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Joseph McNally: Businessman who took on IBM


Joe McNally, who has died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer, was the man who took Compaq Computer from a standing start to a $6 billion sales and manufacturing business in the UK, overtaking IBM to market leadership of the PC business.

A Northern boy, born and raised on Tyneside and with a work hard/play hard ethic, McNally gained his business acumen the hard way. He was sacked – twice – from the Tyneside steel stockholders Miles Druce by his own father, the firm's managing director, before he found his feet over nine years as a computer programmer and salesman with the firms ICL and Honeywell.

He then joined the meat processors FMC Harris as director of their Southern operations, broadening his general management experience and becoming chief executive designate before a hostile takeover by Hillsdown Holdings saw him once again suddenly out of a job. This time, however, it proved a blessing.

With his background in computers and general management, it wasn't long before Joe McNally had a headhunter on the end of the line inquiring whether he could be interested in a position with a microcomputer company, feelers which he initially brushed aside as beneath a man brought up with mainframe computers. He was persuaded, however, to travel to Houston, Texas, to meet people from the company and he returned to the UK desperate to have the job.

So early in 1984 McNally launched Compaq into the UK market with initial funds of $40,000, a secretary and a rented office in Piccadilly. It was the start of 17 years of almost unbroken success as vice-president and UK and Ireland managing director, through to July 2000. He then served as chairman for a further year. During this time, McNally lobbied successfully for Compaq to locate its European manufacturing base at Erskine in Scotland, and was on the manufacturing company board. At their height under McNally the combined UK and Ireland sales and manufacturing operations employed 6,000 people.

Rod Canion, the founding president and chief executive of CompaqComputer Corporation through toOctober 1991, said he had "the utmost respect" for McNally "as a person and a businessman. He provided the leadership necessary to take Compaq UK from start-up to the No 1 spot in a very short time. Growing that fast was a very difficult challenge and we were very lucky to have had Joe leading and guiding the team."

McNally was proud of his links with the North-east and was well-known in the area through a number of local sponsorships. He would also return regularly to the area for shooting parties with a small group of long-standing friends.

As a former Gateshead Grammar School boy he was also interested in opening up opportunities for youthemployment, and for over 20 yearshe was closely involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. For his dedication and service as a trustee to the Scheme, he was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO) in the 2011 New Year's honours list, an award that is in the personal gift of the Queen.

McNally had a liking for fast cars such as Ferraris and Bentleys, as well as golf and countryside pursuits. He lived with his wife Anne surrounded by beech woods in Burnham, Buckinghamshire. They married in 1968 and had two children Kirsten and Joseph Daniel.

John Aeberhard

Joseph McNally, businessman: born 17 July 1942; CVO 2011; married 1968 Anne Buglass (one son, one daughter); died 1 March 2012.