Dame Stephanie Shirley – HReSource Podcast 2021
David Laud: [00:00:00] I’m delighted to welcome to the HReSource podcast, Dame Stephanie Shirley, a pioneering entrepreneur and philanthropist whose remarkable creative thinking solved problems for clients that not only helped grow a substantial business enterprise from very modest beginnings, but in the process changed our thinking on company structure and governance. Having read Dame Stephanie’s frank and very moving memoir, Let It Go, which I highly recommend. It’s clear Dame Stephanie has overcome a series of significant challenges. Yet despite this, or perhaps as a result of this, continues to make a positive contribution to our lives. Thank you for taking the time to join us today, Dame Stephanie.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:00:39] Lovely to be here.
David Laud: [00:00:41] Now. No doubt a number of our listeners will be aware of this story, but there are some that may not be so familiar. Could you possibly share an outline of your career journey from your arrival in England? July 1939, you were one of the 10000 Kindertransport children, to your life and works now.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:01:02] Well, it is a long life, so it might be too long a story. My refugee start is enormously important to the whole of my life because I had this trauma of leaving my family, being put on the train, sent off to, in fact, a very lovely, loving foster parents, which was very successful. But it was new food, new family, new language, new nationality. Because of the life on the continent, Europe, was very different to how things were in England. It took me quite some time to become Anglicised. But what that did for me, David, is that it made me able to deal with change all my life. And that’s very important in the digital world. It’s important to entrepreneurs. What we’re doing is new things all the time, making new things happen. And to have that upset early in my life means that nothing much fazes me anymore. I became, I was going to be the world’s greatest mathematician, but the age of 20, I realized that this wasn’t going to happen. I started work at the age of 18 and soon discovered that I did not have it in me to be an academic mathematician. But I was lucky that the computer industry came along. You needed mathematics in those days. So, I was one of the early pioneers.
David Laud: [00:02:38] Didn’t you work on the fabulously called ERNIE…the Premium Bonds…
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:02:46] That was a pretty early computer specialist, special purpose computer. Everybody thought I could help people win on the Premium Bonds. But in fact, of course, it was just a wonderful opportunity to get right into the heart of computing and find out all about the bits in the bolts,
David Laud: [00:03:07] All the programming. And that was was that Dollis Hill?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:03:11] That was the Dollis Hill research station, which was a hotbed of scientists, really. I met my dear husband there, but it was a very nice place for women to be.
David Laud: [00:03:26] But you were finding some early stages of that working relationship challenge as well. Did you don’t want to sort of progress yourself? And one of the bosses was quite adamant that you weren’t going to get either the promotion or all the further training you wanted?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:03:40] Well, I made a facile comment about how nice it was to go into an organization with hundreds of intelligent young men. But really, it was quite a sexist environment. I mean, even to the extent that there were two pay scales, they went by age. There was one pay scale for men and one lower scale for women. And that sort of really began to irritate me. And I became sort of fairly assertive when people offered to help me carry my equipment. I would reply somewhat aggressively, actually, I believe in equal pay and will carry my own things. Nowadays, of course, I made a lot of stuff for me, but then we get
David Laud: [00:04:33] Quite an early demonstration of how life was.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:04:38] And yes, the default position really was women were second class citizens. We were kept out of most financial activities so that I couldn’t open the company bank account without my husband’s authorization. I couldn’t work on the stock exchange. I could write software for the stock exchange. I couldn’t actually work on the stock exchange. Women were second class citizens. And I began to resent that and really that drive for women’s empowerment has become part of my life, a very important part of my life. And I’m surprised that today I still am doing things for Women’s organizations I speak to a lot, of not for not for profits,
David Laud: [00:05:29] But the reality is I think there’s still a level of bias and discrimination that takes place that you’d think in light of I think was in nineteen sixty-two you created this powerful women focused software business that was set to change the world. I mean, in the way that we haven’t learned lessons. And there are still there’s a lot of work to be done.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:05:54] We do still have an enormous amount of bias. I come across it for age. I come across it for for gender. And I work quite a lot about the bias against people with autism who tend to think in a completely different way, as my late son did. And that is now something that allows me to help the I.T. industry, because it is those sorts of skills, pattern solving skills that people, I.T. organizations, you need that at the same time, the autistic people can offer those sorts of skills.
