7/23/2021 TECH PIONEER PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY’S ONLINE ERA
TECH PIONEER PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY’S ONLINE ERA
The firm also hired the developer of the APL computer
language, Kenneth E. Iverson, to work with Mr. Moore and
others to advance the language to a version known as SHARP
APL. It also offered its own form of e-mail in APL long
before it became commonly available, and it was widely used
in the company for business and personal purposes.
Co-founder of Canadian software and communications firm I.P. Sharp Associates was known for hiring employees who didn’t fall within the racial or gender limitations of the 20th century
The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - 23 Jul 2021 - B18 - by CHRIS GAINOR
The information technology companies of today, with networked computers and casually dressed staff
from diverse backgrounds, were unheard of 50 years ago. Yet a company that met that description was headquartered in the heart of Toronto’s financial district in the 1960s through to the 1980s.
That company was I.P. Sharp Associates, a Canadian software and communications firm that was a world forerunner in terms of networking and organization in the decades before the internet revolutionized business and life. Its unorthodox but beloved leader was Ian Sharp, who died in Sarasota, Fla., on July 16, a few months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. He was 89.
I.P. Sharp Associates, also known as IPSA, pioneered many computer- networking applications that were years ahead of their time, including database systems to support financial markets and the aviation and energy industries, a real-time global financial system to manage interbank money market exposures, an international stock settlement system, a real-time energy trading platform and an international stock borrowing and lending system, among others.
Under Mr. Sharp’s leadership, the company was also famous for its lack of hierarchy and informal style of work. Its employees were posted around the world and were described as “an eclectic mix of people” who didn’t fall within the racial, gender or credential limita-tions of the past century.
Ian Patrick Sharp was born on March 25, 1932, in Dublin. His Irish mother and Scottish father resided in London, but his mother insisted on going home to give birth. He was raised in London and Leeds, with a wartime evacuation back to Dublin. He later trained as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force during his national service, then studied engineering at Cambridge University.
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7/23/2021 TECH PIONEER PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY’S ONLINE ERA
While working as a management trainee in the British steel industry, Mr. Sharp was put to work ona Ferranti Pegasus, a 1950s British computer that like most similar machines of the time used vacuum tubes to control electrical currents.
When the computer project wound down, Mr. Sharp decided to seek opportunities elsewhere and immi-grated to Canada in 1960. In Toronto, he found work as chief programmer at Ferranti’s Canadian branch, Ferranti- Packard Ltd., where he headed a small team that wrote the operating system and compilers for a mainframe computer, the FerrantiPackard 6000.
Most computers of the time were mainframe machines that filled large rooms and required cooling sys-tems and large amounts of electrical power. Their computing power was only a small fraction of that available on today’s smartphones. As the 1960s began, transistors and other semi-conductor devices, which used less power and took less space, replaced vacuum tubes and opened the door to more powerful and sophisticated computers.
The FP 6000, which Mr. Sharp called a “great giant beast,” was one of the first computers capable of multitasking. Only six were sold, with customers including the Saskatchewan Power Corporation, the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Department of National Defence and the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Ferranti and its Canadian branch were withdrawing from the computing field at the time the Ferranti-Packard 6000 came into production, but the computer became the model for a generation of more pow-erful mainframes built by another British maker.
While on a trip to London in 1961, Mr. Sharp interviewed and hired Audrey Williams, a programmer at Ferranti who wished to transfer to the Canadian branch. They married in 1963 and had a son and a daughter. Although Mrs. Sharp took time out for family duties, she worked as a programmer at I.P. Sharp throughout its existence and organized the annual Christmas party for employees’ children.
When Ferranti- Packard folded its computer division, Mr. Sharp and six colleagues formed I. P. Sharp As-sociates in 1964. Over the next 23 years, the company grew into a multinational enterprise, with about 600 employees in 60 branches across Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. I.P. Sharp’s Fortune 500 clients included Morgan Stanley, Hitachi, McGraw Hill, Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, British Petroleum, Xerox, Credit Suisse and Kodak.
