Dame Stephanie Shirley | British Businesswoman & Philanthropist

Dame Stephanie Shirley is a highly successful entrepreneur turned ardent
philanthropist.
Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, she started what became Xansa on her dining room table with £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.
 
Dame-Stephanie-Shirley_P1My Definition Of Success | Entrepreneurs who succeed are those who can deal with failures (and I had many) pick themselves up, brush themselves down and move on.


I Am Driven By | I am as driven today as I was 75 years ago by my arrival in England as a five-year-old unaccompanied child refugee from Nazi Europe in 1939. The experience left me with two things:
Knowing that I could cope with change gave me confidence and eventually, I learnt to welcome change. That was useful in my hi-tech career. And, I decided very early on to make sure that my life was worthy of being saved. So try not to fritter my life away.
And, I decided very early on to make sure that my life was worthy of being saved. So try not to fritter my life away.


My Highlights | I’m proud still to be married to my wonderfully supportive husband. The other day when I said “my husband’s an angel” a woman complained: “You’re lucky” she said “mine’s still alive”.I’m proud to have taken four organisations (including three charities) into sustainability: financially and managerially independent of me.
I’m proud to have taken four organisations (including three charities) into sustainability: financially and managerially independent of me.
I’m proud to have given away the bulk of the money I made.


Dame-Stephanie-Shirley_P2A Key Talent | Nobody does anything by themselves any more; it’s all a matter of teamwork. My strength is that I do like people. And have learnt how to enthuse and persuade them to give of their best. This came from training courses but also practice – analyzing what went wrong, when someone is upset, why that relationship didn’t work … (Invariably, it turned out to be my own fault).
Not everyone wants to innovate so I’ve had to recruit people with complementary skills, not just younger versions of me. I’ve learnt to show my weaknesses; to say I don’t know, please help; to praise good performance and ignore the mediocre; to thank people and never take them for granted.


The Characteristics Of Success | I’ve been told that after 10,000 hours at something you become an expert. So I spend the time. I’ve always been able to focus and work hard as well as long. Work is not just something I do when I’d rather be doing something else.


Principles I Live By | I have no faith but was brought up by Christian foster parents and believe in those of the Ten Commandments which are concerned with human behavior. By nature, I’m a pacifist and believe that every single person can make a difference to the world. And if you don’t commit, you are just taking up space. Although loving my adopted country with a passion perhaps only someone who had lost their human rights can feel, I try to be a citizen of the world believing we are all the same under the skin.
My moral code demands my ongoing support of the weak. I value the non-material things in life: love, friendship, nature, music, art …


Lessons I Have Learnt | In my life, I’ve learnt not to lose my temper or show impatience. My late son Giles, who was autistic and without speech, taught me to really listen. I’ve learnt to live without him, without his need of me.
In my career, I’ve learnt to use humour to defuse tension and to speak in public (see my TED Talk).


Performing At My Peak |As the years pass, it is more and more important for me to keep my energy levels up. Age is not how you look but about how you behave. Now on my second Pacemaker, I try to pace myself in what I do. Work to me is not something I do when I’d rather be doing something else.


Dame-Stephanie-Shirley_P3The Best Advice I’ve Received | The best advice I ever received became the title of my memoir: “Let IT Go”. The phrase reflects the Buddhist traditions of personal spiritual development; philosophy; ethics; of letting go of angry thoughts and resentments; of moving on …
The IT in capitals is a pun on Information Technology, my professional discipline.


I Am Inspired By | Many people inspire me in different ways and aspects. My role models are Mother Teresa, for the depth of her love, and Nelson Mandela, for his forgiveness.
 

Watch Dame Stephanie’s TED Talk: