Monday 18 January 2021

Geoff Shingles CBE

ShinglesI am saddened to report that Geoff Shingles CBE died aged 81 on 14TH Jan 21.

Geoff was one of the pivotal people in the UK IT sector in its early days but went on to assist many other UK tech companies until very recently.

He started in the early 1960s as an apprentice at the Mullard Radio Valve Company before moving in 1963 to Elliott Brothers working on an early ‘shoe box’ computer.

But it was his time at DEC (I was always rebuked for calling them DEC as founder Ken Olsen had insisted they be referred to as the Digital Equipment Corporation) where he is best remembered by me and many others. He joined DEC in 1965 as employee #4 in the UK. After just 3 years, Geoff was appointed UK MD.

The DEC PDP-11 and, later, the DEC VAX, were the first real distributed or mini computers rivalling the mainframe power of IBM and ‘the BUNCH’. These computers were hugely influential in bringing the benefits of computing to businesses of all sizes.  DEC pioneered the OEM market whereby software providers produced solutions which were then sold as ‘turnkey’ systems to users.

That’s where I really became involved with DEC and Geoff when I was at Hoskyns. When I told Geoff Unwin, CEO of Hoskyns and latterly Capgemini, the news he said ‘Geoff’s passing is very sad, he was extremely personable and straightforward to do business with. In Hoskyns at the time we saw the power of the DEC mini-computers and their cost effectiveness. ... It became an era of explosive growth, and Geoff did a phenomenal job of holding on to this tiger and encouraging a new breed of OEMs to accelerate ever more applications and hence growth. One of THE characters of those pioneering times.”

Shingles stayed and progressed with DEC extending his responsibilities outside of the UK to Northern Europe. He left after nearly 30 years with DEC in 1993.

But this was just the beginning of Geoff’s contribution to the UK tech sector. In 1994 he joined Imagination Technologies –becoming Chairman in 1995 – and served until 2015. CEO Sir Hussein Yassie said “Geoff was very much one of the key UK pioneers in global tech. Geoff was a very wise and supportive pillar for me in my efforts to develop and grow the company from very small beginnings to a global tech powerhouse supplying billions of technology products to leading global brands and iconic devices. That journey was a tough but amazing period which also made us very close friends. He totally shared my views of wanting the UK to have its rightful place on the world technology stage.”

On a personal note, I’ve spent all my career trying to support that aim.

Geoff was the Senior NED at Interregnum from 1994-2006 where he supported Sir Kenneth Olisa who said. ‘I was deeply honoured that a founding father of the UK IT industry was prepared to invest his skills and reputation - and characteristically pithy wit - to support me to build a company from the ground up. They don’t make them like Geoff anymore.

Geoff loved working with start-ups. In many he invested alongside Mel Morris (best known for his backing of King the creators of Candy Crush) in many businesses– like Prevx and uDate -over almost 30 years. Mel said, “He had vast experience and an incredible talent for focussing on what REALLY was important. He had a presence that oozed integrity and stature and earned instant respect. A truly humble giant of a man in every way

In an interview with Archives of IT, Geoff said that his major achievement was ‘making no enemies’. Indeed, in the emails I have received since his death became known, Geoff was universally liked and admired. One of many emails was from Alan Laing, MD IFS.  ‘Geoff was a legend of our industry as well as being a gent and all-round lovely guy. He inspired so many people. Me especially as he was my first boss in IT’.

On a more personal basis, Geoff put this down to ‘surrounding himself with others he believed were smarter than him’. I have often quoted that myself and am still amazed at how few so-called managers don’t adopt that same principle.

Our condolences to Geoff’s wife Frances, his children Emma, James and Jonny and many grandchildren.

Posted by Richard Holway at '07:00'