The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Daryl Le Grew, gave the oration for Sir
Simpson on the morning of Friday, April 19.
Sir Gil Simpson receives his honorary DSc from Dame Philis Guthardt
Photo by Duncan Shaw-Brown
"Sir Gil Simpson is something special. He's even been called New
"In the fast-changing world of computing, he has had more than twenty
of success and he's had two major software products in LINC and JADE.
heads a company that employs some 400 staff, 300 of them here in
Christchurch, and which turns over $60 million annually. Those are
achievements and they've been made in an industry that favours youth and
changes very, very quickly.
"The accolades he has earned are numerous, including being knighted in
for his services to computing and the broader community. But before I
outline all his many achievements, I want to try and get to the bottom
what makes Sir Gil such a successful businessman.
"It seems to me that the secret to his success is his New Zealand style
interaction and employee relations. He embodies very traditional New
Zealand values - values such as giving it a go, which is
Kiwi and which ensures mistakes .... the very best way to learn.
"Sir Gil encourages his senior technical staff to spend some 15% of
time on curiosity-driven projects - what we at University would call
skies research'. Then there's company innovations like 'Learn at lunch',
personal and professional development programme.
"Traditional values such as respect for the individual staff member.
Productivity is very high at JADE but there are no punch clocks and -
to many people's surprise - there is a free supply of alcohol on every
floor and staff are allowed to imbibe at work. Interestingly, the
consumption per staff member is about two cans a week, a great
advertisement for how people respond to trust.
"Values like a commitment to community involvement - Sir Gil exemplifies
that himself through his professional associations, public involvements
such as chairing the Christchurch City Mission Foundation and many other
invisible and anonymous commitments to the community, as well as
community use of the company's buildings - and he encourages his staff
do the same. Insiders say the community involvement of the firm and its
staff is second to none.
"And finally, he gets loyalty, productivity and creativity from the way
treats his staff. It's no coincidence that turnover among the technical
staff is 2% compared with an industry average of 30%. One of the keys is
the involvement of family and partners - every month there's a catered
function for them all; the regular newsletter goes to their private
address; all staff and their families get a Christmas card each year
personally signed by Sir Gil and sent to their homes; and then there's
coveted invitation to the Christmas do of champagne on the lawn - or
on the turf', as it's known irreverently. And this generosity is based
the recognition that successful staff have supportive partners.
Those very human, very New Zealand values of Sir Gil's, borne out in
practices, are the key to his success. As one executive put it, when the
British strike a problem, they employ more staff; when the Americans
a problem, they spend more money; when New Zealanders strike a problem,
they work smarter - and that's something your staff deserve rewarding
"Sir Gil, chief executive of JADE Software Corporation (formerly Aoraki)
wears many hats - non-executive director of the Reserve Bank, member of
Business Roundtable, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand,
of the E-commerce Action Team, a fellow of the New Zealand Computer
Society, the New Zealand Institute of Management and the New Zealand
Institute of Directors, and chairman of the Christchurch City Mission
Foundation. And in 2000 he was made a Knights Companion for his
contribution to computing.
"His first job was at the National Bank, where a compulsory computing
aptitude test changed the direction of his life and career. One week he
sat a computing test and the next week he was programming computers.
of the code he wrote at the bank is still in use today.
"He rose quickly through the ranks of the industry and into senior
programming positions at Whitcoulls and Comalco. Whereas other senior
programmers were being drawn into management, he stayed in programming.
That view is central to his philosophy - that programming skills are the
basis of the business and that the programmers are key staff, which is
they occupy the best building at JADE.
"In 1976, Sir Gil travelled to Saudi Arabia to start work on his own
about how programmes could be written and the theory behind it. After
years he came back to New Zealand and started developing the LINC
initially writing every line of code.
"Sir Gil and partner Peter Hoskins sold LINC to Burroughs (later Unisys)
1982. Now, twenty years later, Sir Gil's latest software package JADE is
taking the world by storm. JADE is now enjoying international success
Australia, the United Kingdom, Korea, Singapore, India and Japan, in
organisations such as IBM, Ernst and Young, and Northern Territory
"He is still disappointed in business opportunities the company has lost
and New Zealand's reluctance to adopt local products. The Australian
Federal Government was the first government in the world to use JADE,
UK is following, but New Zealand has a way to go. Despite those
frustrations he has no plans to move overseas. He likes the environment
Christchurch and the team he's built up. In fact, he plans to list the
company publicly next year, with all the scrutiny and pressure that
"And as with many high achievers, there's a recreational side to him to
provide balance. He still enjoys computer games and he still attends the
theatre, films and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra. He loves his
and there's his love of cars - he loves Minis, has three Mini Caprices
even has the famous yellow Mini out of Goodbye Pork Pie.
