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Rodney Hornstein: Interview 3rd December 2018 70218

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Rodney Hornstein and LEO Computers Society

Digital audio of a recorded interview with Rodney Hornstein, who worked as a programmer on LEO III and later as a consultant on System 4.

Interviewer: Vince Bodsworth
Date of interview: 3 December 2018
Length of recording: 1h19m59s
Format: 1 original .mp3 recording 45.83MB (transferred to .mov video for presentation on YouTube 307MB)
Copyright in recording content: Roger Hornstein and LEO Computers Society

Transcript editor: unknown

Abstract:  Joined LEO Computers as a programmer after being interviewed by Frank Land following summer jobs at IBM, staying on as a consultant into the merger with English Electric and then ICL.

Date : 3rd December 2018

Physical Description : 1 digital file, audio

Transcript :

LEO COMPUTERS LIMITED  -  Oral History Project
Interview with Rodney Hornstein by Vince Bodsworth

[Vince Bodsworth]:   It is now the 3rd of December, 2018 and I am Vince Bodsworth and I am interviewing Rodney Hornstein to give us the story of his involvement with LEO Computers from the earliest days.  Good morning Rodney. 

[Rodney Hornstein]:  Good morning.

[VB]:   We are recording this interview as part of the LEO Computer Society Oral History Project.  The audio version and the transcript will be lodged at a central archive and made available for researchers and members of the public.  Perhaps you'd like to introduce yourself.

[RH]:   Right.  I will come back a bit about my sort of educational background 'cos it is kind of relevant to how I got into computers.  I was born in July 1940 and therefore I did not have to do National Service, which ended in March of 1958.  And it so happened that a friend of the family said he was a programmer and I asked him ‘what the hell is a programmer?’  And he explained to me what a programmer was and I said, ‘that sounds fun, how do you become one of those?’  And he said, ‘you write to a company called IBM at 101 Wigmore Street and see if they'll take you’.  So, in the event I did that and I did what I guess is now would be called a ‘gap year’, because I didn't actually go up to university until the following year in October of ’59.  So I wrote to IBM and was accepted as a student, temporary student programmer.  And, in those days 101 Wigmore Street contained the service bureau.
(Historical note; Wigmore Steet had thre IBM 1401s viewable from the pavement. )

[VB]:   The Service Bureau, yeah.

[RH]:   Of IBM.  And my training consisted of going through a programming manual with another student who joined three weeks before me.  And I was then thrown into writing computer programmes, which I did until I went to university in that September, my induction into the wonderful world of computers was a Bank Holiday, early in ’59 when, they used to be held in London, the first sales by a company of Persian lambs, grown in South Africa, run by a company called Eastwood and Holt.  And a bright IBM salesman had the idea that, since each batch of furs that gets sold has a punch card associated with it, we’d be able to produce all the remittance slips for the farmers by the following Tuesday, that is after the Bank Holiday was over, by automating it.  So I duly wrote all the programmes and on the Friday night, after the auction, in came the cards.  What the salesman had failed to mention is these cards would be stapled to unprocessed furs.  So I, and another guy, found ourselves alone, Friday evening at the mighty IBM with thousands and thousands of cards which were unreadable with staples and all the rest.  So, to cut a long story short, we worked all Friday night, all Saturday, all Saturday night, all Sunday, all Sunday night, literally without sleep, and on Monday; and by Monday night we had processed the stuff, anyway, so that, that was one of my introductions to the world of computers.  I went back to IBM during vacations from university and then it came to deciding who I was going to work for when I was going to graduate in October or in the summer of 1962.  Now what I’d observed about IBM was that the only people that really progressed were salesmen.  And somebody who arrived as a junior salesman when I was there in ’58, by ’62 was quite a senior guy.  And, being a typical maths graduate of that time, the idea of being a salesman was incredibly, sort of, demeaning, so I attended lots of graduate interviews, where companies interviewed potential staff.  And I saw six computer companies, including, for example Burroughs, where the guy posed to me, he said, ‘you're a maths graduate?’  I said, ‘yes’, and he said, he then gave me some mental arithmetic to do and I said, ‘I'm not very good at arithmetic, so he wrote me off.  But I then got interviewed by a funny outfit called LEO and the guy that interviewed me was a chap called Frank Land.  And it seemed to me, as I was, listened to the questions and what Frank told me, here was a company that appeared to know nothing about selling but everything about how you actually utilise computers.  And also, amazingly coincidentally, it turned out, many years after he had left, that I went to the same grammar school as Frank and Ralph Land, Willesden County Grammar School.  Anyway, I was very impressed with Frank and so I signed up for LEO.  On arrival I discovered I had been allocated to somebody else who, subsequently, was not only my boss and colleague but is a very good friend, Doug Comish.  At the time I was extremely upset 'cos Frank’s kind of, shall I say, ‘intellectual approach’.

[VB]:   Bit different to Doug?

[RH]:   Was sort of just my style and here was this sort of rather red faced Liverpudlian who, of course, in fact was an extremely bright guy as well, just had a slightly less smooth manner, shall we say,  to Frank.  So I was a bit peculiar, I guess, in LEO, in that because I had spent, in effect, a couple of years, if I tot up all the time programming, I was not given the LEO aptitude test that everybody else was given.

[VB]:   The famous test.

[RH]:   The famous test.

 [VB]:   Ties into English Electric as well I think.
(Historical note. The aptitude test was unique to LEO. It was a one day test you did before you had an interview. It applied to potential programmers, operators and engineers. It involved a session on basic computer coding and then exercises you were told you couldn’t possibly do in the time allocated. It was more important that you limited the amount of code because of LEO’s small memory. The afternoon introduced sequence changing, the secret to all programming)
[RH]:   So, when I joined I did go straight on to what I think was then an eight week Intercode course.

[VB   And what languages you'd be programming with IBM, would that have been COBOL or Assembler or...

[RH]:   Basically Assembler and Machine Code.

[VB]:   Assembler and...

[RH]:   I've actually got down to Machine Code because the IBM machine had no core store only a magnetic drum. And so, the trouble with the compiler, we used to call it ‘SOAP’, ‘self-optimising application programme’, was it wasn't very good at optimising and I decided, I got bored with it anyway, so I went down to Machine Code 'cos if it was all round a drum you knew how many milliseconds each instruction took.  And you tried to place the next instruction so that it would be picking it up and not revolving round.

[VB]:   So Intercode was probably, for you, a sort of, quite a notch up really, in terms of ....

[RH]:   It was.

[VB]:   Productivity.

[RH]:   It was really.  And, actually, even on LEO lll did start doing some Machine Code.  I was a menace as a programmer because nobody ever afterwards who took on my programmes, understood what the hell I'd done.  And of course, it was a wonderful time to join LEO because we were above Whiteleys in Queensway and Christine Keeler and ...

[VB]:   Mandy Rice-Davies.

[RH]:   Mandy Rice-Davies, were all on the go down, in the area. And I can remember the course, the hard core of us, I'd never eaten a curry in my life, and we all went round the corner in Westbourne Grove to the curry house there, which I think is actually still there.

[VB]:   Yes, it's called ‘Khan’s’ I think.

[RH]:   Yeah, it was called Khan’s. [RH]:   You're right.  And I got a taste for curry, I quickly gradually to vindaloo’s. And, you know, I just think now what the other people on the course must have been like in the afternoon with about six or seven of us coming back reeking of curry.  

[RH]:   And, because I had already programmed and so on, I was sent out to a customer, Cerebos Foods in Harlesden as sort of the resident LEO programmer and general factotum.  It was, of course, their first computer, a guy called Guido Castro, a wonderful name, was the computer manager, still around and a member of the Company of Information Technologists.  

[VB]:   Yeah.  Would that have been LEO II at that time?

[RH]:   No, it was LEO III.

[RH]:   I must have gone there before, I think it was even before the LEO III had actually physically been produced.

[VB]:   Right.  At the turnover from..LEO II to LEO III.

[RH]:   And Cerebos was a huge culture shock for a young guy.  It was kind of the old fashioned British industry.  So the first thing was there were five canteens. Because...

[VB]:   Different levels of management.

[RH]:   There were.. And there was a lady, whose name escapes me, whose job it was to interview people like me, assess what canteen I would have eaten in if I was an employee. Then you got one canteen up.
Okay.  And, I can't remember which one I was in, but then the day came when the board member responsible for computers, a chap whose initials were D O T, his name was D.O. Thackeray, known, of course, as Dottie to all the staff, invited me to come and have lunch with him in the directors dining room and tell him what is happening.  So, at the appointed day I appeared and we marched into, of course the loo’s also matched...
But because I was his guest I went into the directors’ loo.  And having peed and went to wash my hands I looked round and there were eight pegs, each of which had a little towel on, each of which had the name of the director.
So, you know, this was not a good feeling.
So I surreptitiously took my handkerchief out of my pocket and wiped my hands.  So, that was Cerebos, and I was there, more or less, from the time I finished the course, for about a year.  And I then became what LEO used to call a ‘consultant’.  Nobody was called a salesman in those days.  
And Doug Comish sent me off on a course run by two gentlemen called Alfred and Harry Tack.  
Alfred wrote a book,, I still have the book actually, I've got it in my hands, entitled, ‘A Thousand Ways To Increase Your Sales’.
So, here was I, this rather sniffy graduate, who was going to be selling this wonderful computer equipment, sent off to this Harry and Alfie Tack course, and the people on the course...

[VB]:   Which already sounds tacky with the name.

[RH]:   Indeed.  And on this course were two people selling advertising space on, I can remember this clearly, the Wolverhampton Star.  And there were a couple of guys selling agricultural, you know, to agricultural suppliers, a couple of guys selling hardware and so on.  And I looked at these guys, on my first day I had, with a pretty superior attitude.  And then as the course went on two things dawned on me; one was that selling isn't just wandering in and talking to somebody, there is actually a methodology and a structure.  And secondly, that these guys, none of whom had university degrees, clearly already knew a lot more about selling than I'd even remotely thought of.  And I have to say it was a kind of Damascene conversion, and I came away quite humbled, and with the book I’m holding in my hand, which we got just after the course, and I've kept it ever since.

[VB]:   The book?  Yes.  Have you found it useful subsequently?

[RH]:   It was, it really, I mean it really is.  I must say I haven't looked at it for years.

[VB]:   Well you don't have much need to sell these days I suppose.

[RH]:   Well not now. But it was my bible originally.  And it, you know, it was full of things which look obvious now but which to somebody who’d never thought about selling, like if you're trying to set a date to come and see somebody you don't say, ‘what date is convenient?’  You offer them alternative dates, so that they're kind of not answering the question, ‘will you come’. By, which, you know...

[VB]:   They were just choosing a day, yeah.

[RH]:   Yeah, it was full of things like that.  And, of course, wonderful stuff about how to deal with objections. And all the rest.  So I ...

[VB]:   I recall going on a similar sort of thing, I've never worked as a salesman but ICL sent me on a sales course. And this business of dealing with objections being a really plus thing for a sales person.

[RH]:   Absolutely, you welcome them.

[VB]:   Yes.  Beforehand you think, oh I don't want any objections from people, but they teach you that you can use them.

[RH]:   Right.  And in fact what I, of course, learnt and now is an example at LEO.
So, one of the key things which I tried to teach when I later became a sales manager and sales director and so on, is a good sales call is where the client talks for eighty five per cent of the time and you talk fifteen.  And I really learnt that the hard way because I was allocated H.J. Heinz as a potential customer.  And I could, John Ladbroke, again I remember his name very clearly, he was the computer manager.  And my first dealings with him were absolutely awful and, they were actually a LEO user.  And I talked myself into all kinds of trouble and then it suddenly dawned on me John’s techniques.  So I went to see him and he welcomed me in and I looked at him and he looked at me and I smiled.  And there must have been about five minutes silence and John said, ‘well, I see you've learnt at last’.  And it was a salutary lesson in that part, you know, if the guy has called the meeting, for example, as he had in the past, the last thing you should do is start talking, other than obviously saying, ‘hello’. And it was quite a salutary experience. 
 The other thing as a rookie salesman that was interesting, having spent all that time at Cerebos, was going to the Mars company in Slough.  Mars was very radical in that they had a vast open office, the managers had a glass box and there was one canteen.  And I can remember on one of my visits there, I was standing in line with the computer manager to get some lunch and three people ahead of me was a bloke called Forrest Mars, also lined up. And it then struck me, you know, the contrast between, quotes, ‘a modern American company’ and the stuffiness of Cerebos.

