Dame Stephanie Shirley was known to business contacts as Steve because in a male-dominated business world she would sign letters with her pen name. She has an amazing book called, “Let It Go” where she documents her life and starts with her experience as an unaccompanied child refugee at age 5 where her parents wanted to protect her from perishing in the Holocaust. Her early experience of the ‘glass ceiling’ at work because of gender discrimination encouraged her to set up her own business which, she did in 1962 with only 6 pounds. Dame created one of UK’s first software startups. She forged the path for not only women but the whole computing industry. While planning to start a family, Dame hit on the idea of offering part-time employment to professional women with dependants. Essentially, she had pioneered freelance driven business and wanted it to be woman-owned. The IT business prospered with a lot of hard work and, in 1996 the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange earning hundreds of millions of pounds and had employed 8,500 people. This wealth has enabled her to devote her time and resources to giving something back to society, Dame ranks among the world’s leading philanthropists. In 2013, she appeared on BBC Radio and discussed why she had given away more than £67 million of her personal wealth to different projects. She has supported strategic projects in the fields of autism (her son, Giles was autistic) and IT. Her focus on autism is done via The Shirley Foundation. They facilitate scientific research aimed to understand what Autism is as opposed to what it looks like.

 

 

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [3:00] Jeremy introduces his guest, Dame Stephanie Shirley.
  • [6:30] Dame Stephanie opens up about her parents sending her on the Kindertransport.
  • [17:15] What is Holocaust guilt? How has it impacted Dame Stephanie?
  • [19:30] How Dame Stephanie got into business ownership and why IT.
  • [24:50] What did the early years of computer coding look like?
  • [27:00] Enduring challenging times and how Derek supported her through it all.
  • [30:50] How fixed prices helped the business grow.
  • [34:00] Why co-ownership was so important to Dame Stephanie.
  • [36:00] What were some of the largest projects Dame Stephanie & her team worked on?
  • [39:00] The challenges of growing the team and building a solid staff.
  • [41:15] What led Dame Stephanie to bring on a CEO?
  • [43:40] Dame Stephanie talks about caring for her son, Giles.
  • [47:45] What is the Shirley Foundation?
  • [50:10] How has the field of autism research advanced over the years?
  • [53:30] AI is the future.
  • [55:00] Why we should embrace the perspective of autistic individuals.
  • [58:40] Dame Stephanie’s high point in her career.

In this episode…

Imagine what it would be like to have door after door of opportunity closed in your face? Would you be able to preserve and find a way to succeed or would it discourage you beyond hope? On this episode of Inspired Insider, you’ll hear from the renowned philanthropist and entertainer, Dame Stephanie Shirley. In her conversation with Jeremy, Dame Stephanie opens up about her early life as a child refugee, how she got started in the IT sector, what led her to start her own business, challenges she has faced along the way, and much more! Don’t miss a minute of this powerful and intriguing episode featuring Dame Stephanie!

How have you responded to adversity and challenges in your life? Have they made you stronger or do they continue to inflict pain? Do you find yourself somehow walking the line between both? Dame Stephanie looks back to her early childhood as a refugee fleeing Germany during World War Two as a source of both pain and strength. The memory is understandably painful as it is tragic, having to say goodbye to her parents and embark on a new life in England, the event has caused Dame Stephanie to live with survivors guilt for most of her life. In spite of all this pain, she also finds a way to draw strength. She views her life as a gift and one she is not willing to waste!

The resilience and perseverance that pushed Dame Stephanie forward from her painful childhood years also fueled her rise as an entrepreneur. Getting told to sit out of certain conversations and areas of influence due to her sex did not sit right with Dame Stephanie, she was determined to forge her own way forward. With the support and encouragement of her husband, Derek, Dame Stephanie went on to start her own organization in 1962 offering part-time employment to professional women with dependants. It’s amazing to hear from someone who was so driven and passionate about paving the way forward, not only for herself but for others as well.

Let’s face it, no one is a powerhouse of success unto themselves. Often behind every wealthy and efficient leader is a team of men and women who keep the organization running. What steps have you taken to build a solid team around you? Dame Stephanie knew that she couldn’t succeed all on her own, she would need to choose the right people to bring on her team and keep the business headed in an upward direction. Though she had some significant struggles with some close individuals leaving her organization, she was able to bounce back. Dame Stephanie also came to the point in her career where she stepped out and placed her trust and the direction of her organization in the hands of a CEO!

As you’ve progressed through your career, have you considered how you can give back to those who are less fortunate than you? In what ways can you leverage your success to give back? For Dame Stephanie, the impulse to give back came from two sources, her career in IT and her son Giles. As a successful businesswoman, Dame Stephanie utilized her authority to empower the women in her organization through her co-ownership strategy. Then she went to work pouring her time and resources into advocacy and research work in the field of autism to help individuals like her son, Giles. What can you learn from Dame Stephanie’s story?  

Resources Mentioned on this episode

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