Client Conversations Podcast: Dame Stephanie Shirley CH

Managing Partner, Simon Ridpath, and Senior Partner, Bart Peerless, are joined by tech entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. In this first episode, Dame Stephanie discusses her lessons from the world of business and her life as a philanthropist, having founded two significant autism charities: Prior's Court School for young people with complex autism and Autistica, the UK's national autism research charity.

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About Dame Stephanie Shirley CH

Dame Stephanie is a businesswoman and philanthropist, having pioneered a career in the information technology sector. She started her own business in the early 1960s, Freelance Programmers, staffed by women working from home, which was ultimately valued at $3 billion, making millionaires of 70 of her team members. Given the status quo in the sixties, this all-female business was trailblazing and flourished over the following decades.

Since then, Dame Stephanie has established The Shirley Foundation, which is one of the top fifty grant-giving foundations in the UK. She has also founded two significant autism charities: Prior's Court School for young people with complex autism and Autistica, the UK's national autism research charity. She was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in 2017, a membership limited to only 65 individuals globally, for her services to the IT industry and philanthropy.

During the podcast Simon and Bart ask Dame Stephanie thought provoking questions about her life and lessons that she wishes to share with listeners.

As well as taking us on a journey into her world of technology and her successes, Dame Stephanie talks about her struggles with growing an international organisation.

"I started off in a very entrepreneurial way and have tried to remain innovative as an organisation so that some of the things I have done have been shock horror types of things, trying to take the whole company, which is quite sizable and profitable, into co-ownership, that took 11 years, and what I have learnt that most of the things that you do in business take that sort of time. My first charity took 17 years to set up. These things are slow and take a lot out of you."

Bart comments: "You are the most significant private donor in the field of autism in the country, possibly in the world." He touches on how Dame Stephanie's changing relationship with her business led to moving towards into the world of philanthropy and how one moves into making a difference in the world.

Dame Stephanie replies: "I don't like to be bored, I like to do new things, I like to make things happen, so it's worked out quite well for me. Some of the projects that you have helped me with, such as house purchasing and house selling, which is the normal domestic thing, but also, I started to buy houses on behalf of Charities, including one that I bought for £15 million. These are significant changes of scale as far as I am concerned - as well as growing another business with the school I set up, which is the largest charitable project I did, for £30 million, which took five years."

Simon asks Dame Stephanie how she stays with her projects and what role she takes in these causes: "The key thing that I do is set the culture, so it’s pretty firm. Even when I've left, I am told that the trustees think, and say "What would Steve do in this situation? And although it's a nice to hear, it's not always a good thing, as things then won't change."  

If you would like a personally signed copy of either So To Speak or Let It Go. Please email pa@steveshirley.com – all proceeds go to Autistica.

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