[VB]:   Although Mars, I think, was out of the ordinary as well wasn't it.

[RH]:   It was.

[VB]:   Even for American companies, yes.

[RH]:   It was.

[VB]:   The Mars brothers were strange people.

[RH]:   Yeah.  Yeah.  It was.  So, very interesting times in those early days of LEO, so it was really a combination of looking after existing clients and trying to flog new ones.  
[RH} So, the next sort of big thing on, that happened, was the merger of the English Electric and LEO.  And having been a Londoner and based in London there were basically four of us, Tim Holly, Geoff Rowett, Ninian Eadie, working for Doug when the merger...

[VB]:   All of those gentleman I know.

[RH]:   The merger occurred.  And for reasons, which I am still not clear about, I volunteered to go north and run what was essentially the local government market in the north, in Scotland, for English Electric LEO.  And that was based in an office in Wilmslow and, of course, that was quite useful 'cos it was just down the road to Kidsgrove, which I used to think of as Mordor for some reason, keen on those novels, and there where I was more or less protected from the turf battles that went on, and there were some, as, when, as, later when the big ICL merger happened.
I had some great training from Doug Comish as to how to conduct yourself through a merger and survive.  And it was an interesting time, amongst other things, working for Doug we sold the first System 4, and the first computer, to Edinburgh Corporation.  We sold the first computer to a, what was then a radical, that was just before I moved up, quite a radical decision, Norfolk’s and, Norwich City and Norfolk County got together and, of course, LEO had pioneered work in London for the London Boroughs, and there was a consortium of London boroughs who used LEO stuff.  One of the important customers in the North was Manchester Corporation and...

[VB]:   For LEO or System 4?

[RH]:   That was originally...

[VB]:   Originally LEO?

[RH]:   A LEO.  Yeah.  And I stayed up in the North until the merger with ICL happened, with ICT, to make ICL in 1968.

[VB]:   Correct, yeah.

[RH]:   A very memorable year because, going to Edinburgh regularly, I still look up Edinburgh Corporation, it was an extraordinary year climate wise.  Edinburgh had what can only be described as a Mediterranean climate time period.  And all of this, and there were various talks and deals and discussions going on 'cos there was a big computer, there was some sort of computer show or exhibition up in Edinburgh.  So some of the wheeler dealing within the sales organisations, happened up in Edinburgh.  And it was quite interesting 'cos visitors just assumed Edinburgh’s weather was like that.  And meanwhile the south of England had actually rain and rather poor weather.  And after that merger I remained still up in Manchester, living in Manchester, but now working for a guy called Peter Aylett.  So I lost Doug and found myself working for Peter and there are one or two notable things there.  I was then dealing with utilities and a very important client became South of Scotland Electricity Board.  And, again, that was a System 4 and, again, it was quite an interesting time because I went up, and in those days, as the sales guy, you did quite a lot of the detail negotiation on the contract, and this was a contract under Scottish law.  So I spent a whole weekend reading through this thing and I then phoned them up and said I'd like to come and discuss it, and I arrived in Glasgow and there was this lovely chap, he seemed very elderly to me then but I guess he was probably only in his fifties.  And I said to him, ‘I've got a problem with some of the things on the contract’, and he had this beautiful deep Glaswegian accent, and he said, ‘well what is your problem?’  So I then pointed to a paragraph in the contract and he then proceeded to read it out to me, very slowly and very clearly. And after about three or four minutes I realised that, I mean it, I could only assume that he thought I couldn't read.  'Cos as far as he was concerned, you know, it was entirely clear and I gave up.  
But we did secure the contract and subsequently got very close to the guy that was responsible for computers, he was the kind of assistant finance director, previously ran internal audit, a lovely guy.  And he related an interesting episode to me about his wife. We were working on an application which was basically stock control of all the appliances in the store, in the South of Scotland Electricity Board stores.  And he said it was an amazing thing, a guy turned up and knocked on his house door, his wife answered and the guy said, did she need any new appliances?  And she said, ‘well what do you mean?  He said, ‘well I've got a very nice line in cookers’, and she said, ‘well who are you from?’  He said, ‘this is the Electricity Board’, and she, of course, said, ‘Right’.  And he said, ‘and I've, this, I've got a great price for you if you make up your mind this week’, and, of course, it was a scam.  A bunch of guys had pinched the stuff from South of Scotland.
And this poor soul, unwittingly, called on the internal auditor’s wife.  

[VB]:   Yes.  A bad choice.

[RH]:   So, and the period of the utilities, we really managed right through to the merger to secure the majority of electricity and gas boards.  And it was a very interesting period because the gas industry; what our competitors had failed to pick up, was the gas industry was transforming itself from a very old fashioned engineering driven, coal processing gas, to the new finds in the North Sea.
And I know it sounds funny now, but not understanding the jargon actually meant that you had difficulty dealing with them.  I mean I can remember North West Gas Board, I think it was at the time, what we knew is that you don't talk about consumers anymore, you talk about ‘customers’.  

[VB]:   Oh.

[RH]:   And our competitors gave this big presentation and kept saying consumers., I mean that was just one of a number of things where by, what it taught me was vertical  marketing pays.  If you sell into a single industry you pick up what you need to know and it was a very exciting period with System 4 later because we managed to win, probably on spurious grounds in retrospect, some quite strong IBM customers, because of the alleged...

[VB]:   Compatibility, yes.

[RH]:   Compatibility with System 4.

