Alumni Services

Peter Gibbons

Peter Gibbons’ physics degree seems far removed from his current role in business, but the scientific, problem solving grounding he received in Edinburgh has served him well.

Name Peter D Gibbons
Degree Course BSc Physics
Year of Graduation 1983
Peter Gibbons

Your time at the University

Choosing Edinburgh was easy - my parents had gone there as well as my brother and two sisters and it seemed to be the ‘place to go.’ Equally important for me however was that it had a world class Physics Department and I would be taught by some of the best minds.

There’s something about Edinburgh in the fall that you never get over. The sun is lower in the sky, the city looks its best and that feeling of starting a new year and meeting up with friends and sharing summer stories is special and never leaves you.

My memories from third year cycling in the rain and cold from my flat in Stockbridge to Kings Buildings every day are not so good. That was followed by navigating the maze of the James Clerk Maxwell Building which was built by the same people who built the Pyramids and I swear many of the construction workers were still trying to find their way out.

I played clarinet for the University of Edinburgh Orchestra for two years which was great fun - we even went on tour to Aberdeen to play Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. It was suggested it was the first public performance of that work in Scotland - based on how we played it almost certainly was the last.

Wednesday afternoons meant inter-mural football followed by good beer and bad food at Teviot Row or similar. In fact everything seemed to be followed by good beer and bad food and memories of Jim, Alan, Iain, Andy, Doug, Bill and many other friends who I shared my time with.

I would have to add that I loved studying physics and I was lucky to be taught by Peter Higgs and many other world renowned physicists. The good news is that after surviving Quantum Physics nothing in life is ever that difficult again.

Most importantly I met my wife Katy at university. So just like my father before me, my memory of the first time I saw and met the girl I would marry is tied to the unique place that shaped me for four precious years. We have three children: Rachel, Dominic and Roisin.

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

So what do you do with a degree in physics from one of the great universities? In my case I joined ICI, which at that time was one of the world’s biggest chemical companies. That led to a career in business that has spanned assignments in Europe, Latin America and the USA.

I spent 20 years at ICI with a two year break to work with the Scottish Development Agency and gain my MBA. Like many others I joined ICI in a technical role which then developed into roles in engineering, manufacturing, finance, IT, and finally what is now called supply chain.

My final role with ICI was running the North American supply chain for our Paints and Coatings division. That was followed by six years at Starbucks most of which was spent running their global supply chain. We led the Starbucks supply chain to #5 on the Gartner list of Retail supply chains and #16 across all supply chains.

In 2013 I joined Mattel in Los Angeles as EVP Global Supply Chain and I lead global operations which covers final product engineering, planning, procurement, manufacturing, logistics, quality and social responsibility.

In peak season I have 50,000 employees in our nine manufacturing plants and 33 distribution centers, so this is a huge and complex operation. I was hired to take our supply chain to a higher level of performance and we have just launched our new manufacturing and customer fulfilment strategies to do just that.

I would have to add that I loved studying physics and I was lucky to be taught by Peter Higgs and many other world renowned physicists.

Peter Gibbons

This might quite seem quite detached from studying physics at Edinburgh. But the start at Edinburgh was essential and opened the door into the world of ICI where a strong technical and scientific background was valued.

That technical background has continued to be valuable whether it’s debating the design of the coffee roasting plants we built at Starbucks, or reviewing the engineering plans for our die-cast expansion at Mattel, or analysing the results of the many sourcing and network optimization studies I have initiated.

The real pay-off however has been the ability to manage complex problems, to synthesize information and knowledge from multiple experiences and industries, and to ‘join the dots’ and see connections that others perhaps have not noticed. All of these were first honed in the physics and maths classes I attended at Edinburgh. And as I indicated above, after surviving quantum physics surely no business problem can be that difficult.

I have been involved in several business transformations in my career and am often asked to speak about these experiences. The most recent was hosted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Logistics Directorate who wanted to hear about business transformation and how it might apply to the US Military.

I always let people know that I am a proud graduate of the University of Edinburgh and how my education and experience opened doors and remains the foundation of my career.

Alumni wisdom

I would offer two suggestions. First, relish the experience of university and student life. It passes so quickly and once you’re away from the unique university atmosphere you never quite lose the longing to go back. So relish the chance to learn about yourself, to challenge and stretch yourself, to be free and appreciate the opportunity to study - yes, appreciate the opportunity to study.

Second, careers and jobs are incredibly important and don’t lose sight of that - but also know that false starts and uncertainty are ok and are part of finding your path which you will. Good luck.