Dame Stephanie Shirley CH, also known as Steve, is a workplace revolutionary and successful IT entrepreneur turned ardent venture philanthropist. At 88 years old, her story has many strands which, woven together, have produced a lifetime of exceptional achievements. Dame Stephanie’s story begins with her 1939 arrival in Britain as an unaccompanied five-year-old Kindertransport refugee. This defining experience equipped her with fortitude at a very young age and made her determined to live a life worth saving. In 1962, she started a software house, Freelance Programmers, and pioneered radical new flexible work practices that changed the landscape for women working in technology. She went on to create a global business and a personal fortune which she shared with her colleagues, making millionaires of 70 of her staff at no cost to anyone but herself. Since retiring in 1993, Dame Stephanie’s life has been dedicated to venture philanthropy in the fields of IT and autism. She initially founded Autism at Kingwood in 1994 to support her late son Giles, then there was the ground breaking Prior’s Court School for pupils with autism and her charitable Shirley Foundation went on to make grants of £70 million. It spent out in 2018 in favour of Autistica, the UK’s national autism research charity founded by Dame Stephanie. In 2009/10 she served as the UK’s first ever national Ambassador for Philanthropy. In 2017, Dame Stephanie received a Companion of Honour (CH), a membership limited to only 65 individuals globally, for her services to entrepreneurship and philanthropy. In this interview, I speak to Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. We discuss her remarkable life story from arriving in Britain as five-year-old war refugee, to building one of the UK’s most successful information technology companies, changing the landscape completely for women in technology, and her work as one of the UK’s most prominent, and impactful philanthropists.
A Conversation with Dame Stephanie Shirley CH, Computing Pioneer, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist.