Dr Herman Hauser


Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, My Lord Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen

1948 was an exceedingly good year for computer babies. In that year, on June 14th, the worlds first stored programme computer ran successfully at the University of Manchester. It was nicknamed `the baby'. Meanwhile, in Austria, in the imperial city of Vienna, the person we honour today - Dr. Hermann Hauser - was born. Both births would turn out to be very significant for the, as yet unknown, new discipline of Computer Science.

The Manchester `baby' spent its first years in a Basement Laboratory. In contrast, Hermann Hauser was raised, high up in the clean and bracing air of the Tyrolean mountains. In 1964, at the age of 16, Hermann's father called him in to his study. "English is the language of the future and you must learn it" he told the young Hermann, and he was dispatched to Cambridge to achieve this goal. He enjoyed his year at Cambridge immensely, and also learned some English, but the important result of this visit was a love of Cambridge, which would affect his whole life.

At the age of 18, the decision had to be taken as to which degree Hermann would read at University. The choice was between Physics and Economics. A conference was called and the family asked a friend who was a Physicist for advice. "Which do you want Herman" he asked "fun or money ? If you want money read Economics, but if you want fun read Physics". Hermann chose fun, and read Physics at the University of Vienna. In 1973 he returned to Cambridge to study for a PhD in Physics at the University. At the time he did not realise that he would not live in Austria again. The 1970s were technologically very exciting times. The microchip had recently been invented and the possibilities seemed endless. Computing was on the edge of a huge breakthrough, perhaps similar to the excitement that exists in Biotechnology research today. Hermann saw the BBC programme `The Chip' and it stirred him into action. In those days, computers were large complex systems that required special air-conditioned environments and expensive electrical supplies. Hermann saw the opportunity of creating a computer for the people - a kit which any enthusiast could buy and set up in their living room. It seems obvious now, but it was a novel idea then. Within only one year of completing his PhD, he had formed Acorn Computers and, with others, designed the first computer kit.

This first computer kit, the ACORN System 1, proved difficult to get working (just like the Manchester baby) and many mistakes were made. Hermann comments that, in retrospect, this difficult period was a very important one, because the struggle to make that system work taught both him and the team a huge amount. It reminds one of the comment made by a past Chairman of IBM, who when asked the secret of his success said it was due to good judgement. When queried as to how he managed to make such good judgements, replied because of `experience'. Finally, when cornered and asked how one gained the right experience he paused a long time and replied `bad judgement'. I would not go so far as to say Hermann Hauser stands here today because of his errors of judgement, but he realised that to succeed, you need to fail once in a while.

In 1981 came a real breakthrough. He led the design team that built the BBC Microcomputer, of which over one and a half a million were sold. There are probably many people in this room whose first experience of computing was on this machine. He chaired the committee that defined BBC BASIC - a standard computer language in schools. As a result, the UK led the world in personal computing, and there were more computers installed, per head than any other country in the world, including the USA. In 1984 he was awarded Computer Personality of the Year for this work.

Other important research work followed - the world's first commercial RISC processor, the first computer designed exclusively in Silicon, and work on the Cambridge Ring. Then in 1986 Dr Hauser joined Olivetti as Vice President Research. During this interesting time he set up the Olivetti Corporate Research Organisation and established three new laboratories in Europe and the USA.

In the last decade, Dr Hauser has become heavily involved in creating high technology companies. In 1992 he spun out a new company from logica, this was Vocalis a company specialising in voice recognition. I'm sure the audience may have come across the response when dialling a service `press one for Sales, Press two for Marketing and Press Three if you have forgotten what I just said'. Well, Hermann Hauser is the man to blame, though to be fair he should not be blamed for poor implementations.

Vocalis was followed by twenty five companies including Cambridge Display Technology, Electronic Share Information (now known as Etrade UK), Virata, Advanced RISC Machines, now valued at nearly $1 billion. Today Hermann Hauser is primarily a Venture Capitalist specialising in new technology.

You will remember that he originally rejected Money for Fun when he chose to read Physics back in 1968. Over the years he has modified this guiding principle of `having fun' to `having fun and making money', because as he points out, he needs to make the money to have the fun.

For all we know there may be a new Hermann Hauser currently sitting amongst the graduates in front of us who will be stirred to action by this astonishing career. If there are such graduates out there who have a great idea for making money, and of course, having fun, Dr Hauser would like to meet them to discuss terms and conditions !

Chancellor, for these reasons, it is an honour and a priviledge to present to you and to the University, Dr Hermann Hauser for the degree of Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa for services to the Computer Industry and Education.


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J.Allen2@lboro.ac.uk, July 1998.
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