Phil Hawkes celebrates 40 years at OGL
A huge congratulations to Phil Hawkes who reached his 40-year anniversary earlier this year. As a special celebration of such a significant milestone, the Directors took Phil, and other long serving staff, out for lunch this week but here is Phil’s story…
“I think a lot of people will already know how I came to be working for OGL from previous articles. For those that don’t, I joined Oliquip (the original company name) as an experienced computer programmer, having originally worked for large organisations (Cadburys, Midland Bank, Shell Chemicals) but more recently having worked on a contract basis for a local agency that provided software personnel and services. Oliquip approached the agency to write a nominal ledger module to go with some rudimentary accounts software that they had just acquired and were hoping to sell. I was given the task of writing the new module, the forerunner of the nominal ledger that is still used in prof.ITplus today. When the agency folded a short time later, I was offered a job at Oliquip to write more modules. There was no interview involved, and I don’t think anyone at the time thought that my involvement would be long term but, somehow, I’m still here.
“I’m always struck, whenever I read about other people’s careers at OGL, by how many different roles they have fulfilled, each one usually leading to bigger and better things. In my case, I’m pretty much performing the same role today as when I first started in 1983, not because I’m stuck in a rut, but because I’ve never wanted any role other than continuing to develop the software – it’s just the programs that have got bigger and better. In addition, the work is never-ending, because you can always make improvements or add new features.
“Like all software developers, what I really like to do is to write computer programs without being impeded too much by unnecessary outside influences, which is what I used to find frustrating when I worked for large corporations. Because Oliquip was a small and dynamic company (less than 30 employees when I joined), people were trusted to get on with what they were good at, and I was pretty much able to spend all day, every day, concentrating on program development. Happily, the programs were successful, and the software department gradually grew from a single person (i.e. me) to include the large teams that we have today, and I have been fortunate to work with some wonderful colleagues. Because OGL Software is a much larger organisation now, out of necessity, procedures and structures have had to be put in place, but it is still a very satisfying, albeit demanding environment for anyone who enjoys a technical software role. My main achievement is my ongoing contribution to the development of the various versions of OGL software that have been created over the years, culminating in prof.ITplus.
“I’ve been confined to barracks for many years, so my memorable moments are from the good old days, when we always used to have to visit customer sites to fix problems or install new software, armed only with our wits and a few floppy disks. Apologies to anyone who has heard these stories before.
“During one site visit, after I’d performed a miraculous data fix and saved a company hours of data re-entry, the boss was mightily relieved. After everyone else had gone, he said he wanted to show his appreciation for my efforts and disappeared into a storeroom. Because it was approaching Christmas time, I thought my reward might be something to drink – a nice bottle of wine, perhaps. He reappeared a couple of minutes later and gave me a large plastic sack that contained about 30 cheap quality toilet rolls for my delectation. I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
“In the early years, the company cars that we used were not quite the sophisticated sleek machines that we drive around in today. At one point, I’d inherited a large, ostentatious Fiat Mirafiori from a salesman who had left. I didn’t much like the looks or the green colour of the car, but the biggest issue was that it had an intermittent electrical problem, which meant that it occasionally wouldn’t start. One day I was travelling to a customer with a colleague (Marek, for those who go back that far), who said he was starving and had to have something to eat. He was pleased when I reluctantly stopped on a busy high street, somewhere in the Black Country, so that he could get out and buy a sandwich. He regretted it a few minutes later when the engine wouldn’t restart. Dressed in his smart business suit, he had to push the car out into the busy traffic for me to try to get it bump-started, all the while being jeered at by a group of local yobs who had gathered to laugh at the posh gits with the flash but rubbish car.
