Oral history of British science

Shirley, Stephanie (Part 7 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Henley-on-Thames

  • Interviewees

    Shirley, Stephanie, 1933- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 7: Remarks on move from Cricklewood to a cottage in Leyhill Chesham where SS started her business. Detailed description of cosy home in Moss Cottage, rural setting, amenities, negotiation over price, garden. [8:19] Comments on creating a business image for home-working: altering business address, changing company name from Freelance Programmers to F International, adopting name Steve. Remarks on: pioneering home-working and other flexible working concepts; continuing work to keep independence. Comments on fascination with programming, similarity to music, early programming methods. [13:10] Remarks on unusual idea of a software company at the time, impact of IBM unbundling of software and hardware. Remarks on early focus on scientific programming before concentration on data processing and administration.[15:01] Comments on starting up Freelance Programmers: portable typewriter, £6 start up capital, professional looking stationary, personal contacts, slow start, manning telephone 9 - 5. Remarks on early consultancy work on programming standards for Urwick Orr: related to start-up of Urwick Diebold; long term importance in establishing FI's reputation; contacted through ex-CDL colleague David Lush [DL]. [18:58] Remarks on: disguising small size of company; change to limited liability company Freelance Programmers Limited due to insurance costs, orientated towards systems and consultancy too so abbreviated to FPL. Remarks on: distinction of being a female programming company; not being the first software company, but first virtual work from home company, excepting Elsie Shutt company in the USA. [23:54] Remarks on: Nina St Johnson of Vaughn Programming Services, who SS asked for advice but had different attitudes to business; original motivations of freedom and independence for starting own business, boredom of travelling to work at CDL on a workman's return; efficiency of company and use of office aids such as Fax, which aided professional branding; business economies; [30:43] Comments on early growth of company: taking on first staff member for a program evaluation review technique [PERT] job for Selection Trust; early pricing arrangements; further PERT like projects for Mars Confectionery in Slough and Wallasey Buses, leading the company into logistics and operational research; [34:59] Comments on Business Operations Research [BOR]: introduced by DL, based in Wimbledon, developed working relationship with FI. Remarks on reciprocal arrangements with customers, such as Hilley Furniture, and proving FI's status next to BOR. Remarks on: taking a while to develop selling skills, early software market. [38:04] Remarks on early growth of staff: article on SS in the Guardian bringing in a flood of women who wanted to work for her. Comments on establishing professional image for company: importance of part time secretary Barbara Edwards; using a tape recording of office sounds to disguise domestic nature of company on the phone; changing her name to Steve after husband suggested lack of responses were sexism. [43:23] Further remarks on being Steve or Stephanyand changing her name several times in her life, mentions experience of serving on honours committee. [46:10] Remarks on early funding: original £6, borrowing money from mother, dealings with the bank, understanding bank manager Mr Priddle, early money worries, 1970s recession, growth of profits, keeping a simple book keeping record at first. [49:33] Remarks on business advice from Urwick Diebold: generosity of advisor Kip Grindley [KG]; change to a gearing arrangement for paying staff. [53:19] Remarks on learning more about business: limited help from books; arrangement with Jack Bungard, a management lecturer she met at a T-group, to receive business advice in return for provision of teaching material; T-group at Watford College, group therapy for business problems. [58:12] Comments on BOR's takeover offer: SS initially in favour until disagreement over arrangements for a crèche led her to to reconsider as she wanted to retain freedom. Remarks on having to take out a second mortgage on their home, worrying over risk as they now had a child, but which took them into being a medium sized company. Remarks on: projecting an image of being a larger company, undercharging due to her limited commercial experience until the 1980s when Hilary Cropper [HC] came into the business. [1:03:52] Remarks on expansion of company into business premises and becoming more professional. Detailed description of a selling pitch and importance of matching to customer needs. [1:09:13] Remarks on sexism whilst selling, overcoming attitudes with professional image. Story about a client who became infatuated with FI project manager Alison Newell. Remarks on difficulties with personnel problems, often distant relationship with staff, wearing of lapel badges so staff could recognise each other. [1:12:55] Comments on practicalities of home working: staying with colleague with a home office in Manchester, working on kitchen table, some colleagues client's neighbours having no idea what they did. Comments on staff opinions: some people wanting to say they had a job but doing little; prioritising of work for staff who needed work most; few staff bringing in work; staff panel keeping up appearances during 1970s recession; professional house style of staff. [1:18:03] Description of panel relationship organisation, replacement with 'terms of operating'. Remarks on maintaining communications between remote staff, many with disabilities.

  • Description

    Interview with entrepreneur, computer scientist and philanthropist Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley.

  • Related transcripts

    Dame Stephanie Shirley interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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