Steve Shirley bigraphy, stories - British businessman

Steve Shirley : biography

16 September 1933 -

Dame Stephanie "Steve" Shirley, DBE, FREng, FRSA, FBCS (born September 16, 1933, Dortmund, Germany) is a British businesswoman and philanthropist. She originally arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied Kindertransport child refugee. She was placed with foster parents and later re-united with her biological parents, but later claimed she "never really bonded with them".

In 1962, Shirley founded the software company F.I. Group (later Xansa, since acquired by Steria). She was concerned with creating work opportunities for women with dependants, and predominantly employed women, only 3 out of 300-odd programmers were male, until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 made that illegal. She adopted the name "Steve" to help her in the male-dominated business world. In 1993, she officially retired at the age of 60 and has taken up philanthropy since then.

Shirley was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1980 Queen's Birthday Honours, and promoted Dame Commander (DBE) in the New Year Honours, 2000.

The Shirley Foundation, based in the UK was set up by Dame Stephanie Shirley."Steve" as she is affectionately known, in 1986 with a substantial gift to establish a charitable trust fund. Its mission is: facilitation and support of pioneering projects with strategic impact in the field of autism spectrum disorders with particular emphasis on medical research. The fund has supported many projects through grants and loans including: Kingwood which supports 67 people with autism and Asperger's to enjoy full and active lives, Prior's Court is the foundation's largest benefaction with a residential school for 60 autistic pupils and Young Adult Centre for 18 autistic students, Autism Cymru, Wales' national charity, Autism99, the first online autism conference attended by 165,000 people from 33 difference countries.

In 1987, she gained the Freedom of the City of London. She was President of the British Computer Society from 1989 to 1990. In 1985, she was awarded a Recognition of Information Technology Award. In 1999 she received the Mountbatten Medal.

She has reportedly donated mostDesert Island Discs, 23 May 2010, BBC Radio 4 of her £150m wealth (from the internal sale to the company staff and later the flotation of F.I. Group) to charity during her retirement.Enterprise Tuesday lecture, Cambridge 2009-02-03 Beneficiaries include the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists and the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the Oxford University, through the Shirley Foundation. Her late son Giles (1963–1998) was autistic and she became an early member of the National Autistic Society. She has instigated and funded research in this field, for example through the Autism Research Centre led by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen.

In 2003 Shirley received the Beacon Fellowship Prize for her contribution to countering autism and for her pioneering work in harnessing information technology for the public good.

She addresses many conferences and lectures around the world and is in frequent contact with parents, carers and those with autism and the related Asperger's Syndrome. Her autistic son died following an epileptic fit at the age of 35. In July 2008, she gave a biographical talk about her life and her ideals which is available online from Gresham College titled

In 2006 Shirley was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) from the University of Bath. In 2009 the Open University awarded her an honorary doctorate.

From May 2009 until May 2010, Dame Stephanie served as the UK's Ambassador for Philanthropy, a government appointment aimed at giving philanthropists a "voice".

Appearing on BBC Radio 2's Good Morning Sunday with Clare Balding in 2013, Dame Stephanie discussed why she had given away more than £67 million of her personal wealth to different projects. In her 2012 memoirs Let IT Go, she writes "I do it because of my personal history; I need to justify the fact that my life was saved."

In February 2013 she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4.


  • Let IT Go, Dame Stephanie's memoirs was published in October 2012: The Entrepreneur Turned Ardent Philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley and Richard Askwith, Andrews UK Limited, ISBN 1-782-3428-26
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