Oral history of British science

Shirley, Stephanie (Part 8 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

  • Add a note
    Log in to add a note at the bottom of this page.
  • All notes
  • My notes
  • Hide notes
Please click to leave a note

The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »

Tags (top 25):
(No tags found for this item)
  • Type


  • Duration


  • Shelf mark


  • 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 8: Description of matching staff to jobs sorting a shoebox filled with edge punched cards. [03:22] Story about an impressive job she did for Marconi to lay out circuit boards with a computer, making use of the American Embassy science library, for which she was never paid but enjoyed doing. Description of office work stations in Moss Cottage. [06:38] Comments on programming on paper before processing by distant computer centre by mail. Anecdote about interviewing a CDL programmer who asked for a high salary because she made few mistakes. Remarks on importance of accuracy in programming giving her an eye for detail. [11:02] Remarks on discussions with colleagues and in BCS. Anecdote about having small letter paper to guard against her poor typing. Comments on recruiting staff: looking for flexibility due to pace of change; worried about recruiting white middle classes; Indian programmers Mrs Bakiya and Dr DurgoRaye. Story about SS intervening after problems on a job for Castrol in Marylebone Road, help learning FORTRAN from moonlighting programmer John Stevens, deciding that company would institute systematic controls against further problems, KG's opinion that the company would succeed, after SS's determination to complete Castrol job. [20:00] Remarks on company working processes: workbooks systematising processes; change to a flatter more empowering structure based on a short charter on the company's culture; accurate progress updates for clients so they could help out with problems and resulted in a cooperative approach to working with clients. [25:33] Remarks on development of charter, changing contractual arrangements. Comments on trying to find a successor to manage FI: early candidate who left due to illness; Alison Newel, who ran company in a similar way to SS before resigning; Hilary Cropper [HC], formerly of ICL, who brought in more stringent business practices, which SS initially disagreed with. [30:27] Remarks on 25 year anniversary at NEC Birmingham in 1987. Further remarks on HC. [33:54] Comments on growth of company from 1962: offices in manor house in Chesham; extra offices on different sites; Harvard studies; advisory board and pension scheme; purchase of a renovated church hall; opening of regional offices.[37:23] Remarks on importance of image to the company, HC's opinions on first joining, move to modern campus style offices in Hemel Hempstead. [39:56] Comments on growth of board: early advisory board of DS, KG, Pamela Woodman [PW], Frank Knight, used as a sounding board by SS; change of advisory group into board; influence of first formal chairman formerly of CEGB, whom some found hard to work with. [43:20] Comments on PW: management experience, skills complimented SS, offered partnership by SS but took salaried position instead; close friend, DS became godfather of her daughter Fiona-Jane; left to form a breakaway group. Comments on breakaway of PW: personally troubling for SS; PW tried to employ same freelance staff as FI. [48:15] Remarks on bad timing of breakaway: impact of 1970's recession, when FI only had two projects, including one with Unilever, not wanting to be categorised as a fair weather business. Further comments on breakaway: industrial espionage allowing breakaway group to undercut their quotes; jealousy likely cause of breakaway; meeting PW's daughter years later; Susette Harold leaving to join PW, but soon recanting and returning to FI. [54:08] Comments on daily activities in the late 1960s: phone calls, admin, filing, developing structured working practices. Remarks on growing staff and their later successes: Russell Rogers and Pat Lovelace now both managing companies in South Africa; Alison Newel; SS's opinion of herself as leader not manager. Remarks on split of responsibilities between SS and PW: SS taking responsibility for international growth. Comments on international growth: started in Denmark; next Holland; America, after a meeting with Burt Grad at a conference in Barcelona, leading to SS visiting New York, where she met an old friend from BOR. [1:01:55] Remarks on a staff survey instigated by HC: flexibility more important than home working leading to new arrangements; unflattering staff opinions on SS. [1:06:00] Remarks on drawing a low salary, spending money supporting son Giles, earning more before retirement.

  • 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

  • Metadata record:

    View full metadata for this item