While the roots of the internet are commonly credited to the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the USS. military beginning in 1969, I.P. Sharp Associates was often on the scene with its own versions of on-line technologies during those years before the internet became widespread in the 1990s.
In work championed by one of the firm’s co-founders, Roger D. Moore, IPSA made time available to cus-tomers on its mainframes across Canada and then farther afield. “You hear a lot these days about the cloud,” Mr. Sharp said. “What we were doing in those days was the cloud.”
The firm also hired the developer of the APL computer language, Kenneth E. Iverson, to work with Mr. Moore and others to advance the language to a version known as SHARP APL. It also offered its own form of e-mail in APL long before it became commonly available, and it was widely used in the company for business and personal purposes.
By 1973, I.P. Sharp had another electronic mail system known as Mailbox. Leslie Goldsmith was a 16-year-old high school student that year when he managed to overcome the system’s security features, so he was hired to build an all-new e-mail system called 666 Box that was more secure. “In 1973, that was a bold move,” he said.
I.P. Sharp’s early e-mail and networking systems often ran afoul of telephone and communications mo-nopolies in various parts of the world, something Mr. Sharp called a “constant irritation” that he had to deal with.
“Tan never sought the limelight and was content to do well for the customer in any way he could,” Mr. Goldsmith explained. His colleague Lib Gibson had a story to illustrate the point: “I remember people urging Ian to dump a painful, overdue Morgan Stanley project. There was no contractual penalty. “But we gave our word,’ said Ian. That was the end of that.”
Mr. Sharp was well known for giving free rein to very bright and driven employees — casual dress and flex-time were taken for granted at I.P. Sharp. “Our company had incredible diversity, but at the time we didn’t realize it,” former employee Hugh Hyndman said.
One of Mr. Hyndman’s colleagues, Jane Minett, remembers going to work for the company after having been introduced to it as a customer. She was appointed the manager of I.P. Sharp’s Calgary office at age 26, which raised eyebrows in the city’s still conservative business environment of the 1970s. Both Ms. Minett and Mr. Hyndman said the soft-spoken Mr. Sharp’s style was a textbook example of “manage-ment by walking around.” He made a point of conversing with employees at all levels of the company and let them make their own decisions. Ms. Gibson said he did not choose employees based on credentials, and did not punish failure, which freed people to take risks. “He would never set anyone up for failure, though — and would be there when you needed an ear,” said Roseanne Wild, Mr. Sharp’s long-time assistant.
“The people the company recruited had a variety of backgrounds, often with a strong mathematical ori-entation,” former employee Scott Remborg recalled. “In interview situations, Ian was less interested in someone’s computer science background and more interested in what else they knew. He knew the com-pany could teach people particular skills, so he would ask, with a wry smile, ‘So, what else do you know?’ Reuters, which wanted to move into the field of financial databases, acquired I.P. Sharp Associates in 1987, but the company’s spirit of enthusiasm and camaraderie lived on. Twentyseven years after the sale, 200 “Sharpies” gathered in Toronto for a party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company’s creation.
Another legacy of I.P. Sharp Associates involves the notable careers its employees led after the company wound up. Several former I.P. Sharp employees were involved in building business information services for The Globe and Mail. Other alumni helped create Sympatico, an early national internet provider jointly run by Bell Canada and other Canadian telephone carriers.
Mr. Sharp retired in 1989. He and his wife had already began spending winter breaks on Longboat Key on the west coast of Florida, and soon they became residents and eventually U.S. citizens. In retirement, Mr. Sharp became an avid tennis player, hanging up his racquet only eight weeks before his passing. His enjoyment of bridge moved online when the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. Mr. Sharp was a long-time volunteer for Meals on Wheels, and also assisted with other charitable causes.
Mr. Sharp leaves his wife of 57 years, Audrey, as well as his daughter Helen, son Matthew and three grandchildren.
Mr. Sharp was well known for giving free rein to very bright and driven employees — casual dress and flex-time were taken for granted at I.P. Sharp.