You could argue for years about Margaret Thatcher.
But it wasn’t what she did or didn’t do, that she leaves behind. In the course of history, there are only a few politicians, philosophers and sad to say despots and dictators, who have changed the world.
Margaret Thatcher showed that no rule or thought in traditional thinking is sacrosanct, when it comes to shaping the world. Since then we’ve seen lots of radical ideas work, that would have never even been thought of, had not Margaret Thatcher and a few others shown that you could do something different.
Would Tony Blair have been able to reform a Labour Party, stuck in the 1920s, without Margaret Thatcher showing what radical thinking could do? Or Ken Livingstone, reinvent himself, to make a comeback as the London Mayor. I suspect, if Margaret Thatcher hadn’t been a radical Prime Minister, we’d have had a succession of useless worthies in the last few years.
I’ll only give one example of where Margaret Thatcher ditched conventional thinking.
In 1982, conventional thinking, said that to attempt to retake the Falkland Islands after the Argentine invasion was utter madness, and many on all sides of the political spectrum said that to give the islands away was the best solution. How many people today, think that the decision to retake the islands was wrong? Not many I suspect! I’ve even met an Argentinian, who felt that we did his country a favour, by effectively getting rid of the evil dictatorship of General Galtieri.
Without Margaret Thatcher my life today would be very different.
After I had sold my first successful software; Pert7 to ADP, I received an offer to go to the United States to write a PERT system for a large US computer corporation.
How they got my number or the fact I’d sold out, I don’t know?
Soon after, I was approached to write a PERT system, which later became Artemis, so I turned the Americans down.
I suspect that if that hadn’t happened, I’d have eventually moved across the Atlantic, as it was just impossible to provide for a growing family with the tax rates, then in force.
i didn’t move, as neither C or myself could have ever lived abroad permanently.
But Margaret Thatcher’s Tax and other reforms enabled me to stay in the country of my birth. If tax rates were still as the eighty percent plus they were in the nineteen seventies, I doubt many of the brightest in the UK, would not have gone to where pastures were greener.
One aside here is a story from my accountant of the 1980s. A confirmed Socialist, he was not a supporter of Margaret Thatcher, but felt the tax reforms of the time were very good for the country. Although tax rates were lowered, her Chancellors were good at closing the myriad loopholes that had been developed by clever members of his profession. There may be a lesson here for today’s politicians, who need to both maximise the tax take and keep voters happy.
I’ve worked on and off with senior banking professionals and those that think about their banking since the early 1970s.
In that time, I doubt, I’ve seen much really good clever innovation, that would have been to the benefit of either the banks or their customers.
I’ll start with a classic from the Midland Bank.
I was putting together a finance company in the late 1980s and the Midland Bank were keen to be a source of bulk money. We of course, had a beautiful little spreadsheet in the format of the time, Lotus 1-2-3.
The guy we were dealing with at the Bank, then said that he had no in-house facilities to examine the data. In their wisdom, the bank had provided those with a multi-user system based on a PDP-11, so they could run their own spreadsheets. Unfortunately, there was no way of uploading your data to their system. The guy we were dealing with had actually bought himself an Amstrad PC so that he could run them at home. Needless to say, we didn’t deal with Midland Bank. But what idiot in the bank, decided that PCs were a fad, when virtually all of their customers were thinking of or actually using them to run their own businesses.
The second is from the same time and applies to all of the banks.
My accountant at the time was pretty good and for years, he’d felt that one of the banes of his life was the lack of connection between the banks and small business accounting. His ideas, were that you could put a two digit code on all of your cheques in a space by the numbers along the bottom. You might put 67 for electricity, 68 for gas etc. These would then appear on your statement, so all the accountant would have needed to do was split everything down in his accounting software, especially if it was possible to get the statement in a simple electronic format.
He felt that any bank enhancing their service in this way, would have been very profitable to themselves, as they could have offered a simple accounting service. He did of course realise it would have lost accountants like him a lot of business.
But banks have done nothing to move into this area, which would have seen them offering a simple and much-needed service.
And then there was Lloyds Bank and their Cashpoints.
I was still doing my management accounting work for Lloyds as I was writing Artemis and someone there, asked how the bank could use a system like Artemis. As they were installing Cashpoints here, there and everywhere at the time, I said Artemis would be an ideal system to plan the roll out of the terminals. I did suggest, Artemis might be used to predict the cash flow and generate the budgets for the program.
I was then told that banks didn’t have cash flow problems as they used customers money and anyway, all of the Cashpoints they needed for the several year program, had already been delivered and were sitting in a warehouse somewhere. How about that for good management thinking?
The Management Accounting software I wrote for Lloyds wasn’t revolutionary in its own right, as any decent programmer could have written it, but the methods under it were far from conservative. An outsider, who had been the Chief Accountant of a major company had been recruited to try to get a hand on the bank’s costs.
It was truly innovative, but it never got beyond a trial, which seemed to end, when most of Lloyds’ staff were moved to Bristol.
