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The IET Pinkerton Lecture

History

 

"No corporate goal can ever succeed if it cannot also provide the ambitious individual with the challenges of extraordinary difficulty and the promise of self-fulfilment... nothing had so much meaning, relevance and truth as the set of values I saw in the early LEO days"

Leo Fantl, a member of the LEO team

 

The transition from innovation to application is not always successfully made. An outstanding example of such a success was the development of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) - the world's first computer designed for business applications.

 

In commemoration and honour of John Pinkerton, the pivotal engineer in this development, the Institution inaugurated this annual lecture. Arising from a vision within J Lyons, the catering company, for a radical improvement in its business operations, the LEO project started in 1949 and the system was brought into use in 1951. In this remarkably short time he and his small team turned the EDSAC, developed at the University of Cambridge, into a practical tool for business computing. The result transformed not only Lyons' administration, but by its example, that of many other organisations.

 

By 1955, Lyons had created the subsidiary company, LEO Computers Ltd, to manufacture and sell computers and included, amongst its first customers, the Ford Motor Company. The Pinkerton team went on to produce the commercially successful LEO range - fully engineered and enhanced with new ideas and technologies.

 

This was innovation driven by user need and guided by a remarkable man, who was able to inspire others - to which Leo Fantl's quote is admirable testimony. Crucially, Pinkerton recognised the importance of understanding how users operate and was able to work with them to achieve shared aims. As he said "... the simpler the conception and the design of any item of calculating equipment, the better it will be understood by the operators who use it and the engineers who maintain it."