[VB]:   Yeah.  Can I ask a question at this point?  In terms that, you know, in the changeover from LEO to English Electric LEO, how much consideration was there given to how long LEO would last or not last and whether System 4 was the automatic choice that the company went with and...

[RH]:   Right.  Interesting and good point, there wasn't a lot of argument actually, because English Electric ... 

[VB]:   It was more of an acquisition than a merger I suppose?

[RH]:   It was.  And also English Electric were really focused on things like universities.  They weren't, I mean, I think there was a KDF6 in Grimleys Bank.  You know, there was the old commercial thing, the real battle came with the ICL merger.  
(Historical note. They also had KDF9 which was targetted at universities and research. A rather badly deigned machine but clever in concept)
And I can give you a very interesting example and a very interesting story about Arthur Humphries, the, who became managing director of the joint company.  North East Electricity Board in Newcastle were out to tender, just after the merger.  And after a big battle between Doug Comish and I forget his opposite number, from ICT, Doug won the battle that we would be running the account.  But what it was agreed was I would have two salesmen reporting to me, one selling System 4 and the other selling the 1900.
I mean that was really quite tricky, so we presented two proposals and the finance director of North East Electrical invited me in and said, ‘Rodney, we've received four tenders, two from you and one from IBM and one, I can't remember who the fourth one was.  And he said...

[VB]:   Burroughs probably or someone like that.

[RH]:   ‘I have to tell you that one of your tenders has become first, has come first, and the other has come third in our ranking.  Which proposal are you really recommending?’  

[VB]:   There's the trick question.

[RH]:   So it was, and you know, of course there was a hell of a ruckus when I did, and  it was a toss of a coin in my mind.  And I said, ‘System 4’.  So he said, ‘okay’.  I would like to meet your managing director and get confirmation that this is what your company is really recommending from, to my board’.  So an appointment was made for three weeks later and I was down in London.
[RH]:   In Putney briefing Arthur Humphries, the first time I'd ever met him.  And it was slightly, he didn't say much, you know, and I sort of briefed him and he sort of grunted.  Anyway, the finance director turned up and we all sat around in Arthur Humphries’ office and the finance director then went into a long spiel about, you know, they've done a thorough investigation that, at the end of the day one of your proposals really wasn't very good.
 ‘Your sales manager, Mr. Hornstein said System 4 is the right machine for us.  Is that the case Mr. Humphries?’  And I looked at Humphries and he said, ‘yes’, and there was a sort of silence, the guy was clearly expecting him to elaborate on that, he never said another word.  He said, ‘oh, well that's okay.’  ‘Excellent’, said Arthur, ‘let's have a gin and tonic’, and it was quite amazing.  And so we had a gin and tonic, we had lunch and off he went on the train back to Newcastle.  Again an interesting lesson in - You know, one word is enough.

[VB]:   Don't say more, yeah.

[RH]:   Anything you say more...

[VB]:   I'm assuming that, they had put System 4 higher in their thinking and 1900..

[RH]:   Yeah, they had and it...

[VB]:   Third, yeah.

[RH]:   And the other great battle in the North East is we displaced IBM with a System 4 with Northern Gas based up there which was real fun.  So I was still based up in Manchester, but then there was the annual September ICL reorganisation and I moved back to London, back working for Doug, and at that stage local government.  And I had a year, the only year I really, no, there were two years I disliked in LEO/ICL, the year when I moved back to London 'cos I moved out of sales and I was what was called a ‘regional support manager’, which was not my forte.  And then I got moved to run really a specialist unit where all the, which contained all the big local government authorities.

[VB]:   What year would that be?

[RH]:   So that would be 1971.  Yeah.  ‘69/’70 I was back in London, ‘70/’71 I took that over.  And that again was a very interesting period because one of our important clients was in fact, we were now talking about New Range, of course, which didn't really exist.  And...

[VB]:   Not until late seventies I suppose when it started to creep out.

[RH]:   No, it was ready around ’74. So, I think it was, ‘74/’75, cos, you know, it was...

[VB]:   Yes, it was launched in about ’75, yes.  ‘74/’75.  

[RH]:   And so we were talking, you know, the dreaded future computer that didn't exist.  Manchester was run, actually, by the treasurer who was really the big figure in Manchester, had been Knighted for his services to local government, had been wined and dined by UNIVAC and they, we got on the grapevine that they were going to go to UNIVAC.  And this, again, was a really interesting period 'cos, of course, we had a factory in West Gorton.
And I was tasked with masterminding a really quite extraordinary political campaign.  As it happened, and very slightly strangely, one of the shop stewards at West Gorton was an active member of the Conservative Party. And, needless to say, there were others there that were active in the Labour parties.
And so we mounted a fierce campaign over the head, or under the head of the treasurer, getting at the rank and file of councillors, both Labour and Conservative.  John Davies, who was my salesman for Manchester then, I still remember this, we prepared a briefing document and delivered it to the homes of every councillor and I think it was actually the treasurer had addressed the councillors and said, ‘there are disgraceful things happening’.
“That, in the dead of night, an ICL salesman has been delivering documents in people’s doorways” and so on.  And what we latched on to were two things, one that not only was the treasurer favouring UNIVAC but he'd been on a jolly to Japan.
Funded by UNIVAC to look at what they were doing there, which, of course, via the two shop stewards, got through to all the councillors.  And the big day came and the proposal accepted by the leaders of both parties was the treasurer’s recommendation to go to UNIVAC.  And it was voted down at the meeting by the rank and file, on both sides.  Another interesting character in that was Gerald Kaufman who was the MP for that area.
And actually the thing I learnt about the politician is if you want something to be generally known you tell him something and tell him it's absolutely confidential and really, you know, mustn’t get out, and, of course, the information we gave him appeared in The Guardian within, you know a day or two. And that, yeah, I mean that was another interesting thing.

[VB]:   That stirred it all up.

[RH]:   You know if you wanna keep something, if you wanna get something out there tell the appropriate politician that this is a confidential piece and he’ll broadcast it. So we won and we beat, in a number of places we beat IBM, it was wonderful, a wonderful period.  The equipment, when it arrived, proved to take a bit of time to bed down.

