One man and a float at ICL

Profile: Keith Todd; Heard the one about the computer company joining the stock market? The boss doesn't think it's a joke, writes David Bowen

There was a time in the Sixties when British industry looked as though it might be about to beat the world. The Wilson government was creating "national champions" in an attempt to beat giant American, German and Japanese companies. British Leyland was formed then, so was GEC. But many people were most excited about the new high technology group - International Computers Limited could, surely, stay up there with IBM.

It could not. In 1981 ICL had to be rescued by the government. Far from being a national champion, it is now 90 per cent owned by Fujitsu of Japan. All that is left of the Sixties optimism is its headquarters, a grey skyscraper on the Thames at Putney.

Fortunately Keith Todd, ICL's amiable chief executive, is not the sort of person to mope over past miseries. He took over a year ago, when Sir Peter Bonfield went off to run BT, and he has his eye on the Millennium, or rather on 1999. That is when he hopes ICL will finally make it on to the London stock exchange: Fujitsu will keep a majority stake, but the City will at least have a major British computer company into which it can get its analytical teeth.

Todd, only 43 despite his grey hair, was finance and business strategy director before his elevation, and has been talking to the City for many years. "That's because the flotation has always been two years away," one analyst comments. But potential investors now believe it really will happen before the end of the century. For one thing Todd has replaced Bonfield "who you always felt was meeting the City because it was a necessary evil", one analyst says. For another, ICL is being "re-engineered" in a way that is likely to make it more attractive to potential shareholders. This month it will announce it has finally disposed of its D2D manufacturing operation. Earlier this year it gave up its Personal Computer operation. And it is pushing hard to become that trendiest of corporate beasts, a computer services company: it will no longer sell its own kit, but will help other organisations get their systems right.

One project could prove crucial. ICL is leading the Pathway consortium that is bringing high technology into the country's post offices and replacing pension forms with smart cards. These large software projects are extraordinarily tricky to complete without glitches - if ICL succeeds, its chances of finally making it as one of the big boys in high technology will be much improved.

With 22 years to go before he earns his free bus pass, Todd has plenty of opportunity to mould ICL. Though City analysts do not know him as well as the heads of quoted companies, they like what they see. "He is clearly focused and has shown his ability to take tough decisions," one comments.

His youth apart, Todd comes across as a regular kind of chief executive. He is married, lives in Buckinghamshire, has four children and is an enthusiastic follower of mini rugby. He was born in Glasgow of Scottish parents, though his father's job as a civil servant in naval supplies meant the family kept moving.

He took science A-levels at a comprehensive in Plymouth, and was all set to study chemical engineering at Exeter when he decided to take up a sponsored training course as a cost-of-management accountant in the civil service. His progress thenceforward was smooth. He worked first at the state-owned Royal Ordnance factory at Leeds, before moving into the private sector at GEC subsidiary Marconi Space & Defence in 1975. Here he came under the wing of the company's boss Arthur Walsh. He rose rapidly and in 1981 was sent to the States to be chief financial officer at the Marconi subsidiary, Cincinnati Electronics, before returning to the top finance job at Marconi itself.

As a finance man in the GEC empire, Todd frequently found himself under the beady eye of Lord Weinstock. "I many times enjoyed the pleasure of budget reviews with him," he says, with only a little irony. "There's no doubt that having been through the GEC stable of management control has been a great asset."

By now Arthur Walsh had moved across to run STC, and asked Todd if he would become finance director of its subsidiary ICL. The computer company was recovering from the traumas of the early Eighties though it was no longer cushioned by guaranteed government contracts.

Soon Todd was put in charge of business strategy as well as finance. That meant he had a pivotal role as ICL plunged, with the rest of the IT industry, into the bad times of the early Nineties. ICL did better than most companies. While the industry as a whole lost $20bn (pounds 13bn) between 1990 and 1995, it managed to break even and for several years was the only European computer company making money.

The link-up with Fujitsu in 1990 was another example of ICL being ahead of the pack, he believes. An immediate effect was that Peter Bonfield was asked to leave the European Round Table of computer makers. "Today I'm totally welcome," Todd says. "All the others have foreign shareholders too." He says his way of thinking puts him on the same wavelength as the Japanese. "At heart I'm a fundamentalist - I try to understand why things work, rather than just accepting that they do. That's consistent with the way the Japanese think."

Last year ICL lost its good boy's badge when its personal computer operation pushed it into loss. To outsiders, the glitzy launch of the Fujitsu ICL range in March 1995, followed by itsconversion to plain Fujitsu a year later, looks like a U-turn. Todd is adamant it was not a change of mind. "It was an acceleration of a natural process," he says.

The disposal of the factories and the PC business is central to Todd's strategy, sending confusing signals about what the company was trying to do. His plan "to make ICL the best European-based systems and services business" may sound unbearably fuzzy to those outside IT - but it hits all the right pleasure zones within the industry.

He has a clearly laid-out path from here to flotation in three years' time. The group will probably break even this year, he says, "but our short-term financial results are not going to be spectacular". That will change when revenues from the Pathway project start coming through, and he believes ICL should be earning 5 per cent on turnover by the time it is gearing up for flotation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - LONDON

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'