Dame Steve Shirley CH

CEO/Founder, Freelance Programmers & Xansa

In 1939 Dame Stephanie Shirley came to England aged 6 as an unaccompanied child refugee on the Kindertransport.

In 1962, she started Freelance Programmers, pioneering new work practices, especially in hi-tech. Her company was one of the first organisations to fall foul of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 – up until that point, she had only employed women. She worked on software projects including Concorde’s black box flight recorder and built the company into a global business which she took into co- ownership at no cost to anyone but her. After her company was acquired, it was valued at some $3bn, 70 of her staff became millionaires.

Dame Stephanie has served on the boards of Tandem Computers, the Atomic Energy Authority and was the first ever NED of the John Lewis Partnership. An ardent philanthropist, she was appointed a Companion of Honour in 2017 – for “nationally important service as entrepreneur and philanthropist”.

New Ways of Working – 50 Years Ahead of Their Time

Dame Stephanie is 50 years ahead of her time. While remote work is becoming more popular now, Dame Stephanie’s company was remote only from the outset. Forget Slack, this was a time when there was still a decade before email was invented and almost 30 years before Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web.

We will discuss some of the lessons she’s learned, often the hard way, in starting, building, growing and exiting one of Europe’s most successful companies. You will hear why some of her core values – trust, a belief in strong culture, valuing outputs over inputs, a sense of values and determination are as critical to building a successful business today as they were in the jet age.