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15. ICL UNDER WILMOT
On May 11, Robb Wilmot took over as managing director of ICL and started a tremendous round of meetings, discussions and talks to get a true perspective of ICL's problem.
The agreement with Three Rivers was still on the table and within a short period of time Wilmot was made aware of it.
By now SERC was suffering acute embarrassment from the fact that it had still not ordered the 11 systems from Three Rivers which had been booked many months before. It was agreed between SERC and ICL's sales staff that if no agreement was reached by 1 July, it would be necessary to order from Three Rivers direct or we would lose the positions in the queue. By July, the systems would be in production.
15.2 PERQ Presentation to Wilmot
On 28 May, Wilmot agreed to see a presentation of the PERQ at 8.30 am in Putney. Wilmot showed particular interest in the technology, the networking options (later it became clear ICL would make an announcement concerning ethernet for local area networks while JNT policy at that time was to support Cambridge Rings in the university community), and the ability to get a much lower cost version. He was also keen to know how it compared with the recently announced Xerox STAR office automation system.
He seemed impressed by the product, understood what it was and placed actions on staff to define a low cost version aimed at the Office Automation market, to provide details of Utica's assessment, to give him a comparison against the STAR and that the information was needed in the next few days.
After the demonstration, he wrote to Dr Manning at RAL saying that the PERQ is undoubtedly an impressive product and that he had gained a good understanding of SERC's views from my presentation.
15.3 ICL - Three Rivers Announcement
Early in June, Apollo announced the UK launch of their product for August 3. There was clearly a need to get the ICL - Three Rivers launch earlier.
By 15 June, the ICL Finance Director had signed off the agreement with Three Rivers and it was with Wilmot for his final signature. A number of queries were raised which took time to sort out. There were discussions over whether the price could be in dollars to SERC, would SERC buy the spares holding in return for very low cost maintenance, would SERC underwrite the purchase of 200 systems, etc. The whole flavour was to get income into ICL early on presumably to avoid another bad financial year. Wilmot was also pressing Three Rivers to commit to a price reduction every 2 years.
By 22 June, Wilmot had agreed to the Programme Authorisation for PERQ subject to some qualifications.
As a result, ICL ordered the 11 SERC systems from Three Rivers and SERC attempted to place an order with ICL.
The first press announcement was scheduled for the week beginning 6 July when the ICL - Three Rivers agreement would be announced. Immediately after the SERC Council meeting on 15 July, a second announcement would indicate a major order from SERC. In early August, a third announcement would give the SERC/ICL collaboration via the Heads of Agreement which would be signed the day before.
After the sedentary progress of the previous two years, everything seemed to be falling into place and the project could get underway in earnest with emphasis switching to the software developments required.
15.4 Visit of Three Rivers
On 6 July, Ed Fredkin and Jim Gay arrived in the UK to finalise the deal with ICL. Although the meeting went well, Wilmot insisted that there should be a commitment that Three Rivers would be the first company to get the product price for a system of this type below $10K. Fredkin later said that Wilmot asked him the same question at least 10 times during the course of the meeting. Three Rivers were reluctant to commit to only working towards a low cost product believing that larger memory sizes, colour etc were also necessary.
The plan was to sign a marketing agreement immediately, the SERC Heads of Agreement on 3 August (the day of the Apollo launch) and leave the manufacturing agreement to be sorted out in September or October.
Robin Lingard of DoI saw Robb Wilmot on 10 July. Wilmot wanted to extend the agreement with Three Rivers to cover the use of the PERQ in the Office Automation environment. At a Board meeting on 15 July, Wilmot reported on the negotiations with Three Rivers and recommended that the contract be signed.
On 16 July 1981, there was a complete reorganisation of ICL senior management. Ninian Eadie was promoted to Director of Product Marketing and Chris French became Director of Distributed Systems Development. Aylett continued as Director of United Kingdom Division but now reported to Peter Ellis, Deputy Managing Director.
Over the next few days, almost nothing came out of ICL as the reorganisation took effect and ICL insisted on the contractual arrangements being done by producing revised drafts of the contract rather than working with an edited version.
SERC had ordered an Apollo system to benchmark against the PERQ in October 1980. Rob Witty visited Apollo in November just before the USA launch and had a complete review of the product and future plans. In January, Gerry Stanley of Apollo visited RAL to investigate the possibility of a deal between ICL and Apollo.
The Apollo system was delivered to RAL on 24 June 1981. This was the first system installed by Apollo outside the USA.
Bill Poduska, the President of Apollo, was visiting the UK to take part in the Apollo UK launch in August 1981. He visited RAL on 31 July to give a presentation on the State of the Art in Distributed Personal Computer Systems.
While in the UK, Bill Poduska attempted to see Wilmot on 1 August. However, contact was not made as ICL had already agreed to sign with Three Rivers.
Wilmot decided to pay a social call on Apollo when he visited the USA to sign the contract with Three Rivers.