Dame Stephanie Shirley - My Family in Exile

Last week PONToon ambassadors Harriet Parr and Penny Chalk attended a talk given by renowned entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley at the University of Portsmouth, all about her experiences as a child refugee overcoming huge adversity and escaping from Nazi-occupied Austria on one of the famed Kindertransport of the Second World War.

PONToon attend talk by Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Shirley has had a hugely inspirational career as an IT entrepreneur, businesswoman and philanthropist. On Wednesday last week, PONToon ambassadors Harriet Parr and Penny Chalk went to hear her speak.

Born as Vera Buchthal, Dame Shirley emigrated to the UK as a child on one of the Second World War's Kindertransports, escaping Nazi-occupied Austria. Bought up by foster parents in the Midlands, her early experience of the 'glass ceiling' at work encouraged her to set up her own business at a time when women couldn't even open a bank account without their husband's permission.

In 1962 Shirley founded the pioneering all-female company Freelance Programmers, a company that specialised in developing computer software and offered part-time flexible employment to professional women with dependants. Starting with an initial investment of just £6 it was ultimately valued at £121 million when floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1996, making 70 of her team members millionaires.

In honour of Holocaust Memorial day, Dame Shirley's talk on Wednesday focussed primarily on her experience of being a child refugee. She stated that being torn from home at a young age, and knowing the fate of so many that did not escape, gave her the drive to succeed. Her childhood experiences gave her the ability to cope with change, a love for her adopted country, and the need to make a life worthy of saving.

Shirley's frankness was inspiring and moving, provoking the audience to reflect on the capabilities of people with passion and drive to succeed despite overwhelming prejudice.

Find out more about Shirley, her inspiring journey and her plethora of accomplishments here.