[VB]:   Yes.  Often the case in those days.

[RH]:   Yeah.  But definitely challenging.  And I left that job and became what was called a sector manager, but not reporting to Doug anymore.  I think Doug had gone off to manufacturing.

[VB]:   Gone to International Division, oh manufacturing, yeah.

[RH]:   No, I think it was manufacturing.  

[VB]:   It was manufacturing first and then he went to international division.

[RH]:   And I was back reporting to Peter Aylett, running utilities, nationalised industries.  So we had steel and coal, and in fact, I still claim say one of my claims to fame is we used to have this annual review and one of the things you had to do was assess the level of the individual and the particular guy I was asked to review was my support manager in Sheffield for steel.
And I wrote on there, ‘no foreseeable limit to his likely promotion’, and it turned out to be a bloke called Pete Gershon who finally ended up running Marconi and then went on to work for the government as Chief of Government Procurement.

[VB]:   Yes, I remember the name, yeah.

[RH]:   So I keep my ???, I definitely feel I spotted a star. So, and that was, so I'm now up to ’74.
I then got pretty itchy, ’74/’75/’76, we had some wild times, Peter Hall was my boss-once-removed, 'cos he was running marketing really, sales stuff. I guess he reported to Peter Ellis at that time.

[VB]:   I think so, yes.

[RH]:   Peter was the overall marketing honcho, sales and marketing honcho.  Peter was a lovely guy, became a very good friend later.

[VB]:   He used to come out to East Africa a lot as well.
And his son came and worked out there as well as the MD in Zambia.

[RH]:   His son did?  You sure, there are two Peter Hall’s?

[VB]:   Ah, maybe that's the other Peter Hall then.

[RH]:   'Cos his son was a big wheel in Boston Consulting Group that will be.

[VB]:   Ah, this must be the other Peter Hall.

[RH]:   Is it?  'Cos, and they both were P.D. Hall by the way.

[VB]:   Of course.

[RH]:   And the email, of course, memos and things all went to the wrong places.
No, no, there was a P.D. Hall.
It wasn't him.  And Peter was a lovely guy to work for but wild.  I can remember, we were tendering to the Yorkshire Electricity Board, about to get the contract and I said to Peter that, ‘they are very, very sensitive’, because with their current computer, I think they were an IBM users then,  they made a big cock-up and they sent final demands to a whole bunch of pensioners and the demands were incorrect and it was all hell let loose, so don't mention it. 
 So, I take Peter there and we were having quite a nice chat with the chairman and deputy chairman.  And then out of the blue Peter, as a joke, literally said, ‘I understand you've got a problem with sending out bills to a lot of pensioners that they shouldn't have got?’  And laughed, and, you know, 'cos there was a silly side.
And a serious side.  And both he and Peter were wild.  I mean they were lovely guys to work with, Peter sadly died about a year ago now, two years, became a really close friend.  But I and my four colleagues who, they've worked for Peter Aylet and then on to Peter Hall, which is Geoff Rowett, there was Spud Taylor.

[VB]:   There was a few, mind you, in The States.

[RH]:   And David, he went off to the European Common Market, I can't remember his surname for the minute.  What we always contrived to make sure that they never visited a customer of ours 'cos they were both incredibly clever.
And what I found is that being clever isn't necessarily a way to win friends amongst your customers.

[RH]:   The other interesting thing around that period was as a ...

[VB]:   Is it Caminer you were thinking of?  Was it?

[RH]:   No, it wasn't David Caminer, no David...

[VB]:   Never mind.

[RH]:   Yeah.  In fact now you've mentioned David, he was another major contributor to my development because in LEO we were trying to sell, I think it was to Mars, we were trying to sell a computer.  Doug Comish, my boss, was on holiday and we had to write a sales letter.  So Doug said, ‘don't worry about it’, he said, ‘just write the letter, show it to David and’, you know, ‘just let him check it over and that's fine’.  
So I duly wrote this letter, showed it to David and he, he sort of looked at it and there was a sort of sudden explosion and he started waving his arms and thing, and I detected that he wasn't happy with this letter.  I tried, and, I said, ‘well, okay, I’ll write it’, I said, ‘no,  no, I will write it David, just tell me what it is that you don't like’.  So I got to do it, and this was one of the longest days in my life 'cos I must have gone back a half a dozen times and, again, David became later a good friend but he was a very challenging man to deal with.

[VB]:   A fierce critic, I believe.

[RH]:   And you know basically, I wouldn't say he was, I wouldn't describe him as a bully because he was so focused on the problem that that was the thing that concerned him.  That the impact he was having on this young, sprog, salesman wasn't, I think, something that he would ...

[VB]:   He didn't notice, no.

[RH]:   And what I've learnt, what, of course, one learned with David is that you had to stand up to him.

[VB]:   Stand up to him, I've heard that from others, yeah.

[RH]:   And I insisted and it must have been about ten o'clock at night, 'cos, you know, he wasn't gonna go home until this was done, and I wasn't, and eventually I got a big grin and he said, ‘well, that looks okay’.

[VB]:   Yes, off you go.

[RH]:   And off it went but it must have been half a dozen drafts.
And if David had perhaps been a little better at explaining what he wanted, it might have been a bit quicker, but it was again, you know, to a young salesman; I actually value that experience because it was real, in those days he was like, ‘you're a young salesman’.
He's an illustrious figure. At LEO.

[VB]:   Yes, a founder wasn't he?  I mean right from the beginning.

[RH]:   He was indeed a founder.
And, of course, you've probably heard there are enumerable apocryphal stories about David.
I mean perhaps one of the most famous ones - his driving was poorly -  is that he drove into the back of a taxi cab.  Have you heard that one?

[VB]:   No.

[RH]:   Oh right, okay.  He drove into the back of a taxi cab, got out, much waving of arms, not a lot of damage, and in those days quite a lot of money.  David settled for ten quid.  So he handed the taxi driver the ten quid, they both got back in their car and David drove smack into the back of ...

[VB]   Back into it again?

