Oscar Wilde once said “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness”. However, during Ray’s 25 year career at Hoskyns he had no fewer than 5 distinct parents to report to. Read on to learn whether this was fortunate or not. And if so for whom?
Ray Harsant was born 21st July 1937 in Hornsey and remembers being evacuated to Nottingham in his early years. Until joining the Royal Army Pay Corps in 1938, Ray’s father was a postman. Ray describes his father as a very capable and talented bloke, but opportunities for people from modest classes were very limited. Ray’s father joined the army when he did because he knew joining later increased the likelihood of going into the infantry as his brother did in the First World War. He joined the Royal Army Pay Corps and as he quite rightly said, “I fought the war with my pen.” When the bombing got very bad Ray and his family went to Wales a few times, but they always lived in North London during this period of time. Ray’s father made good progress in the army and became an officer during the war, he stayed on after the war and went to Suez and Jamaica on assignments and then came back to become a civil servant.
Ray started school during the war in around 1942 at Burghley Road, Tufnell Park. Ray attended a very good school and was ninth in a class out of 40: when progressing to William Ellis Grammar School in Parliament Hill Fields, Ray realised how fortunate he was, meeting some people who were one of two from their class to get in. At the Grammar, Ray was given a terrific opportunity to make progress and he enjoyed everything there, a particular highlight was playing cricket at school.
In his O levels Ray received three distinctions in History, Chemistry, and Latin which show he had no particularly strong leanings. This influenced him to leave and go into something more practical. Ray recalls that at school the teachers were good; interestingly, it was his Latin teacher who really believed in him. Ray had always been tall and gangly and was quite sensitive about it, his Latin teacher helped to give him self-confidence.
At grammar school Ray shot up but recalls at fifteen saying to his father, ‘I’m a bit fed up of school, going up one staircase and having to go down the other, how do I get on to a good job.’ Ray’s father advised him to become a professional: when Ray asked what this meant, his father listed solicitor and accountant among various others. Ray was not good at speaking and so did not fancy himself a lawyer but took an interest in accounting. He left school literally the day after his sixteenth birthday.
Ray left for accounting and still has the letter from the headmaster saying, ‘if only you’d stayed on and gone to university you’d have had a really good professional career.’ Ray jokes that when he meets up with him in the afterlife he will tell him he didn’t get it completely right!
In 1953 Ray decided on Chartered Accountancy and signed on as an articled clerk. Ray’s father regularly received the Accounting magazine in which Ray saw there was a vacancy in the City of London and applied. Ray joined the London firm of Sidford and Keen – a small firm with only thirteen people altogether. Sidford and Keen worked with shops and small businesses, e.g. single traders. Here Ray learned some very good basic training, however, when he passed his exams at the first attempt, he was still very unknowledgeable about sophisticated accounting.
After six years, and having successfully qualified, Ray moved on. Feeing he needed a complete change and a challenge Ray applied for a role in Brazil, again found in the Accounting magazine. Ray joined Price Waterhouse, a British run partnership, in which Charles Taylor was the number one guy. They mainly recruited Britons who were miles cheaper to employ than the Americans. Despite being a big change, Ray loved Sao Paulo and describes it as an incredibly safe area in those days. Here, Ray was able to play cricket again and even played for Brazil against Argentina.
Ray was in Brazil for three years without returning home, the air travel being so expensive, and no phone calls meant he only corresponded with his parents via letter.
Ray returned in 1962 to the UK to work for Marley Tiles in Kent. Ray wanted to get out of the profession finding it unsatisfying to go into a firm for a week or two and then walk away. Ray wanted to be a part of a company to make things happen: he says he is not a good adviser and wanted to get his hands dirty. Marley Tiles was a very boring job: Ray was in group accounts which collated information and assembled it for the board, but he had very little contact with the industry itself. In Ray’s two years there he had one visit to a branch where he could discuss problems with the manager. Ray puts the over-management of the company due to it being a family run organisation, at the time called Aishers.
In 1964 Ray joined Kirk and Company Tubes, an engineering company, for whom he worked for four years. Ray was a chief accountant here and reported to the company secretary who employed him in the first place and continued to support him. This was a very good business for Ray but after four years he left Kirks and Co as the decision was made for everything to be moved to Wales. Ray supported that decision wholeheartedly, but he would not move out of London.
Ray’s next career adventure came about rather unexpectedly: after no real success with an employment agency who suggested consultancy – something Ray was not in favour of – in 1968, he came across John Pearce. Pearce was the number two to John Hoskyns of Hoskyns, who later was to work for Margaret Thatcher as head of policy unit when she was elected in 1979. Ray did his computer aptitude test that day and was called back a week. It was at this point he felt certain he would not get the job after failing to answer or giving unconvincing replies to the questions of Hoskyns and Pearce The following day the offer of employment arrived. Ray suspects he got the job due to his engineering experience, which is what the company were looking to expand into.
