It seems like a long road from working backstage in an opera company to leading major ERP implementations for universities. But to John Thompson-Haas (also known as JTH), who recently joined Gartner’s Higher Education and Health Care practice, the work doesn’t seem all that different. “The skills required are very similar, the show must go on, in the same way an implementation must go live. You have to get different groups to work together to get something done, on time and on budget. One big difference is in an implementation, no one is screaming at you in Italian.”
After studying music, John earned a B.A. and M.A. in directing and stage management. “I love directing. You have to be curious because there are so many things you need to learn to direct a show. Stage management is rewarding because you have to organize groups of people to use their special skills to collaborate and create something larger than themselves.”
After earning his M.A., John taught college for two years. There he learned from the inside how universities worked. “But at that time I didn’t feel being on a faculty was for me. I couldn’t see teaching people something that I hadn’t done or tried to do myself. When my wife graduated with her M.B.A. we decided there were more opportunities in California. So in 1984 we moved out west to start our careers.”
Everyone needs a “day job”
After arriving in California, John landed a “day job” as a bank teller. “At the time bank tellers did everything in operations. I was already working as a stage manager for local opera companies and realized that what I was doing at the bank wasn’t much different than what I was doing backstage. It was all about getting people to work together and putting in ‘human’ systems to achieve a goal.”
For over a decade John worked in increasingly complex operations jobs in banks while directing and stage managing operas for companies all around California. However, in 1997, he had an opportunity to return to higher education when he joined the team developing PeopleSoft’s Student Administration software. “I started out in Student Financials, because according to my boss, when I was interviewed I was the only person who didn’t flinch at the words general ledger.”
Within a year John became part of the PeopleSoft Student Consulting team. “I loved it, and that was when I began using all my stage management skills in technology.”
Passion for higher education
Higher education was going through a significant technological shift from homegrown software to larger enterprise wide software to support students. In order to survive, schools had to update their technology. “At that point in my career I had put in a lot of computer systems for banks. But this was different. Here, I could see the positive impact my work was having. I saw firsthand the opportunities students had because of the work I was doing to help their schools. I became passionate about higher education and the doors it flings open for people to walk through toward better lives.”
For over a decade John led increasingly complex implementations for a wide range of universities and community colleges. “It was interesting work. In addition to helping schools survive and succeed, I was able to travel around the country, spend time and meet people in places I may not otherwise have visited. Besides, consultants are an interesting and curious group of people. No one grows up wanting to be consultant; we all come to this job from somewhere else. If you listen to your colleagues you can learn so much about the world.”
During that time John worked with Gartner on several projects he was leading. “Everyone from Gartner I worked with was smart, hardworking and interesting. I was always impressed by the company.”
Coming full circle
After years of running complex implementations it was time for a change. John joined another consulting firm to focus on cloud software for higher education. But the “great recession” caused a complete upheaval of all aspects of higher ed, and John found himself working with schools to develop all types of strategies — not just ERP cloud strategies.
“As a result of the strategy work I was doing, I was reading a lot of Gartner research. I remembered all the people I worked with from the company and thought this would be a great place to work.” So when John had an opportunity to join Gartner’s Higher Education practice, he jumped at the chance.
In February 2016, John joined the Higher Education and Health Care practice as a Sr. Director focused on higher education and ERP. “I love it. I am able to use all my experience in strategy, implementation and yes, even opera, to make a big difference in higher education. The people at Gartner are interesting and interested in the world around them. As a result, curiosity and collaboration are woven deeply in culture here.”
Curiosity and collaboration. Sounds like directing and stage managing. Working at Gartner really isn’t that different from working at an opera company.
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