The agenda was to set the stage for a venture capital conference, which Peter plans to convene next month. Peter is roping in top IT companies to sponsor the show. About 250 delegates including venture capitalists and young start-up entrepreneurs are expected to participate.
Peter, I realized, has a unique capability of multi-tasking. He predicts, speaks and connects people - all simultaneously. It was an exciting time with Peter for 10 days. It had been sheer joy watching him drive people crazy with his ideas and his speed. We are all, in a sense, "time travelers". But time is the one resource we cannot control!