[RH]:   The car again.  And there were two genuine witnesses to this.
I personally have been in his car when he went down a one way street the wrong way.
I mean he was just amazing.  And he was just one of those wonderful, larger than life characters. From the LEO days.  

[RH]:   So we’re in the period really, that's ’74 to ’77 when I reported to Peter Aylett, ran utilities, nationalised industries and so forth.  And I was getting quite sort of itchy 'cos, in a way I’d changed companies and jobs, 'cos I was much merged.  And I think I'm right that the final ICL company, after Singer got acquired, was probably a merger of eight or nine, even nine Companies with the Ferranti’s and the British Tab and Marconi and so forth.  
So I then cultivated a guy who later became a very good friend, and he was all about development, personnel development.  And between us we convinced ICL to send me off to the business school at Stanford in California for, what I remember is a wonderful summer in 1977.  And it was a real eye-opener because in effect, although I was much merged, I'd always worked for the same company.  And it was extremely interesting, their ‘Senior Executive Programme’, lasted nine weeks, essentially through June, July and August, and had a hundred and eighty on the programme, of which, probably I think there may have been a hundred and twenty, were Americans, sixty were, like me, overseas guys.  Interestingly in those days I guess the demographic is different now, there were, of that group there were only eight women on the course and I'm sure now that will have changed.
And it was a real eye-opener to me because what it showed you, it was down on the traditional, looking at case studies and all this kind of thing.  And I was particularly keen, this was in the Geoff Cross era, this is where we’d all suddenly learnt that balance sheets and P&L accounts were apparently important.  And so I was particularly keen on focusing on the finance side.  But what I found really fascinating was that people looked at problems quite differently.  If you've  been in the same company, even though much merged, essentially there is a, kind of, I don't mean ethos, but there's a way of looking at business that is relatively uniform.  And I, originally as a maths graduate and as being very numerate, I placed a very high regard on numeric, and numerical analysis of a problem, of a business.  And what was really quite humbling at the business school is that in some of the case studies there were people there whose numeracy was highly questionable but whose insights into the business problem actually got them to a solution, and often a better solution, than my lot analysing away all the balance sheets and the P&L’s.  
And, of course, what it did was, when I looked across all the people that were there in my year, a significant number were there because their companies really didn't know what to do with them, they were all getting itchy where they were.  In fact a reasonable number were real problem cases who had clearly been shunted out.
Anyway, it was a wonderful experience.  I got back and spent a year in a job that I did not enjoy at ICL, moving over to work for Les Cole in the non-public sector side of the sales and marketing.  And that summer I got my comeuppance because Graham Robinson, who was the guy that helped convince everybody to send me to Stanford, and I, were assigned the task of reorganising the whole of marketing group by Peter Ellis who was then the marketing director.  And Graham and I spent the summer concocting a new marketing organisation.  We were based down at Beaumont and actually one of the most momentous times was we were both gazing out of the window, there was a massive oak tree in the thing.  And as we watched there was a loud crack and the tree, it was like Monty Python, just..Fell over. 
 Anyway, and as a result of our prognostications we came up with a report that, God help me, was accepted.  And in that report I created a marketing director job that really combined the existing job of Marketing Director, which was the marketing division being run by a guy called Arnold Jewitt.  and the technical side of, essentially the service side, and it got amended a bit but at the end of the day I, for my sins, was appointed to run the marketing job that I'd created.  
And for the majority of the job – it was in two parts - we were supposed to tell Software and Development what they were supposed to develop, what they were supposed to develop.  And we were supposed to tell manufacturing what they were supposed to make.  
Now, I think Development Group at that time must have had in excess of five thousand people, there were at least two thousand, five hundred programmers, run by Ed Mack  And manufacturing was run by a lovely guy, Pete Murphy.  And I can remember that I had two secretaries, got a third one and we measured the amount of paper coming into my office every day, and it was more than two metres of material I got to see, and course it was all prior to emails and stuff. 
So I got to the stage where I could read the headings of the memos, but I had no time to read anything else.  And manufacturing were lovely 'cos that was again another real lesson for later.  'Cos I can remember sitting down for the meeting with Pete Murphy and his senior people to decide what was going to be made the next month.  And Pete was sitting there, puffing his pipe and I said to him, ‘magnetic tape decks’.  I said, ‘I think it's got to be four hundred’, I think, something like that number.  He said, ‘for next month?’  And I said, ‘yes’.  And he said, ‘tell you what Rodney, I think I’ll make a hundred, maybe a hundred and twenty’.  I said, ‘well what do you mean, what do you mean Pete?’  And we went through what was called the Serial, the list of products Manufacturing were scheduled to make, and fast forward to six months later, I’d learned a salutary lesson and that is, if you wanted to know what was gonna happen in the company, in the following period, you'd do better to talk to manufacturing than anybody in marketing.  And it was amazing how I could get from Pete a reasonable forecast of how the business was going.  And I realised in the end, of course, that manufacturing had no degrees of freedom, once they'd committed to make something they were ordering the parts and all the rest.  Salesmen and marketing people of which, you know, I'm guilty as well, can come up with any damn number they like and when you say well, ‘you said’, you know, ‘you were gonna sell twenty in..’, you would say, ‘yeah, but, okay, this, that, it didn't happen, sorry but it's only nine’.
If manufacturing worked on that basis you'd go broke. Extremely fast.

[VB]:   Probably manufacturing could work on the basis that having a shortage is better than having a surplus.

[RH]:   Exactly.  And throughout that year, 'cos I did leave ICL at the end of that year, my respect for manufacturing went up immensely.  On the other hand, in the case of development, it was absurd.  I think a lot of these metres of paper that were pouring in were, of course, from Development Group.  And Ed Mack had clearly, - he was, in my view, Geoff Cross’s downfall - because he was clearly gonna blitz me and I was faced constantly, with, ‘we need a decision by tomorrow on the operating system VME K, whatever.

[VB]:   I went through that whole thing. And it drove me absolutely wild.

