The IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley was appointed one of the 65 worldwide Companions of Honour in 2017.
Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, she started what became Xansa plc on her dining room table with all of £6 in 1962. In 25 years as its Chief Executive she developed it into a leading business technology group, pioneering new work practices and changing the position of professional women (especially in hi-tech) along the way.
Xansa was acquired by Steria in 2007, later to become part of SopraSteria. She served on Steria’s CSR Advisory Board in 2008/9.
Since retiring in 1993, Steve (as she came to call herself) served on corporate Boards such as Tandem Computers Inc. (1992-7); the UK Atomic Energy Authority including as it privatised into AEA Technology (1992-2000); and as the first ever Non-Executive Director of the John Lewis Partnership plc (1999-2001). But her focus has been increasingly on philanthropy, based on her strong belief in business people giving back to society. Her autistic son, Giles, died age 35 in 1998 and her main interest is now autism.
Her charitable Shirley Foundation is one of the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK with well over £50m grants given. It has funded 100 projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms. This includes three autism charities: Autism at Kingwood (support); Prior’s Court Foundation (education); and Autistica (research) which together employ 1000 staff.
In 2016 the trustees decided to spend the foundation out at a date later determined as October 2018. Its records will go into the University of Kent’s Philanthropy Archive which the foundation is funding.
Dame Stephanie was the first woman Master of the IT livery company; the first woman President of the chartered British Computer Society; and the UK’s Ambassador for Philanthropy in 2009/10.
The Shirley Foundation charity closed at end October 2018.