David Laud: [00:06:36] It’s the neuro neurodiversity. Yes. Which I really feel quite passionate about. There’s a lot of when I when I think back of individuals that I work with historically who probably weren’t diagnosed, but clearly had skills and were just considered to be a little bit odd, a little bit different because of the social skills weren’t as refined and as engaging as other individuals in the workforce. So then they tend to be because they’re different, they get a bit ostracized, which is just, you know, painful to watch.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:07:06] I mean, I would never have got into a field like autism had my late son not been born on the autistic spectrum. And so you finish up knowing quite a lot about it and it’s starting to do something about it. You really have that drive to use your intellect to make something happen.
David Laud: [00:07:27] Just go back to the story, Dollis Hill and ERNIE, your you and I mentioned your business starts in 62. What was the catalyst to really drive that forward? I think we touched on one of those things. But what really drove you to.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:07:39] Oh, David, it was very much the glass ceiling. I was sick and tired of being patronized. I’d been patronized in Germany as a Jew. I’d been patronized in England as a woman. And I just wanted to set up. It was like a crusade for women. I wanted to set up an organization that was the sort of organization that I wanted to work with flexible. Other people, other women would want to work for, and so it started as a company of women, a company for women. It was an early social business and of the first three hundred staff, two hundred and ninety-seven were women. So we really drove that anti-discrimination policy or positive discrimination policy for many, many years until sex discrimination legislation came in. And we had to change our employment policies and start welcoming the men.
David Laud: [00:08:50] The irony of the of the legislation, which is supposed to, you know, increase diversity in women into the workforce that you are as pioneers, and then you’re the one getting told off the facts. Yeah, but
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:09:01] I couldn’t really argue. So the only thing that really happened, I suppose, is that all the legislative things have those fences have fallen so much as a disability. I mean, I used to talk about my son. Some say what? He can’t speak and he can’t do that, very much the negative side of of his condition, whereas now we’ve really learned to accept people with autism is just part of the human spectrum and realize that it’s very conceited to think that people with autism have to fit into your or my way of operating. We need to learn what it’s like to be autistic.
David Laud: [00:09:52] And that realization, I guess, with your son, Giles was shortly after you’d set the business up, wasn’t it? You’d think for the year after you’d set him. Was he born in 63?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:10:06] He was born in sixty three.
David Laud: [00:10:08] And initially there were no signs that that Giles had any symptoms to be particularly concerned about.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:10:14] Looking back at the property where he saw that, David. But no, we had a very good start. And I think it was probably the happiest period of my life.
David Laud: [00:10:27] And that was that was the classic situation where you’re trying to sort of multitask world class multitasking, starting for business, having just recently got married, moving location, having a child. But what you tapped into with your business, why success grew, was the fact that you had identified a need, which is obviously the programming, the software services that were required that you could deliver a service on. But the resources you need were the people. And the resources to which at that time in the country there was plenty of resource but were being overlooked, were women who had the skills, the intellect, the education, but were not allowed to really consider being back in work because either they had a child or they got married and just decided this is what you’re supposed to do, because that was the culture of the time.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:11:20] So very much so. Yes.
David Laud: [00:11:23] And that’s how you were able to grow such a strong, dedicated and loyal workforce, because at the time,
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:11:30] Nobody else was recruiting in that part of the fishpond. So I had the pick of 51 percent of the population. Wonderful. So really a super company
David Laud: [00:11:41] And I thought was quite interesting as well, when when you compare and contrast is, as the business grew you were looking to go into different countries and different environments as well. And that didn’t always work because for the likes of Denmark their policies and their procedures towards women’s open skill level. So you didn’t have the resources to do so again. So it became a business that you grew, obviously, over time, you’re developing a workforce that have got a lot of passion, a lot of interest, and then somebody decides they’re going to try and take you on your own game. And it was somebody that you’d had very close to you as well, which was it must have been quite painful.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:12:24] Yes, I know now that service companies in particular have so-called breakaway groups about on average every seven years. And I must say, my record is much better than that. The thing is that every new idea has to stem from something else. So we do build I think we do climb on each other’s shoulders. And for people to break away is upsetting. And it is a management problem, not an ethical issue.
David Laud: [00:12:57] And understandable as well that you’re garnering that talent, that ambition, that skill, and one of those outlets for that ambition is to do it for themselves. It’s a fine line to draw. You can’t expect everybody necessarily to.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:13:12] It’s precisely what I did.
David Laud: [00:13:14] Yes, exactly. Exactly. So it’s a bit hypocritical, wouldn’t it? To say actually you can’t do it!
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:13:19] I can do it, but nobody else is allowed to set up their own business has suited me, actually. It is it’s never boring. You bring into it all your general people skills. You bring into it the need for mastering finance, mastering marketing in particular, because I think most of us start off thinking in terms of, you know, building up a lovely, lovely product, then thinking, well, why is nobody beating a path to my door to buy this new….. you begin to turn everything upside down and realize I need a list of what people are wanting.
David Laud: [00:14:10] Yeah, I’m one of the things that you did, and I think you’ve shouldered an awful lot of responsibility for getting to where you needed to be was because you were doing a lot of the coals, the sort of what we would call now, the telemarketing.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:14:21] Yeah. Most people weren’t doing telemarketing because I was selling to quite senior people. So they weren’t generally using the telephone. And I did it worked very well for me. But eventually, of course, there were whole teams of people doing marketing and selling at different divisions and sectors and so on. The thing was that the more the companies succeeded, the less I had to offer it and the less to be honest, I enjoyed it. Eventually, when one was doing a whole lot of corporate stuff and quarterly results and oh, I was bored silly. And you do them dutifully and professionally but it’s not what I want to do. I’m much better starting new things, getting it to a stage which financially sustainable, and that’s just free-standing, free-standing of me managerially free-standing of me financially. And if I keep to that area, I’m so happy I don’t tread on anybody else’s toes. And I could just gloat over the successes that other people built from my start-ups.
David Laud: [00:15:37] Which is exactly the way that it works. Your organization all the way through to PLC. And you got to a point where you were able to get the other elements of the business structure that I really applaud is the way in which you wanted to find a way to share the ownership of the business with the with the staff that, yes, this is, you know, and went a little bit beyond the sort of John Lewis partnership. It really gave people life changing financial opportunities.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:16:08] Well, we managed to develop 70 millionaires among the staff. I’m very proud of that.
David Laud: [00:16:16] That’s tremendous.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:16:17] It’s. It’s interesting what they’ve done with money as well. Not everybody has gone around the world wining and dining. Many have really used their wealth for social purposes. And that’s nice to see.
David Laud: [00:16:35] Yes, because obviously that’s it’s giving back, which is of an awful lot of what you’ve been about yourself.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:16:42] Yes, I think I was given so much as a child of what else could I possibly do but give back. And so that’s what my life has been. I as a child, you learn the biblical thing it’s better to give the to receive. And you think absolutely not. I want to get these presents in. I want them to be as you mature, you realize, my goodness me, that there’s so much pleasure in giving. It’s such a positive thing to develop a social business, to develop a charity, to see it through to a sustainable business. Let’s just stand by and watch what happens. I’ve finished up, of course, as a philanthropist. What do I do with real wealth? I’ve got a profoundly vulnerable child. So a lot of things that perhaps I might’ve chosen to do were not open to me because I wanted to stay close to him geographically, but so that he obviously made an enormous difference to my life. But I have enjoyed the building up of the charitable side, I’ve given away social investment, really, because I talk about being a venture philanthropist, but I’ve given away something like sixty-eight million to date, and that has largely gone to autism. About 75 percent autism, because there I’m really a major donor certainly in Europe. About, where’s my arithmetic going? About half that to information technology, which is only right and proper, that the wealth that comes from the IT industry should go back into the industry, which stems the remaining few million has all gone on commissioning works of art. Setting up artistic and cultural activities. So in a sense, that reflects what my life has all been about.