[RH]:   But the amazing thing is we need a decision on this paper that they've sent me 'cos, if in fact I can't take a decision by the following day, the programme would go back six months.  You know, and I was thinking, you know, ‘what's going on here?’  And it was totally out of control and I did become a rapid reader but in, there was no way with my group, which probably comprised all of forty people.  There was no way that we could do the job that I had created.
It was just, it wasn't gonna work.  And that was a pretty nightmarish year.  And I did leave ICL after that marketing director job. so I did the project in the summer of ’78, then I did ’78 to ’79 as marketing director.  And the climax, to me, was that Marketing Group, sorry Development Group, under Ed Mack, were pushing this operating system VME K, which essentially was, as far as I could see, not relevant to what we were delivering and telling the customers.  And I remember spending several days, by this time Chris Wilson had taken over as managing director, Cross had gone, and Wilson was there, a lot of the time, and Peter Ellis, the head honcho of marketing and sales, Ed Mack, Chris French and others, and we sat for a whole morning going through what was gonna be done on VME K, half day by half day, in the following week.  And I decided this was madness, you know, poor old Chris was trapped in the same way as I was, you know, it could not make sense for the senior management of ICL devoting a whole day, essentially, to reviewing the development of a piece of software in the following week.  And really I was quite sad at the time that I thought I, you know, I was gonna leave ICL and never have anything to do with it again, although I did, slightly vicariously, later.  And fortuitously Geoff Cross who had left and went off to work for Arnie Weinstock at GEC called me and said, ‘why don't you come and work for me?’
So I left ICL and in a sense left the computer industry for a while, working for Geoff Cross who ran a subsidiary of GEC which was in office automation, really.  And, essentially, off-set printing, though that isn't what Geoff Cross told me he was doing and what he thought he was doing.  I then got head-hunted to Gestetner. 

[VB]:   In which was the [inaud] of a business, yeah. 

[RH]:   And, actually then ICL kind of re-appeared in my life, because ICL had decided to spin out a very interesting technology that it had developed in-house, known as the ‘Distributed Array Processor’, the DAP.  And they, in fact had made up their minds they were gonna spin it out into an independent company where they would have an interest, but substantially owned by others, and they'd commissioned a guy called David Ellis to find a bunch of VC’s who would finance such a company.  And that was well under way, they'd found a guy to run it and then the guy’s wife decided that she didn't like him doing it, and they were looking for somebody to run it and I was approached.  And at that stage I was pretty well fed up, I had a very senior position, I was on the board of Gestetner, running the international operations which consisted of thirty two subsidiaries around the world, and a hundred and something odd dealers, distributers, subsidiaries in, everywhere from Japan to South America and so on.  And I was a bit tired, A) I was quite keen to get back into computery and B) a bit fed up with big companies.  So I was persuaded to go and run a company that was called AMT, which was tasked with, essentially, commercialising the DAP, the Distributed Array Processor.  

[VB]:   Developed by Gordon Scarrott I think, was it?  

[RH]:   It was Gordon, yeah.  In Stevenage, there was the other thing..

[VB]:   CAFFS?

[RH]:   DAP. Distributed Array Processing, as you probably know. The whole point of it was, in the initial phase a thousand odd very simple processors, like a chorus line.

[VB]:   I spent a couple of years trying to peddle it to American companies. So I'm very familiar with it.

[RH]:   Okay.  And that was very interesting to me because David Ellis who, with his sort of number two, a guy called Bruce Alper, had essentially got the VC’s together, and it couldn't happen nowadays, bear in mind this was 1986.  The initial roster was seven Venture Capital companies invested in this thing.
David Dace was on the board as the ICL representative.  And our problem was that we had to reduce the cost of the DAP, which I think ICL were trying to sell, when they did try, for around forty thousand pounds.  We had to reduce it to being able to sell for about two or three thousand dollars.  I think ICL had quite a lot of engineers working on the DAP.  We found a little outfit in Southern California that comprised the head honcho, a chip designer who was English who had actually gone out there to help design the stuff for the, for what was the Post Office, later British Telecom, with their early digital exchanges. And a guy that was a kind of project manager/documentation man.  
And they committed to design, on a fixed price, fixed time scale contract, one year, a DAP, from the original design that would have a production cost of less than a thousand dollars.  And I just boggled at this, I just couldn't believe that, and it was a real eye-opener to me again what a small, and this is, you know, very small, group could do if they had no distractions.  That literally you could say  ‘could you just add an extra feature?’, the answer wa ‘no, you know, this is a fixed cost and Timescale thing’, and they did it.  They actually completed it, obviously on budget, because it was a fixed cost.
And they did it in the twelve months.  And it was an interesting programme because the software for it was based in Slough Estates, a place near Reading, we had a little office there.  The hardware guys were in Southern California and during this process, because it was clear that the market was gonna be in the USA, I moved out to Southern California to run the company from there.

[VB]:   It's tough, but some people have to do it.

[RH]:   Somebody had to do it.  And it was a very interesting period and it was at the time, really, if you think about it, the world of super computers of one sort or another was really on the go, there must have been, firstly there was the direct competitor to the DAP, called Thinking Machines.
And Thinking Machines had a board which included, I remember this clearly, funded by DARPA, the, you know, 

[VB]:   Compressed based, yeah.

[RH]:   Whatever, and had two Noble Laureates on its board.  And we actually had a patent dispute with them because it was clear that they were in contravention of the patents on the DAP.  However, I can remember going to a meeting with Thinking Machines and they had two patent  attorneys there, and they looked like, to me like crocodiles with long rows of teeth, and it became clear to me that you needed very deep pockets if you were really gonna take it forward.  They essentially had unlimited funds and we didn't. 
The interesting thing is we started off with seven venture capital investors, when we went through what was a second round of funding, six more joined, I mean it would be impossible to happen these days.  We had thirteen venture capital investors in this thing.  And I've often been asked, you know, ‘well wasn't that a pain?’  Well in fact the answer is, ‘you've got one VC’, one venture capital investor, you've got real difficulty, you've got thirteen, it's just a herd.  
And, you know, controlling a herd is not too difficult.  And it was a really interesting period.  I had to come back to the UK but it was clear you needed a CEO based in the US.  And so when I came back we recruited another, an American CEO, who subsequently turned out to be a bit of a disaster, I really have to say.  And I left. To do other things.

