Gary Peek only wanted a pizza the first time he called for delivery to his dorm in 1982. He didn't expect that his career — which led to a pizza industry sea change — would come from that simple meal.
In need of money, the Texas A&M freshman got a job at a nearby Domino's Pizza, where he watched the manager toil nightly over paperwork-laden closing duties. Peek, a computer-science major who'd been programming on his own, got an idea.
"Since the closing driver had to stay and clean up the store, I learned a lot about the manager's paperwork, how everything was transferred manually from one report to another," said Peek, president of Intura Solutions, a POS software developer in Arlington, Texas. "I got to thinking about how to automate that process with a computer. I figured that if the manager could that done more quickly, he could help me mop floors and I could get out of there faster and get some sleep for classes the next day."
Peek continued working for Domino's and moved to California to
Work: President, Intura Solutions
Hometown: Longview, Texas
College: Texas A&M, majored in computer science
Family: Wife, Cindy; children Hayden, Bethany, Colin, Mallory and Eryn.
help a friend open new units. He learned the ropes of the business and applied that knowledge continually to his back-office management software program. After a three-year run working in 21 stores in four states, he left pizza and found Business Software Design Inc. in 1986. There he launched Relief Manager, a back-office management software tool he sold to Domino's owners in California.
As the business grew, the code-blooded Peek saw much more potential for computerizing the pizza shop at the point of sale. A chance meeting with a friend of a friend led him to form Breakaway Technologies in 1990.
"If you can believe it, we met at a (convenience) store, where we both had stopped to get gasoline," said Tom Patty, Peek's eventual partner in Breakaway. A friend introduced the two and later determined they'd be a good business match. "He told Gary about my background in sales and marketing, and then Gary called me a couple weeks later with some ideas about starting a company."
The early going for Breakaway was tough. To generate income, Patty sold Relief Manager while Peek pecked away developing Breakaway's new software. But the revenue stream was as dry as the Texas plains. During one two-week stretch, the men ate baked potatoes six nights a week and hit McDonald's on the seventh for two-for-one Big Mac deals. For the company's first eight years, neither "took a decent vacation," Patty said.
Still, the pair was undeterred and stuck to their belief in their burgeoning product.
"I think a little of what kept me going was blind ambition," Peek said. "I'm also one of those people who, if you tell me I can't do something, I'll work harder just to show you I can."
Ironically, the hardworking Peek said his biggest burn to build Breakaway was "to create a product that enabled people to enjoy their lives outside of work. That drove me more than making a bunch of money."
In 1991, Breakaway launched its first POS package, which Patty sold to Domino's operators. By 1994, the company expanded beyond U.S. borders and acquired a POS software competitor, and the new growth drove the name change to Breakaway International.
That same year also was the deadline for Domino's operators to computerize their shops. Tim Kogelschatz, who then worked with Domino's corporate IT department, said Peek's experience in real pizza operations and his innovative thinking made Breakaway an easy choice for the chain's corporate units.
"It was designed from the ground up to be what it was; it wasn't patched together" like some systems, said Kogelschatz, now with BlueStar Distributing, a POS hardware and software provider. "Talking to Gary was like talking to someone who worked at Domino's. He knew the business."
Breakaway's star was rising quickly in the POS industry,
I'm also one of those people who, if you tell me I can't do something, I'll work harder just to show you I can.
— Gary Peek
but changes in personal computing convinced Peek and Patty the company had not reached its zenith. In 1998, Breakaway started development on a touchscreen-driven Windows POS platform named Vision. The design would work not only for pizza, but for quick-service overall.
"Eighty percent of most POS systems share most everything in common, but it's that 20 percent that's operationally different," Peek said. "Vision was put together to have modules to address those operational differences."
The combination of Vision's successful launch and Breakaway's acquisition of two key hospitality-industry software properties opened the eyes of NTN, a similar but larger software firm. NTN bought Breakaway in 2003, ended their baked-potato-and-Big-Mac days for good and gave them three-year employment contracts.
Initially the relationship was a good one, but when NTN made clear is wasn't interested in the point-of-sale solution Breakaway brought to the table, Peek got restless.
"They wanted the restaurant-specific software part of our business only, and I didn't want to break apart what we put together the year before," Peek said. "I offered to acquire the point-of-sale business
and give up the
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last year-and-a-half of my employment contract."
In February of 2005, Peek founded Intura Solutions, whose core product is Intura Vision. That day "was one of the happiest business days of my life," he said.
That Peek knows his strengths and is firm in his personal and professional convictions makes him a great person to do business with, Kogelschatz said. He knows his old colleague is driven to build Intura into a big POS player, but he knows Peek's performance outside of the tech world is even more important to him.
"When he talks about leading his church group, about doing things for others above and beyond his business, that says this is someone who sees more to life than business," Kogelschatz said. "Gary knows that one day, there's going to be someone beyond this life to give an answer to, and he leads his life with that in mind. ... . I can never imagine a day when I could not say I'm glad to know Gary Peek."