Cambridge entrepreneur and VC, Dr Hermann Hauser, has followed in Bill Gates’ footsteps by receiving the SDForum Visionary Award in San Francisco.
He joins an elite pantheon of ‘gods’ on the technology Olympus.
Dr Hauser is a director at Amadeus Capital Partners in Cambridge, founded Acorn Computers and has backed Business Weekly since launch in May 1990. He has helped make the fortunes of more than 70 tech entrepreneurs.
The SDForum hosts an A-list ceremony in Silicon Valley for 250 CEOs and executives every June to honour four industry leaders who have pioneered innovation and fostered the spirit of entrepreneurship.
Dr Hauser has been chosen for his “exceptional contributions in the field of emerging technologies and in the community” by the Forum’s nominating committee, which includes entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and board members from multinationals such as Nokia, SAP and IBM.
Past award recipients include Bill Gates, Edwin Catmull, Jim Clark, Lou Gerstner, Reed Hastings, Vinod Khosla and Vint Cerf. The other three recipients of the 2011 SDForum Visionary Awards are Promod Haque of Norwest Venture Partners, Guy L. ‘Bud’ Tribble of Apple Inc. and T.J. Rodgers of Cypress Semiconductor Corporation.
Dr Hauser said: “I am honoured to be numbered in the pantheon of global technology entrepreneurs who have received the SDForum awards. I have always considered it important and encouraged European technology innovators and companies to work closely with their counterparts in Silicon Valley, to the mutual benefit of each.
“Technology is now completely global and an innovation developed in one university or city has to be commercialised in the world’s major economies to fulfil its potential; Silicon Valley is and will long remain an essential part of that process.”
Dr Hauser’s role in Cambridge’s surge to worldwide credibility is without parallel. He was 15 when he first set eyes on Cambridge – a languages student from Austria as yet unsure what the future would hold. His father told him to be an accountant if he wanted to be rich – in fact, to be anything other than a scientist unless he was determined to live his life in abject poverty.
For a while the young Hermann seemed destined to start keeping the books for his father’s expanding vintner business. But, unlike some fine wines, Hermann travelled well and liked what he saw of Cambridge.
It was 1963 and the dawn of flower power. While no-one who knows him can imagine a hippy Hermann Hauser with flares and kaftan, he admits to toying for a while – in idealistic reveries on the back lawn at King’s College – with the romantic notion of “going off to be a cobbler in a village in China.”
Luckily for Cambridge, other muses prevailed. Almost half a century and many millions of pounds and successful business ventures later, the ‘boy from Vienna’ remains in Cambridge inspiring young students and fellow entrepreneurs in equal measure. It was not long after his first sortie to Cambridge that the young Hermann returned. He did his initial degree in Vienna but came back to the University of Cambridge to do his PhD at the world-renowned Cavendish Laboratory.
“I remember when I got my PhD I felt on top of the world. Graduating from one of the best universities in the world left me believing I could take on lots of different positions: I had a feeling that great opportunities lay ahead of me.
“I could stay in physics and become a lecturer; my father wanted me to join him in the family wine business – or maybe I should follow the cobbler in China dream. There were a breadth of opportunities. Then Chris Curry came round and said that we really must start a company. I asked the obvious question: What with? As it happened it was £50 and Acorn Computers was born.”
Hermann has often confided that he has no ego and he has never attempted to present the Acorn adventure as a well planned, strategically smooth ride to the top of the business tree. In fact it was often chaotic. They knew less about stock control than a dyslexic sheep rancher.
“We flew by the seat of our pants,” says Hermann. Luckily, the BBC Microcomputer order galvanised their thoughts and actions – just in time.
The fledgling Acorn designed and built a series of microcomputers and associated peripherals for the BBC Computer Literacy Project. Designed with an emphasis on education it was notable for its ruggedness, expandability and the quality of its operating system.
Much the same could be said about the Acorn business model. Established in 1978 by the ‘sons of Sinclair Research,’ its legacy has endured to this day.
Dr Hauser says: “I’m very proud of what we did at Acorn and the wonderful legacy. There are four major things that no-one can take away from the Acorn story.”
1 – Acorn educated a whole generation of software writers from Day One of the BBC Micro project
2 - Acorn spawned the ARM microprocessor business and there are more ARM chips in the world than people
3 - North of 100 companies have been founded by Acorn alumni
4 – The culture of excellence engendered at the company
The frisson and ‘can do’ culture the founders and staff engendered within Acorn produced enough energy to power the National Grid. Dr Hauser recalls: “During that time at Acorn the atmosphere was fantastic. Our people, without exception, were excited about what we were doing. It was all about excellence and doing things better than anyone else in the world. Everyone worked very long hours – we never needed a rule about working hours.
“I wasn’t married then and whenever I got hungry, anyone still there got a meal off me. Often half the company was there! The cameraderie and dedication to excellence was quite unbelievable.”
ARM started life as an Acorn spin-out in 1990 and both businesses were in operation when Bill Gates decided to establish Microsoft Corporation’s first research centre outside of Seattle – in Cambridge – in 1997.
The wonderful first managing director of Microsoft’s Cambridge venture – Professor Roger Needham – would often find rather too many empty chairs for his liking as he patrolled the plush new building at the University’s West Cambridge site.
He had fallen foul of what Hermann calls “my best ever investment – Fitzbillies’ buns.” He explains: “I’d order in a job lot of buns from Fitzbillies, the Cambridge bakery, for afternoon tea at 4pm and our offices were packed without fail. It was remarkable what staying power it gave people who would invariably work late into the night.
“The word got out and one day Roger called me and said: ‘I understand some of our people might just be at Acorn. I think you better make a contribution to my slush fund,’ to which Dr Hauser thought it advisable to agree.
The Hauser-Raspe Foundation, founded in 2001 by Dr Hauser and his wife Pamela – also a Cambridge graduate and former lecturer at the university – donated £8m to the university to create a major new focal point for the promotion of entrepreneurship in Cambridge. The Hauser Forum, two landmark buildings on West Cambridge, the University’s burgeoning science & technology campus, is thriving.
Dr Hauser also put the nation first with another brilliant concept which Vince Cable and the Coalition government is implemrnting. In a special report for previous Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, he recommended that the Government sink millions into a series of technology centres and the Technology strategy Board has started rolling these out across sectors considered key economic drivers.
It’s another legacy for Dr Hauser to bequeath to his adopted country. By orchestrating so many successful ‘scores’ for his beloved Cambridge, the man from Vienna is already destined to waltz into business immortality.
• Photograph shows: Dr Hermann Hauser