"One last thing I want to say about Sir Gil Simpson is that he is brave.
Taking a successful product like LINC and selling it to the Burroughs
business giant takes a lot of nerve. It involves turning your back on
success and your income stream and starting from scratch again; no
the Burroughs people said 'guys like Gil Simpson will only ever hit one
"But he'd studied the development of major IT firms in both evolution
revolution mode. A new product meant staff lay-offs and million-dollar
write-offs, as the company had to change tack from mainframe computers
PCs. It meant retraining 280 staff whose skills had become obsolete.
as we can see from the success of JADE, the revolution approach does
"For all these many reasons we are delighted to honour Sir Gil and his
commitment to the region and the industry with an honorary degree.
"Madam, I have the honour to present Gilbert Simpson for the degree of
Doctor of Science (honoris causa)."
Sir Gil, DSc, acknowledges support
Sir Gil Simpson, DSc (honoris causa), gave the graduation speech
below) at the morning ceremony on Friday, April 19.
"Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor members of Council, everyone honoured here
today, their friends and family, distinguished guests, it's a delight to
"The Vice-Chancellor didn't say it but I didn't attend university, so
is quite a remarkable occasion in its own way. My friends and family
colleagues at JADE many of them (are) distinguished academics and none
them, I think, don't believe I don't deserve this. But they clearly feel
haven't suffered enough for it.
"I would like to acknowledge the support in my work of all my associates
JADE and back over the last twenty four years - it's been a remarkable
process and their support has been absolutely fantastic. I would also
to acknowledge my family, my wife, my children for their support as
which really makes all the things possible that I have been involved
"Science is about discovery and about understanding - a level of new
understanding. Technology is when we actually use science ... I am more
a technologist that a scientist.
"Today you have received a degree from a university which has a very
place in the world. Lord Rutherford, in my view, is one of the top ten
scientists of the twentieth century. His achievements were remarkable
they changed the way in which the world behaves, both politically and
socially - truly a remarkable man.
"The road through Technology Park is called Sir William Pickering Drive
something I am very proud of. I met Sir William Pickering just last
- (he is) 91 and is fitter than me and was visiting New Zealand. Sir
William led the US unmanned space exploration programme from its
with the first satellite going round the Earth which he watched pass
overhead from the White House lawn where he stood with President
Eisenhower. He led the programme right through to the first soft
on Mars. In my view, definitely in the top five technologists the
century has produced.
"So what we have in the University that has conferred the honour on you
today is a university that had two men - one a scientist and one a
technologist - who were leaders in the twentieth century. That is quite
unique. I looked at some other statistics and there were 4355
organisations in the US that conferred degrees. When we think of that
think of that achievement - it's remarkable. What's more important is
somebody might be here in 2102 and say that in the twenty first century
this University created a person who was in the top five in science and
technology, and there is no reason why one of you is not that person.
"There are three things I think that you take away from here. The first
your self - I think that is the most important thing that you have. It
your potential - that's everything that you will do in the world, the
fantastic thing you have.
"The second thing is your awareness and the third thing is something
Canterbury University has more to do with JADE than you imagine. In 1984
was investigating the problems of parallel processing and concurrency -
complex problems. In 1984-5-6 I was heavily involved in that work. So
a lot of computer manufacturers and universities. It was the 'in thing'
computer information systems at that time. I thought that the solutions
parallel processing and concurrency were going in the wrong direction.
"I had an idea that I might be able to solve the problem. Today the JADE
product contains the result of that work. It contains the results of
initial architectural models that worked. To my knowledge it's the only
commercial product in the world that actually has resolved that
problem. In 1984 I applied to the University of Canterbury to do this
to gain access to the library because I needed to see the journals and
papers. I wanted to get confirmation of what they were doing right and
what they were doing.
"I was turned down by the University for access to the library because I
wasn't a graduate. So I hired an assistant who was a graduate. Max used
go to the University of Canterbury and obtain the necessary literature
"So when I leave here today, the first thing I am going to do is apply
my library card - that is the third thing you take away from here.
from yourself, you have access to the library.
"And whatever challenges you face, whatever difficulties you face, never
forget the library because in the library is discovery and in the
is understanding and in the library you can find a way of moving
and overcoming difficulties, whatever they might be.
"So my thanks for this honour to the University, my best wishes for all
you in the future. Do come back to New Zealand when you have been
- we need you, we need your wealth to pay for the next flock of students
coming through. I thank you very much and all the very best."