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Professor Danielle George

As a child, Professor Danielle George always loved asking “why?” and exploring how technology can deliver answers. On her Commodore 64 computer, she says, “I was much more a programmer than a gamer.”

She was also fascinated by space, waking in the small hours to watch lunar eclipses with the telescope her parents gave her aged eight. A maths teacher at her comprehensive school provided further inspiration with his university astrophysics books. Reading them filled her with awe, she recalls.

At university, she shunned the data-driven world of traditional astrophysics, in favour of radio astronomy. “I had always preferred the practical side of maths and physics,” she says, “and I felt I needed to use my hands.” Her work on the unmanned satellite project at Jodrell Bank became her doctorate.

Now Professor of Radio Frequency Engineering and Associate Vice President at the University of Manchester, Professor George’s research is dedicated to solving one the 14 world engineering grand challenges of the 21st century — engineering the tools of scientific discovery.

She loves teaching, which she says always brings “fire in my belly,” although doesn’t have much time for it with her present responsibilities. She is the current president of the Institute of Engineering and Technology — only the second woman to hold the post. An outstanding role model for women in science and technology, she is passionate about raising public awareness of the positive impact of STEM subjects on all aspects of our lives.

Sean Finnan

Sean Finnan, the son of a welder and a factory worker, joined the IT industry by answering an advert in the company where he was working as a cleaner.  He got into IT at a subsidiary of General Motors whose IT operations was taken over by EDS, the Dallas-based outsourcing company.  He rose after 12 years cycling through jobs in EDS which gave him a broad view of IT and its management.

EDS was taken over by Hewlett-Packard from which he left to join IBM.  This experience gives him an interesting view of the different cultures of IT companies.  He now supports companies trying to help them scale up.

Paul Excell

Paul Excell’s first job was working in his family’s village shop; he has gone on to become an entrepreneur, investor, NED, executive coach and eminent figure in the telecommunications industry. His father taught him crucial business lessons, such as having empathy with customers, being curious about their needs and understanding how you can help them rather than focusing on selling.

State educated, Paul gained much of his drive and inspiration from “fantastic” teachers in topics ranging from maths, physics and computer science to history. People who bridge the science / arts divide will be increasingly important as technology develops, he says.

Following BT sponsorship through university, Paul became an apprentice technician and rose steadily eventually to become a pioneering Chief Customer Innovation Officer, Group Technology Officer and SVP Global Services. While at BT he fulfilled his passion for innovation, launching internet, broadband, mobile and media services and serving on several of the group’s global boards. ”If you don’t innovate, you die,” he says.

After leaving BT in 2012, Paul founded Excelerate, which provides agile executive services focused on transforming leadership and team performance. In 2016 he established ScaleUp Group, which aims to support the many smaller UK companies which he says have potential for “massive impact” and growth. So far it has raised more than £30m and generated some £4bn in enterprise value.

Richard Little

Richard Little is a serial angel investor who learned to be an entrepreneur by watching his father and trained for a life in technology by studying languages.  Richard built and successfully exited his own business in the 1980’s and 90’s, applying cheaper new technology in financial services.  His first big idea failed but the second one worked, and he says that is not a bad formula for building a business.

In the 21st century he has turned his hand to helping others’ companies grow by leveraging investment with his acquired expertise.  Richard believes that helping small companies grow is good for the economy and society, as well as being a rewarding occupation.  His current portfolio includes Cloud, AI and EdTech.

Geoff Squire OBE

Geoff Squire OBE spent 50 years in the UK IT industry, from machine code to $Bn companies.  Geoff learnt arithmetic and the value of pounds, shillings and pence at an early age doing sums upside down over his father’s shoulder.  University was never an option but interest in numbers led on to jobs in programming and thence to growing roles in ICL.

He is perhaps most famous for establishing Oracle in the UK with an opportunistic pitch to Larry Ellison.  Subsequently Geoff led Veritas to a Y2K $75Bn market cap.  In recent years Geoff has focused, with his wife Fiona, on their grant giving charity and he serves as Chairman of Give as You Live Ltd, a technology company dedicated to raising money for UK charities.

Peter Morgan MBE

Peter Morgan MBE joined IBM as a new graduate in 1959, when transistors were just replacing vacuum tubes, and stayed for 30 years, leaving as Director of the UK subsidiary.  In this interview, he talks about the benefits the US company brought to British customers, IBM vs ICL and why the US is more successful at growing IT giants.  After leaving IBM, he became Director General of the Institute of Directors and has been chair of or a board member of many companies, six of which are in the IT sector.

He was a master of the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists. As a youth, he aspired to succeed and cites the Cambridge tutorial approach to studying History and National Service as key development activities.

Colin Knight

Colin Knight learned the value of failsafe technology early in his career, developing algorithms for the release of munitions from RAF “V Bombers”. This focus on non-stop reliability has remained his priority through a wide-ranging career spanning financial trading in the City post Big Bang, the revolution in mobile communications, predictive modelling of networks and risk management. Colin has worked extensively across Europe, Asia Pacific and the US, including a spell in Moscow during the height of the Cold War. Given his time again, he says he would favour roles at US-based companies because they are more innovative, entrepreneurial and financially rewarding.

Colin is a past Master of the Information Technologists Livery Company. But his proudest achievement has been his charitable activities deploying IT to improve the lives of sick and disabled children and their families. Work must be fun, he insists — you will never get a successful team with unhappy members.

Nicholas (Nic) Birtles

Nic Birtles left university after a boring year for more exciting work in the emerging IT industry.  He programmed a LEO machine; successor to the first business computer.  Like many who led the growth of the 20th century industry, he soon moved into sales and thence senior management with some of the iconic names of the early industry, including Burroughs in Canada and then ComShare, selling its computer power over telephone lines.

He was headhunted by Ingres, the innovative relational database competitor to Oracle.  He was in Silicon Valley for the dotcom boom and bust.  Since 2002, Nic has held a portfolio of non-executive roles with growth companies, most recently fundraising for an innovative aircraft design from Aeralis.  Nic is a Past Master of the City of London IT Livery Company (WCIT) , where he actively supports their charitable initiatives.

Professor Michael Mainelli

Professor Michael Mainelli’s life story is a fascinating journey from 1958 Seattle to Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London.  His Irish mother and Italian father came from lines of engineers and his experience spans computer scientist, accountant, and management consultant.  His education reflects expansive interests, including a Doctorate as a mature student, alongside his busy professional assignments. 

He established City think tank and venture firm Z/Yen in 1994 and Michael has advised on and managed a host of challenging projects, for a multitude of clients from the first complete digital map of the world; to the UK Ministry of Defence commercialising its £100M technology business; and setting up City indices. He recommends small teams to solve big problems and his mass of publications includes bestselling books.

Cyril Hilsum CBE

Cyril Hilsum is a British physicist and material scientist, who carried out research on infra-red devices and semi-conductors, and played a key role in the development of flat-panel liquid crystal displays. He was awarded numerous prizes from several institutions: he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and an honorary member of the American National Academy of Engineering. He was awarded the Max Born Prize in 1987 and the Faraday Medal in 1988. He was awarded the CBE in 1990 for services to the Electrical and Electronics Industry. In 2007 he was awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal for his many outstanding contributions and for continuing to use his prodigious talents on behalf of industry, government and academia to this day

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