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Mike Finlay: Memories of LEO

I was born in on 18th April 1937, a true Londoner within the sounds of Bow Bell, did my National Service between 1955 and 1957 at the RAF Air Radar School as an RAF Radar Theory instructor, and then studied at Jesus College, Cambridge for the Natural Science Tripos Part 1, followed by the Economics Tripos Part2, graduating in 1960.

I joined LEO after Cambridge. The Careers Advice fellow at Cambridge said that my Natural Science and Economics degree together with my Electronics experience in the RAF suggested I should try for a job in the nascent Business Computer industry, so I had interviews with ICT, IBM, NCR, and LEO. LEO was the standout option, due to the recruitment process whereby we were given a lesson on some basic machine coding and then set a problem to solve by writing a program. This gave an insight into what the job would entail, unlike the others which were basically a simple form of IQ test.

I did receive offers from all four – though the non-LEO ones were for punch card processing rather than computing. It was an easy choice, and I joined LEO in September 1960, as a trainee sales consultant. My first task was to rewrite a payroll data vet program for Tate and Lyle on the LEO II/1 bureau at Cadby Hall, though I was based at Hartree House. The rewrite was necessary as the program’s many modifications had made it too big for II/1’s massive storage capacity of 2,000 words – ie 1Kbytes!! Happily, the rewrite was a success, and I learned the value of constructing a comprehensive set of test data to ensure the program could cope with all eventualities.

I then moved into Frank Land’s Consultancy team, under Mike Jackson, to work on the Renold Chains project. I remember the concern of their management team about this new-fangled idea – "Will we still be able to make chain?” was a frequent query at progress meetings!

I learned how to write Job Plans the LEO way, with flow charts etc, and the value of studying what the client needed to be done, as opposed to a "One system fits all” approach to tendering and project implementation. I also enjoyed analysing the LEO III sort program, in order to produce a ready reckoner for calculating how long the sort would take for different input variables.

I worked on many interesting projects under Mike and, later, John Aris and Doug Comish. These included Post Office Premium Bonds, Stewart and Lloyds, Shell Mex BP, Manchester Corporation, HM Dockyards and many other Government Departments. I remember our contacts at the Treasury were a Mr Alcock and a Mr Balls, which I hope did not represent the government’s views on our efforts. There was also a memorable two weeks in Prague at the Communist bloc Computer Exhibition in 1966, on the EE-LEO stand under Ralph Land, and it is good to see both Frank and Ralph at the LEO reunions.

My visits to Shell-Mex BP being driven by Mr Caminer, and to Renold Chains in Manchester in Mike Jackson’s Austin Healey Sprite, were particularly memorable if rather hair-raising. It was always good to arrive!

I shared an office at Hartree House with Ninian Eadie and Mike Gifford, both of whom had stellar careers at LEO, and I also met LEO II Chief Programmer Susan Finch, my wife now for 55 years and counting.

As LEO III activity increased, and later System 4, I became Defence Sales Manager under John, but I fear without much success, and my last post before the ICL merger was as Government Sales Dept Systems Manager. ICL then made me Regional Systems Manager South for Doug Comish’s Local Government Sales Division, which meant working at an old ICT office in Beckenham. This was a two-hour commute, so when a Computer Systems Manager job came up in Cockfosters, 5 minutes from my house, I left ICL in autumn 1969 and began the second phase of my career, which ended as Director of Strategic Planning for TSB Retail Bank Division.

I retired in 1992, and my best memories are the early days at Hartree House, working alongside fellow graduates and professionals, doing a job both innovative and exciting, whilst also enjoying a vibrant social life with some colleague or other throwing a party nearly every weekend. LEO was truly a ground-breaking project, and I am very proud to have been involved. When people ask me "What did you do?” on the golf course, I always tell them about LEO and what it meant for the future of British business management.

Date : Unknown

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56457. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Mike Finlay: Memories of LEO

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