One day, I’ll write up more on that work, which probably had a major effect on the design of some of the parts of Artemis.
I am linking to this article, which has the full speech of ARM’s CEO’s statement giving the Q4 2012 Financial Results. It is a full nine pages long, so it won’t be an easy read. This statement from the first page is very telling.
So let’s start off with the highlights for Q4. Well, Q4 was a fantastic finish to 2012. We saw our continued momentum in licensing and sold 36 licenses in the last quarter. That’s another year of over 100 licenses in the full year.
As someone, who used to put his own intellectual property on someone else’s hardware designs, this number of licences is a significant number, as obviously, the more licences the company signs, the more money it will earn.
I don’t know anything about the technicalities of what ARM does, but judging by the company’s success, it must be pretty damn good. But to me, just as it was for Metier Management Systems with Artemis, when we owned the company, the managers have got the marketing and revenue model right.
In fact, I might argue, that getting that right is more important than getting the product to a hundred percent of your design aims. As obviously, if you are generating lots of money, it is easier to close that last gap in your designs.
So often, I’ve seen wonderful ideas fail, because their revenue model wasn’t designed well enough and doesn’t feed itself back strong enough into product development.
There is another thing that ARM and Metier had in common. ARM is and Metier was considered a almost a crusade or political movement by those that started the companies and those that worked there. The companies that I’ve dealt with or know of, that have had that zeal are hard to come by. My short list would include Apple, Dyson, Rolls-Royce and Zopa. Although, there are one or two architectural or construction companies, that in a few years time, might join them. And don’t underestimate other companies in all sorts of high-tech fields, using an ARM-style of cash-flow model, based on a group of individuals having a unique idea and the determination to see it through.
I can also think of several companies that had everything and then blew it! You could say we did that with Metier by selling out and a lot of other high-tech companies have done the same. And then there’s some that have just lost their way like IBM and Automony.
The BBC is showing this news story about rescuing a dog from the icy waters of Lake Erie.
Many years ago, I visited one of our Artemis clients on the shores of Lake Michigan. I’m not sure of the time of year, but it was very cold and there was snow everywhere, when we flew into Benton Harbor. I remember the guy at Hertz had got all the engines of the cars running in the parking lot.
The client I was visiting was the nuclear power station called AEP Cook. I’ve been over several nuclear power stations and together with the old Sizewell A, this was the one, that was run in the most professional manner.
I remember asking whether they got any problems with the locals. The answer was that because waste heat from the power plant, in the winter, the ice tended to melt and the warmth also attracted the best fish in Lake Michigan. So regularly, they had hauled fishermen out of the water, who’d fallen through the ice.
Some people need their heads examined.
That was also the trip, where we had lunch in a restaurant that reminded us of the Rook Restaurant sketch in The Two Ronnies. Except the ubiquitous element was beans, as that is the area of the United States, where navy beans are traditionally grown.
This has just been announced and you can read about it here in the Independent.
Various commentators and politicians have said that this is all down to good project management.
Sadly, there is no credit given to those that started the project management software revolution in the 1970s. It is truly an unheralded mainly-British software development, of which I played a small part.
Today the torch arriving in Ealing, so I took the Central line out to Ealing Broadway station. I took these pictures before and mainly after an early supper in Carluccio’s in Ealing Green.
This road has a lot of good memories for me, as in a wine bar here, a lot of the plotting and design concerning Artemis was done over lunch, whilst some of us were working in Richard Evans house.
Those were the days and I suspect anybody who reads this will drink to absent friends.
I first worked for a bank in about 1971, as a consultant programmer on a system that worked out how much various actions cost them to do. It was a rather clever system, that took all of the bank’s costs and numbers like the number of cheques cashed and worked out for each branch how much things actually cost. The system had been designed by Bob, the bank’s Chief Management Accountant, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of accountancy and banking, and with whom I became firm friends over the next few years. Over the time, we consumed several bottles of good wine, notably in a restaurant called Mother Bunches near St. Paul’s. Sadly, in about 1978, Bob died and I lost a good friend.I was a scruffy man in those days and one memory stands out. I was painting the flat in the Barbican and Bob phoned and asked me to run the software to calculate costs for the last quarter. It was only because his assistant was on holiday. So I cycled to Time Sharing in Gt. Portland Street and did the run. Bob then phoned me at Time Sharing and asked that I bring the results to the bank and give it to the usher at the door. But when I got to the bank it was closed and on ringing the bell, the massive bronze door opened and the usher in full morning suit and top hat, asked if I had comuter output for Bob. I said yes and he replied that Bob had asked to see me. I protested because of my appearance and I was firmly ushered inside and told to go to the fourth floor. When I met Bob for the first time in his office, I apologised for my appearance and he just smiled, took the computer output and started checking the answers. Before I returned to the Barbican, we had more than a few good glasses of wine.
Before I leave Bob and the system I programmed, I’ll put in a few observations.