“Shockingly, not all our customers are as enamoured with our software as I think they ought to be. I once had to visit a site that had been experiencing problems and were demanding that someone go on site to sort things out. As soon as I arrived, they wanted to tell me all about the problems they were having, and four of them led me to a smallish room where there were chairs but no table or desk, so we sat in a little circle, all facing each other. I was worried that they were going to give me a really hard time but, as it turned out, the meeting went much better than I was expecting. The tone was light-hearted, almost jovial. I kept things calm and professional throughout and was thinking how brilliantly I was handling the situation – I had them eating out of my hand. It was only at the end of the meeting that I realised that one of the reasons they were smiling so much was that I’d been sitting there with my flies undone the whole time.”
Phil’s manager, Charlie Grant had this to say about Phil: “What a truly amazing achievement to complete 40 years of service. Phil’s commitment has never dropped and although I wasn’t born when Phil started at OGL 😊 I’m certain he still has the same passion now as he did 40 years ago.
“It’s been lovely to see Phil work with the support team over the past few years. The team are in ore of him and the instant respect the team show is evident for all to see. Phil has been working with the support team to coach and mentor staff, aiming to pass over his many years of system knowledge to the team around him.
“Thank you for all you have done Phil and all you continue to do, an absolute Legend, the king of prof.ITplus!!”
Neil Morris, Director commented: "Younger members of the Company will find it hard to envisage the world of computing when Phil joined us in 1983. No Microsoft Windows, no commercial internet or email (so no need for anti-virus software or cyber security) and little choice of accounting software for small businesses.
“Phil was given the brief to develop our own software suite to enable the business, longer term, to supply and support a product that was within our control. What an outstanding job he did! Where would we be if Phil hadn’t been so dedicated, visionary, hard-working, skilful and totally committed to the end goal?
“In the early days Phil was often developing software late into the night to meet deadlines for demonstrations or orders, sometimes dropped in it at the last minute by a salesperson who had promised a feature that we didn’t yet have! We received many an order due to Phil ‘burning the midnight oil’.
“Phil was a quiet, mild-mannered man around the office, but all that changed once he was on the football pitch. We used to play 5-a-side at a local gym, and I’ve never witnessed such a personality change once ‘Phil the animal’ laced up his pumps! If the ball was heading his way there would be an aggressive shout of ‘Phil’s ball’ and woe betide you if you got in his way.
“The early text-based software was the forerunner to what was subsequently marketed as ProfIT, a much better name than ‘Phil’s Software’ as some members of the team were calling it! Many of the sites were highly bespoke, which made it easier to get an order, but harder to support.
“A good example of this was The Billington Group, who had a fabulous boardroom overlooking the Mersey in the Cunard Building in Liverpool. Hindsight says that we shouldn’t have taken this order as the bespoke requirements filled two A4 box files. They were a commodity trader meaning their products, such as animal feeds, could be bought and sold numerous times whilst on the water (on the ship) which, unsurprisingly wasn’t a standard feature of ProfIT.
“It was a well-worn path to Liverpool, but Phil finally made them happy and Billington remained with us for several years, probably due to no other software house wanting the job!
“Phil has to be given enormous credit for steering us through the potential crisis of the Millennium Bug, or Y2K problem. As with the majority of software, the date field in ProfIT was only two digits for the year. As an example, this meant that an invoice produced in 2000 (00) would be deemed older than one from 1999 (99), thus affecting credit control reports, bad debt letters and statements. Phil’s fix was ingenious as he inserted some code that looked at the two-digit date field and put a 19 in front of pre-millennium data or a 20 for 2000 onwards.
“Y2K delayed the development of our first suite of software for the Windows environment, but then things moved on at pace on a product that would become prof.ITplus. Yet again, Phil was the lead architect and developer for our flagship product, which you will be aware became a terrific success.
“Phil has had such an influence on OGL Software that it’s hard to imagine where we’d be if he hadn’t joined the Company. His passion and determination to create a feature rich, stable and easy to use software suite has been a key element in our success. Plus, of course he’s introduced Hawkes Junior to the team!
“Phil – your fantastic contribution over 40 years is immeasurable, thank you so much.”