David Laud: [00:19:05] When you talk about venture philanthropy, that is it is a slightly different way. We can we can all feel good about ourselves when there’s a red nose day or if there’s a there’s a charitable event going or somebody just giving in. They’re doing a marathon and you putting some money towards that. You feel a momentary element of satisfaction that you’re giving something back. But that’s a charitable donation. Nothing wrong with that. But with your approach to venture philanthropy, that’s that’s far more engaging, isn’t it? You get directly involved with the projects.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:19:41] I think it’s just like being an entrepreneur in business, you see, as some sort of problem. You think I wonder how one would deal with that. You start thinking what we need. Perhaps we should try this. Let’s do a feasibility study on that. And you’re building up a project and some projects are finished in three months. Some go on for many, many years before they become sustainable. And the sheer creative satisfaction of setting up a school, of setting up a support charity, of setting up a research charity. These are Long-Term things it took me 17 years with my first charity to get it sustainable, five years with the second one. And that was the big one. Thirty million to Priors Court school, only two million really on the last one, which is the most strategic of the lot. So I really had a wonderful time in the last 25 years of learning to give away my money wisely. You’d think it would be easy, but actually it’s not easy to give money away wisely or for that matter, without patronizing the beneficiaries.
David Laud: [00:21:04] Yeah. And in the story that the second school you’re talking about Priors Court.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:21:11] Yes. Priors Court,
David Laud: [00:21:13] Which is sounds a fabulous setup in relationship. But it was it was the wave of the entrepreneurial flair of getting this thing driven through was you talk to the DFE, you spoke to a guy called John Woodhouse, who’s who was involved in that as a bit of project management to try and tackle some idea and advice and signposting. You identify the talent to come in as a head teacher, and you’re driving all of that forward. And then you’ve got this guy engaged, then thinking, right, well, this better happen. You know, it’s such an entrepreneurial position to be in, isn’t it? It’s like. Right. Ok, what about the building? And of course, the building is it is is a money pit. It because it’s got it’s listed. I had some experience of having to deal with listed premises before. And my heart just went out to start talking about the things that were wrong with it and had to be put right. It was one thing after another. But you got there.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:22:04] But we tend to think of buildings as being a capital asset where as always its people who are the assets of buildings are just the cost of keeping the rain from our heads.
David Laud: [00:22:17] That’s right, needed a lot of adapting, though, doesn’t it, the just a bit. It was built for a certain purpose, but that’s the appreciation, of course, of having your son who had such a high degree of autism that you were able to understand what was required so that the stairways had to be in a particular direction so people could see people coming. And the all of the sharp edges and everything else had to be removed from the from what is quite an old and very traditional building.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:22:45] And I could feel that building almost sighing with relief as it was developed into its worthy purpose. My excitement at the moment is that that school, 20 years old, is now looking for a second site to develop so that it can do its good work for more people, for more pupils, for more students.
David Laud: [00:23:13] And the actual Catalyst for Prior Court was a trip you had to Boston, if I remember rightly.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:23:20] That’s right, yes.
David Laud: [00:23:22] And that was because there was a ground-breaking approach, which is a Japanese of origin that was being adopted and used in this school in Boston. And you went with a colleague across to visit, and you both came away with a different sort of perceptions of it. But you could see the typical entrepreneur, the bigger picture, you could see the prospect of taking what was a whole approach to the way of autism being treated. So, I think Giles, if you don’t mind talking about Giles, went through a very difficult period.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:23:57] Oh, yes.
David Laud: [00:23:58] Not so much education but he’s he was he was in a in an institution where really it was containment. There was no thought of what they might do to develop skills, attributes, you know, education and opportunity. It was very much about containment and almost being out of the way. So, these people didn’t interfere with other people’s lives.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:24:23] The world is better these days. When you even walk around your locality, you will see people of various forms of vulnerability. 25, 50 years ago, that just didn’t happen. They were isolated in in my son’s case. Basically, it was called a sub normality hospital. It was an asylum. That’s what it was. You were sectioned and you went in there apparently, for life. But they were not good periods in social history, and we do know better now how to develop and help people lead healthy, long and happy lives.
David Laud: [00:25:10] And the approach really was quite simple. And it’s about activity. And, you know, some exercise and some focus and actually care and attention, which I think you came across with perhaps one of your early recruits for the first school that you had that was able to sort of work with Giles. And they bonded to a certain extent. And you could you could sense that things were starting to develop. So innate sense of what needed to be done was probably within this chap you employed, but hadn’t really been articulated in any sort of structure, which I think you saw when you went to went to Boston.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:25:47] Yes, I think Chance always plays a part. It was almost by chance that I was in the States at that time. I did spend some time with a colleague without making a great big fuss of it. But we needed to have some good quality time together. She was going to the states themselves. So I think I’ll come with you and see what you’re doing there. And so that suddenly developed into a school as I I’ve had a wonderful life. I really have.