- Bob always reckoned bankers were likely to be called John. A boring name for someone expected to be boring at work. Perhaps with all the banks’ problems, these days, they could improve their profile by hiring a few more Johns.
- I didn’t have any access to the banks main computer system, as I didn’t need to, but I got the impression, that they had hardly changed the design since the system had been first-written and only had a limited number of places to store information on customers. So consequently, their summary statistics on their customers wasn’t very good at all. I’d love to know, whether they are any better now.
- A lot of fundamental pieces of information on the bank’s costs were almost impossible to find. Bob had come from a major FTSE 500 company and put it down to the fact that they were a bank therefore cost control wasn’t a problem.
- A very dominant factor in the costs of a branch was property and who in particular owned the building. The bank actually owned most of the branches themselves, but where they rented a branch building costs were a lot higher.
- But the most important factor in the costs, was inevitably hanky-panky, where a manager was giving loans for sexual favours. I suppose that these days, where you never meet your bank manager has cured that problem, even if it has introduced a lot more.
- One of the design rules, Bob put into the system, actually ended up in Artemis. If say you split a sum of money into several fields in a database, then just to round the figures to the neatest penny wasn’t good enough, as although it might be correct, the pence column might not add to the original value. So any error was lost in the largest value, just as it was in Artemis. The reason was because bankers in those days, always checked the answers by adding them up and woe betide if they didn’t agree.
- It must have been a good system, as it was still running fifteen years later. Although by that time Time Sharing had long since gone, so they ran it on one of the last PDP-10s somewhere in the United States.
At the time, I was banking with Barclays and wasn’t very pleased with them. So I asked the people, who I worked with to set me up with a new branch. After all, if I was doing business with a bank, it might not be a bad idea to bank with them.
I don’t know whether it was chance or whether I was setup by the people I worked with. A few days later, I turned up in the branch of the bank by the Barbican and met David for the first time. I’d actually been working late on the bank’s cost accountancy system and I was rather surprised, that David knew about it. He did disclose that he’d been on the committee that had decided that Bob should develop the system. I remember that day, that David and I were scheduled to meet at ten and I finally got back to the flat at one.
It was the start of a life-long friendship, that only stopped on David’s death within a few days of that of my wife in 2007.
I can remember a lunch in an expensive City restaurant, where at four after a long lunch, his second-in-command came in, saying that the branch needed to be signed off. In some versions of this tale, I say that he said to his number two to forge his signature, but I suspect it was more that he should have had the right to sign-off the branch. If it was the latter, that would fit David’s character, as I know from other things he said, that he believed very much in delegation.
He also introduced me to some of his customers, who had got the Miss World-that-wasn’t, Helen Morgan to open their new shop. David kept a signed photograph of the Welsh model on his desk for many years. David never did anything inappropriate concerning the ladies during his banking career.
David got further into my business life, when we started Metier. The company needed a good bank manager and I introduced David to one of my partners. I remember we all met over lunch in the Honourable Artillery Company.
soon after, David was promoted to a bigger branch in the West End. It wasn’t a planned promotion, but one that was necessitated by an early retirement of the manager there. To say it was a mess, would be a very large understatement. But David was the sort of person, who rose to challenges using any legal method.
One thing that illustrated his competence, was when we presented him with one of the first computerised spreadsheets, the bank had ever received, he immediately passed it to his area manager on his Area Manager’s first day in the job. Many would have ducked that challenge. They used it to educate themselves, and we got the funding we needed. In fact, David told me some years later, that he reckoned we weren’t asking for enough and got the clearance for more on that very first spreadsheet.
During part of the Falklands War or soon afterwards, I was at an Artemis Users Conference in Denver Colorado.
After dinner one night, four of us, got together and had a few drinks. The other guys were the Project Manager of the McDonnell Douglas Harrier program, a guy with a similar position at Long Beach Naval Shipyard and a banker from New York.
The banker kept on about us needing a nice big flat-top (aircraft-carrier) with a few Tomcats and that would have dealt with the Argentines. I wanted to stand my British corner, but really didn’t know what to say. In the end the other two Americans, just let him have enough rope and then they played their card; the awful weather. One said that the weather reports from the Falklands, they’d seen, were so bad, that the only aircraft you could take-off and land back again was a Harrier.
The banker wasn’t seen again that evening,
So what’s different to most great ideas?
The first multi-user version of Artemis, the project management system, was designed by Richard Nobbs and myself in the Gardeners Arms at Stutton.
I have a spreadsheet written in Excel, that documents all of my Zopa investment.
What I find about Excel is that it is so illogical and nothing is intuitive. When I wrote a PC-based version of Artemis, that was a project management, spreadsheet and a graphics program, it was way in advance of Excel today for ease-of-use. But then it didn’t have all the features.
Am I being arrogant?
No! At my age and state of health I have that luxury.
On a more important theme, is the spreadsheet telling me what I should do with Zopa?
I think so and I’ll be making changes to my lending philosophy in the next few days.