Shaper: Dame Stephanie Shirley

Show aired on 1st April 2017


Dame Stephanie Shirley
Dame Stephanie Shirley (83) was an unaccompanied child refugee who arrived in England on the Kindertransport in 1939. In different ways, the rest of her nuclear family also escaped Nazi Europe, and the international Red Cross message service helped keep the family in touch. One of the 25-word messages from her grandmother (who was in hiding) is in the Red Cross Museum in Moorfields.

A successful IT entrepreneur turned ardent philanthropist, Dame Stephanie Shirley served as the UK’s first ever National Ambassador for Philanthropy in 2009/10.

Her charitable Shirley Foundation is one of the top grant givers in the UK, with over £68m in social investments to-date. She has initiated – and taken to sustainability – a number of projects that are pioneering by nature and strategic in impact. The focus is on her professional discipline of IT and her late son’s disorder of autism.

Her 2015 TED talk has been viewed 1.8m times and a film is currently being made of her memoire Let IT Go.

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Follow Dame Stephanie on Twitter @DameStephanie_.

I date from the days when women were really not expected to do very much outside the house…

Some people say ‘once a refugee, always a refugee’. It does do something to your psyche. I am left with an ability to cope with change and a certain driven nature which comes from having lost absolutely everything.

I fell in love with computing, I could not believe that I should be paid so well for doing something that I loved so much.

I was coming across the glass ceiling in a company where I was very happy and I thought if I can’t progress here, I’m going to set up my own organisation that has a culture that allows me and other women to develop their personalities without being patronised.

I succeeded in getting a quarter of the company into the hands of the staff without any cost except to me and I am very proud of that

Did I love building a business? I learnt to love certain aspects of it. But a lot of it was slog, a lot of it was trying to achieve some dream that I had, a crusade for women that took a very long time.

Somebody called me an entrepreneur at a time when I didn’t know what the word meant but clearly I am an entrepreneur because I enjoy starting things.

I think students need to see that people of all shapes and sizes and colours and cultures can achieve…

I think the role of a founder, the role of a manager, is to grow other people so that they will deliver what you want. I very seldom had to let people go. I don’t even like the expression.