David Laud: [00:26:14] That’s tremendous. One of the other venture capital sorry venture philanthropy initiatives or philanthropic initiatives was the Oxford Internet Institute. That’s away from autism. But what drove that for you?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:26:34] Well, I was approached by a couple of sorts of business acquaintances, they were not friends at that time who had who were fundraising for some interdisciplinary institute associated with Balliol College in Oxford, which they and I was associated with. And my first inclination was, no, this is beyond me. Technically, and then they really persuaded me that they were not asking for my technical involvement. They were asking for some long-term strategic help. And that this was something that would also not only help the sector, the study of life online, which is what it’s really about, but it would also provide for me a link into the industry of which I spent my life that. So that’s about as technical as I get these days. I thoroughly enjoy my work with the Oxford Internet Institute as it came to be called. It’s concerned really not with the technology, but with the social, economic, legal and ethical issues of that network of networks. And I spent 10 years on the strategy board. Now, I just am honored guests, not been there last year, but I might go every couple of years for something that they’re doing.
David Laud: [00:28:10] It’s one of the. Taxing points, I find with social media and the larger tech businesses, the likes of Google and obviously Facebook and Twitter is the view that they are actually publishers, in my view. You may disagree, but I actually see that that they are publishing information and that the ethical view in terms of what the damage could potentially be done with the information, the sharing, I don’t know whether that’s an that they’ve touched on or I’m sure.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:28:43] Oh, sure. Currently, one of the focuses that they’re working on to get rid of some of this misinformation, largely by learning where information comes from. And of course, if it comes from a creditable source, that’s a good help to you. If you don’t know where it comes from, the chances are it’s not. It is false information. It’s a funny old world. But reputation and ethics and doing the right thing as well as doing things right is still increasingly important. Just as the technology becomes more and more at its speed of change becomes faster. And there’s no end to the development of technology. There is no end point. And that’s what makes it so exciting.
David Laud: [00:29:39] I think it’s the challenge of keeping the human interaction in line, if it can be. And that is a real challenge because the technology is so advanced and can do so many things. I think we found that with, dare I say, elections that have happened where people have been manipulated because people understand how algorithms work and understand how to portray and present information that might not be strictly true, but knows how to influence the population. And as such, we’ve seen the evidence in the states and we’ve seen it in the UK with areas like Brexit, that we’ve had difficulties. But I don’t want to get into controversial ground here. But it’s a very serious business. It’s one that fascinates me
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:30:23] And it’s the one with artificial intelligence. Yeah. The big query, you know, who will come out on top man or machine to the idealist in me says of course, it has to be man. But in fact, since about the 1930s, Turing was talking about the machine taking over. And I sort of believe that perhaps not in my generation, but that it will happen. We are increasingly seeing examples which are getting so close to the machine taking over.
David Laud: [00:31:01] Yeah, could be very scary, which is why the work of the institute under this is is so very important. When you look at the moment, we’re trying to make this sort of like a pandemic free discussion, which I think is absolutely right. There’s one point on this I think we can’t avoid, which is the impact of COVID 19 and charitable organizations and their ability to be able to source funds when there’s so many other priorities, in inverted commas out there. What’s your view on that Dame Stephanie? Do you think do you think that we need to be concentrating our efforts and maybe thinking differently about how we can support some of these good causes, social concerns?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:31:43] Well, I think a lot of good causes are coming around to the idea. Of making themselves self-supporting anyway. The school, for example, has got a bakery and it bakes bread just to make money to pay for the bakery. And so, it’s not just always asking cap in hand for people to support the wonderful not for profits and the work that they do, but actually thinking about how you can create the wealth to make the world a fairer place.
David Laud: [00:32:26] And make them sustainable. I mean, if that
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:32:29] And if it’s not sustainable, it’s just a question of, you know, you make things good for six days, six hours, six months.
