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A Computer Called Leo (P.S.) Paperback – August 1, 2004
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Lyons was a firm one would not have predicted to be in the vanguard of business technology. Its famous stores throughout Britain served tea and cakes. As Ferry says, "A background in catering is not normally seen as an obvious qualification for hi-tech startup companies." But the Lyons shops had a progressive management, interested in contemporary scientific management principles, and took on a Cambridge graduate in mathematics, who realized that the primitive computers being developed in the US could be used for business.Read more ›
Lyons was a family business founded late in the 19th century. It ran one of the first franchise fast food chains, offering set tea meals served at the customer's table by prim waitresses. Much like McDonald's today, the firm understood that each transaction between Lyons and its customers brought only a few pennies into the family coffers, therefore viability and commercial success depended on efficient operational and clerical administration, particularly for controlling inventory and registering transactions.
In 1923 Lyons hired John Simmons, a Cambridge honours mathematics graduate, as a management trainee. Simmons turned out to be a brilliant manager and sought out every opportunity to rationalize and simplify clerical operations. When computers appeared in the late 1940s and two junior staff proposed using them at Lyons, Simmons enthusiastically agreed they should explore the idea further.
Lyons soon realized that the nature of business differed from that of science. Instead of resolving a few complex problems, business required speedy processing of many simple problems. Available scientific computers weren't adequate, and besides they were expensive and had to be imported form America.
Lyons decided to build its own, and LEO was born. Because it was designed specifically to meet business needs and because the project was led by Lyons's avant-garde Systems division, LEO proved a greater success than anyone had dared hope and the division was spun off as a separate company.
Sadly the venture never took off.Read more ›