[VB]:   And AMT sank eventually, did it?  Or did it...

[RH]:   It did.  The problem with AMT was that, because it was a parallel computing system, all conventional software didn't work on it.
So you really had to create everything from scratch.  We had created what was called Parallel Fortran, but it really, that was a problem.  And then, actually, almost all of the so called super computer things disappeared when the ubiquitous PC arrived. Because as you know, people were running thousands of PC’s in combination. To do the work, and there were still the odd massive super computer. Cray

[VB]:   But they went eventually.
I mean Cray do massively parallel things now.

[RH]:   Yeah.  I mean that went on a long time, but it then went the way of all flesh (?).
They kind of disappeared. I mean, of course, there is still stuff lurking around, is it at IBM, there's a thing isn't there?  That does deep analysis.
[VB]:   Yes.  They're big, but I think that's a parallel machine.
[RH]:   Yeah.  I'm sure it's parallel.
[RH]:   But what was interesting about that though is, what it taught me was if, in the US, if you've got an interesting looking mousetrap, that's new, unlike in Europe, they will try it.  In Europe, I mean, 'cos I found it very frustrating when I got back to Europe that, you know, people ‘umm’ and ‘ah’ if you've got something new, in America they'll try it.
They'll kick it out if they don't like it.
But they will try it.  And the other interesting thing is that I got the lowest level of US security.  I went down to Washington, because the defence, I mean essentially the DAP, its main market was defence, and essentially, signal and image processing, radar to you and I.
And I went down to Washington, I was sat in an office and met this guy and he said, ‘right, I'm glad I've met you, you may or may not hear from us again’.  And what I realised they do, there is this special relationship, they go to the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Defence comes back, and I was then summoned down about two months later and said, ‘you've got secret clearance’.  What you have to understand though is that is the lowest level.
We had sold computers to a company called E-Systems, which is now part of Lockheed Martin.  And they were in the AWACS, but basically they went...
The AWACS, the things that go up in the air and survey before  satellite, the activity was really before satellites were in their full mode.  And I visited E-Systems in Greenville, Texas and you couldn't tell where the US air force space ended and where E-Systems started.
And I will always remember this, I thought, I was like a leper, because I went into the E, and E-Systems only worked on what was called, ‘black projects’, that is you had to have super security clearance, often only in that project.  And as I went in somebody walked ahead of me and I thought they were shouting, ‘unclean’, and they were shouting, ‘uncleared’.  And as I walked along people put a piece of cloth over their computer screen.
And it was a really weird, sort of, experience.  

[VB]:   You thought you were a leper?

[RH]:   Pardon?  Yeah.  I mean, 'cos, you know, first I think, ‘unclean’, where did they get that from.  And I, and finally on that, which is again an interesting side effect, we sold a computer to one of the spooks, agencies, in Washington.  And what happened was we were told to deliver the DAP into a warehouse, we left it there, we were to leave the premises and it was later collected.  We then, about two months later were contacted to say that they'd got a real problem with an algorithm,‘have we got an expert who can deal with this?’  And the guy that, the only guy that could deal with it was a guy called Stuart Reddington, do you remember Stuart?

[VB]:   Yes, I do, yes.

[RH]:   Okay.  Well there were hardware, you know, there were two that really were the DAP kings, David Hunt, who came to, originally to work with AMT. And Stuart. Who came later.  And Stuart, ‘uncleared’ by anybody, was flown to Washington and he sat in the premises of this spooky outfit and taught them how to do algorithms that they required to do on the DAP.
And it, and again it just brought home to me that if you, you know, it doesn't matter what the rules and regs are, if you've got something that they really need...

[VB]:   Then they'll get you in there.

[RH]:   They just, they just do it.
So that, you know, that was it.  But the Thinking Machines also went the way of all flesh as well. They all did.  Just went out of fashion.
So, following my stint at doing this start up at AMT, the DAP.  As I was leaving I got a phone call from a guy called Robb Wilmot who had obviously previously run ICL.  And he had a consultancy contract to try and save a publicly listed company called Alphameric, which essentially made keyboards.  And, to cut a long story short, he persuaded me to go in on the rescue and become the CEO.  The, Robb sat on the board for a while and an ex ICL guy, Alan Benjamin, who had been the public relations man for ICL, came and joined as chairman.  One interesting ICL element though was that we made, we started to get in to point of sale, and we made keyboards, point of sale keyboards for ICL.  And Alphameric had, this was at the beginning of the nineties and there was the great recession and huge financial crisis.  And I went to see a, one of the ICL board members, and I can't quite remember his name for the minute, he was responsible for the manufacturing side in those days.  And essentially I said to him that we have got invoices in, at ICL that aren't officially due for payment for sixty days, but actually if we could be paid now it would make a lot of difference, and it was.  
And so AMT was really a rescue effort and I got it all sorted out and then moved, what is unfashionable now, from being the chief executive of Alphameric to the chairman role, finally left in the late nineties and became a business angel investing in young software companies, normally only when I could be actively involved and think I could add value as chairman.  And I, that's what I am still doing now.

[VB]:   Okay, Rodney, thanks very much for that wonderful talk about all of your time.  This interview with Rodney Hornstein has been recorded by the LEO Computer Society and the Society would like to thank you very much for your time and reminiscences.  The interview and transcript form part of an Oral History Project to document the early use of electronic computers in business and other applications, but particularly in business.  Any opinions expressed are those of the interviewee, that is Rodney Hornstein, and not of the Society.  The copyright of this interview is, in recorded form and transcript, remains the property of the LEO Computer Society 2011.  That's not objectionable to you?

[RH]:   Not at all.  I enjoyed the conversation.
[VB]:   Yeah.  Well thank you Rodney as well.

Provenance :
Recording made by the LEO Computers Society as part of their ongoing oral history project.

Archive References : CMLEO/LS/AV/HORNSTEIN-20181203 , DCMLEO202212310007

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH70218. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

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