David Laud: [00:32:36] Yeah. And I guess in that regard, there’s a focus for some people that have got the skills at the moment to to be able to consider perhaps looking at venture philanthropy, because it does it can it can involve money. And in your case, significant amounts of money that you put into it. But it’s more than that in that you’ve been able to share your experience and your skills.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:33:01] I think it’s much more than just money. It’s sort of leveraged by introductions, by times, by networks, by experience. And that’s what makes it fun, both for the venture philanthropist and for people who are benefiting from it and see it growing they can see it doing things in a very positive way. And the relationship between donor recipient is a much more healthy one. Nobody finishes up in the red because I get as much from my gifts. It’s amazing how much I get from the gifts that I make.
David Laud: [00:33:44] Because there is a feeling of an area where some touched into when I like my work for the for the law firm, after a period of time, I wanted to be able to do something which was more helpful to society as a whole. Well, I think that’s a place we get to analyse and we sort of think, well, actually, what have I done with my career? I read your book and I thought, yes, what have I done with my life? If you’ve had one incredible impact on the world and I think we all need to aspire to maybe not achieve quite what you’ve done but why not? You know, certainly I’m going to be asking my daughters, my son, to read your book. And I think it’s one that would give great inspiration from a point of future looking at venture philanthropy. How can how can people get involved? And if they even just listening to this now and thinking, oh, yeah, this is interesting to me. What should what would be your advice?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:34:40] Well, it’s been a good start. If we’re being very practical, this is my website, Steve Shirley, SteveShirley.com But there is so much going on that it’s important to find something that you are interested in, your…
David Laud: [00:34:55] …Your passion.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:34:58] Yeah, if it’s passionate about certain things, you’re passionate about other things. And the thing is to concentrate your philanthropy in those areas, things that are important to you from your college days, from your family, your own experiences, something that really matters to you. And if you concentrate on things that you know and care about, then work is not just something you do when you’d rather be doing something else.
David Laud: [00:35:27] Absolutely. I have to say, there’ll be people listening to this right now, Dame Stephanie who’ll be thinking. Steve Shirley? Where did Steve come from? Because they haven’t seen the presentation haven’t seen the books and a couple of people out there who perhaps haven’t done it. Please.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:35:45] It’s just a couple.
David Laud: [00:35:46] Just explain the genius that was Derek’s idea when you were struggling with one or two things on the marketing side of the business. How did Steve come about?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:35:55] In the early days of the business I was writing lots of letters. This was before the days of email. Lots and lots of letters, basically introducing my company services. And they got absolutely no response whatsoever. About 12 a week, I would be sending out a then my dear husband suggested that I stop using my proper name, double feminine of Stephanie Shirley but use the family nickname of Steve. And so, I’ve been Steve Shirley ever since. And of course, nobody knows that Steve Shirley is anything other than a white male correspondent.
David Laud: [00:36:41] And it worked.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:36:42] It worked. Yes. I began to get some responses, began to get some interviews, began to get some work. I had a good story to tell.
David Laud: [00:36:52] It’s sad. I mean, I would like to think now that we’re in a different world and that that was certainly wouldn’t be the case. But at the time, there was such a view and a prejudice against any female entrepreneur that it needed that extra push so critical.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:37:08] I noticed, though, that there’s still a lot of that androgynous names. Jo and Leslie and J.K. Rowling, for example, didn’t use her first names. In fact, I do think I know what they are because she wrote as J.K. Rowling. Now, that’s very significant.
David Laud: [00:37:30] Yeah. We still got work to do. Clearly.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:37:33] Yes. We have more to do
David Laud: [00:37:36] So we saw here you’ve covered a fantastic overview of your career, some of the highlights of where you’ve been, the way the business was able to give back to 70 staff directly financially, but far more than that. I think the impact because of the success of your business and what you’ve been able to do with your charitable work and your then your philanthropy. It’s clearly, it’s clearly leaving a mark, but you’re not you’re not finished, you still very clearly involved in your charitable work as a supporter and advocate, the charity to which there’s an association. Obviously, you’ve written a couple of books, the book that I’ve read called Let It Go, which is fabulous. We’re going to put all of the details as to how you might be able to find that in the show notes. So people will be able to see that. There’s also a new book that came out of this period of reflection that we’ve had during lockdown, which obviously was a was a passion project, which is, So to Speak. Is that correct? That’s a collection of your of your presentations and talks and keynotes
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:38:48] Over the last 40 years. I’ve given speeches in all sorts of places, the heads of state to village halls on various topics from my refuge’s stop to women in society to information technology, and of course, latterly philanthropy. And I’ve selected about 30 of those and haven’t really edited them. They’re laid out rather nicely on the page. And so, So to Speak, is really another view of the second half of my life, really concentrating on my public speaking.
