Dame Stephanie Shirley, IT entrepreneur turned philanthropist
Having arrived in Britain as an unaccompanied child refugee in 1939, Dame Stephanie Shirley started what became Xansa plc (now part of the Sopra Group) 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. She has served on corporate Boards such as Tandem Computers Inc. (1992-7), the John Lewis Partnership plc (1999-2001) and AEA Technology - previously the Atomic Energy Authority (1992-2000). Her philanthropy is based on her strong belief in giving back to society. She focuses on IT and autism (her autistic son Giles died age 35 in 1998).
Her charitable Shirley Foundation has made over £67m grants and initiated a number of projects that are pioneering by nature, strategic in impact and significant in money terms. Current activity is targeted at national strategies for autism.