The role Ray got was to work for John Pearce in Hoskyns Systems Management– the part of Hoskyns that was going to be doing the engineering. Ray was the 35th employee but they were going through a process of employing many people – at least another hundred that year. Ray describes Hoskyn and Pearce as ‘just amazing people’ with amazing credibility who were the driving force behind the company. After a few months in engineering, they realised that they had not been doing their own accounting. Ray was called to talk to Hoskyns to discuss what he would do were he given the role of company secretary – he must have convinced Hoskyns seeing as he was given the role on 1st January 1969 after joining just the April before.
The company started off as pure consultancy, but they were expanding into all sorts of areas. The manufacturing area saw them coming up with software packages and they had their own ICL computer. They opened up in the States at the same time, and unsurprisingly encountered some problems. This was because by 1970 there was a nasty recession, and they had over-expanded and had to cut back. This made Ray’s job much more important because up to a point, when they were expanding, nobody was really listening to him. Ray also wasn’t involved in the decision making of the organisation. They were very much an entrepreneurial business and entrepreneurs want to achieve their ideas – eventually they realise that finance matters.
The crunch emphasised the importance of Ray’s role and gave him time to set up accounting and mechanise it, using the Burroughs machine again. Thereafter, they concentrated on areas and stopped over expanding, as well as implementing cuts to ensure they did not work through the funds.
In 1973 John Hoskyns shocked Ray by saying he was bored with business and needed a change. From their point of view, the economy was being damaged by the dominance of the unions which were negative and destructive. Ray played a role in convincing John Hoskyns to join the Conservative Party.
In the same year John Pearce bumped into Martin Marietta and Barry Rowe. Martin Marietta, Lockheed Martin today, who had previously been involved in aerospace and government business, saw the IT world as something excited they wanted to get into. The Hoskyns family ended up selling out to the American Martin Marietta, who bought a hundred percent of the company.
The organisation under the new owners saw nearly all of the top people leave. John Pearce chose 29-year-old Jim Feeney to succeed him. Feeney was extraordinarily bright and looked down the organisation to pick out the talented people to come up and be the next generation of managers. While takeovers have a relatively low success rate, the people Hoskyns and Pearce employed had the same ethos and were ambitious, wanting the company to grow.
The Hoskyns Group was a small part of Martin Marietta’s total and they set up they own data services company called Martin Marietta Data Systems to whom Hoskyns Group reported.
In 1986 there was a decision to float 25% of the company. Geoff Unwin and Ray came to the realisation that if they were ever going to make any serious money, it had to be on equity. Encouraging the float enabled Geoff and Ray to encourage employee ownership. In 1988, Plessey offers to buy 75% of the company. Plessey, headed by Steven Wall, didn’t try to over manage or over rule Hoskyns Group at all. A year later, GEC bought Plessey and decided the Hoskyns Group needed to find a new owner. GEC took over Plessey, but they weren’t interested in their subsidiaries.
Geoff Unwin, Tony Robinson, Tony Fisher, and Ray were looking for a new owner: Japanese and American companies alike seemed to come to no fruition. Tony Robinson came up with the idea of Capgemini who had been wanting to come to the UK – immediately they said they were very interested, and negotiations began. At first, they purchased 75% and left them as a public company for three years to get used to working with each other.
In 1992 Ray thought to himself that he’d be 56 next year, his father died at 56 and Ray had worked for 40 years in very demanding jobs, 25 of which were at Hoskyns. Ray was able to help for the next three or four years with pension schemes and a building development in Surrey before officially retiring.
Reflections on Hoskyns
Ray thinks highly of John Hoskyns and refers to him as his university education. Working under him for six years meant Hoskyns was the one to really teach Ray how to think things through. He was a very upper-class chap, his full name being John Austin Hungerford Leigh Hoskyns, but everyone was referred to by their Christian names from top to bottom. Ray describes John as great at just getting the best out of people and treating them in a very human way.
In Ray’s 25 years at Hoskyns, Ray is proudest of being part of a team from 1968 onwards that grew and grew and also had a very good culture, people enjoyed working for the company. One thing Ray inherited when he joined Hoskyns was the need for annual reviews: Ray appreciated this opportunity to have a completely open chat with people once a year and find out if something was really bothering them, this is something he really believes in. Ray cannot recall anything really bad happening at Hoskyns, but one thing he did do was have the odd interview outside to remember how lucky he was. Ray would not have changed anything at Hoskyns besides having John Hoskyns stay longer, but he understands his reason for leaving.
Being in charge of finance means Ray was also in charge of administration, personnel administration, i.e. pay, pensions, company cars, and facilities as well. The running costs of these departments was never more than one and a half percent of turnover which was a key number for Ray – he is proud of this effective percentage.
Ray jokes that he is some years away from when he started and so cannot imagine what it is like to get started today, but he says looking at professions as he did is always a good idea. He also states you should show determination when you get a job and really get on with it, don’t indulge too much, he says. Generally, you will win your manager’s approval with determination and clarity, clarity of thought is a big factor.
Interviewed by: Jonathan Sinfield on the 7th August 2018 at BCS London Office
Transcribed by: Susan Nicholls
Abstracted by: Helen Carter