David Laud: [00:39:31] And we touched on earlier the TED talk that you’d given. There are TED talks and there are TED talks. I’m a fan of the genre generally because I do learn an awful lot from it.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:39:45] Do you think that good one would never have thought that these should focus 10-minute talks would have so much impact? I think they’re really marvellous. I mean, mine has been seen by over two million people, and I think that’s quite an amazing thing.
David Laud: [00:40:03] Two point two million and counting, a few more after today’s talk. But I think from my point of view that that was, again, good marketing in the way that you titled it as well. Not that you wouldn’t be a big draw in your name alone, but but also to talk about why do women have flatheads. I was convinced that the answer that was going to be the banging up against the glass ceiling. But now you had a different answer.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:40:31] I think it comes from all the men patting us patronizingly on the top of our heads there, there dear.
David Laud: [00:40:39] Yes. I’m sure there’s been far too much of that. But highlighted to me the fact that you’ve adapted to yet another medium in terms of presentation. And I think you talk in your book about the fact that you weren’t a natural presenter you didn’t find it an easy thing to do. You’ve taught yourself.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:40:59] No, I didn’t take to it at all. And in fact, colleagues really took the speaking engagements that the I was offered. But now I really find it is a thing that I can do with a balance of sitting quietly at my desk and doing the research balances with a presentation, which might be an hour plus four or five hours traveling and so on. And an enormous part of my social excitement and life comes from my speaking engagements. I’ve been all over the world. I’m not doing a lot by zoom for last week, I was talking to India, talked to Chile. It really has given the ZOOM has given a new dimension to public speaking.
David Laud: [00:41:53] And it’s something that I will confess that was not a particularly comfortable medium for me,
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:41:59] Was it not?
David Laud: [00:41:59] No. Even the family, the family quiz, you know, all of you, a meal all disappeared that way. Everybody sat around just staring at each other. I find it quite odd. I’m OK. But I that’s why I actually used it for the podcast medium to be able to record audio and video. But I use that because I knew I had to improve the way I felt about it. So in in some small way, a little bit like yourself, you know, if if it’s something you’re a bit frightened of, well, OK, just do it. But do it, you know, learn how to do it. Understand the technology behind it and put yourself out there.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:42:35] I always have that same feeling, David, when it comes to. Going for a new job? If you’re fully qualified for it, it’s going to be boring. Look for something that’s got a little frisson of fear about it that will make a job that really allows you to shine
David Laud: [00:42:56] Because you’re pushing yourself, you know?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:42:58] That’s right.
David Laud: [00:42:59] If it’s the right job and in the right area and you’ve you’ve got that desire then yes, you’ll make it work for you. So that’s brilliant. I was about to actually ask you for your best piece of advice that you could perhaps give to somebody who may be starting out and maybe they’re starting out and you’ve got a great idea for a business or they’ve got that business up and going. But it’s they’ve having one of those rollercoaster dip moments where it’s really not happening for them. What possible advice could you give them?
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:43:28] I think I’ve touched on it already to concentrate on things that you know and care about, something you really enjoy doing and then get trained, get retrained so that you’re the leading edge. Then just take that jump of faith, leap out and do it. Make it happen. Go for it.
David Laud: [00:43:51] Excellent advice, excellent advice. Dame Stephanie, this has been a pleasure, I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you and I the time you’ve given to this this podcast, so much to learn. We could we could have had having read the book. I was in danger of taking up about five hours of your time today because there’s just so much in there. But we’ve touched the surface. Anybody who is interested in finding out a little bit more about Dame Stephanie, I will provide all the contact details in the show notes. But for now, Dame Stephanie, that has been wonderful. Thank you very much for your time.
Dame Stephanie Shirley: [00:44:27] Thank you very much indeed. Bye bye.