The IT Director - Paul Myers, Sipsco Plc

Every once in a while and strictly for kicks, Charles Williams, the CEO, will ask his IT director Paul Myers what he thinks of something vaguely abstruse, arty and creative.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Invariably, the latter starts with: 'Well, it's not really my area, but ...' and ends buried in a landslide of dissembling waffle. Williams lives in hope that one day Myers will opt for honesty and reply: 'Does it involve IT? No ... well, in that case I'm not really interested.' Williams's ribbing is born of a soft spot and a respect for the man's abilities. The same can't be said for the rest of the board.

On the board of Sipsco, the soft drinks multinational, Myers sticks out like a sore thumb. The FD and marketing director are old City pals; the MD and operations director belong to the same club, and most of the NEDs are nodes on the Old Boys' network. They are cut from the same pinstriped cloth. Myers, by contrast, looks more like a geography teacher - and his only real boardroom buddy is an academic non-exec, a professor from Warwick University who makes half a dozen appearances a year, leaving Myers a man apart.

Unlike the rest of the board, he never expected to be a director. His route to the top wasn't particularly odd - it's just that when he started out, the path he chose didn't lead to such rarefied heights. Bright and mathematically gifted, he kicked off by studying electronics at UCL, drifting into the newish field of computer science. After an MA there, he joined his sponsors, ICL, as a graduate trainee, where he usefully spent five years before being poached by Cambridge microcomputer pioneers Acorn, back when it looked like Britain might have an international computer industry of its very own.

Myers didn't get on at Acorn, being one of the few who argued against the strategy that eventually led to its quitting home computing. No matter, the bleak days of the early '80s were fertile ground for those in his field, and when he jumped ship from his little frigate he landed on the Big Blue deck of the aircraft carrier that was IBM. It was here that he met the future Mrs Myers, a geekette considered quite a catch in data-storage circles. His successful wooing of her earned him the enduring hatred of an entire optical research lab.

Although not exactly thrusting, Myers was pretty savvy and understood where technology was going. Five years on, he could see that Big Blue was looking a bit shabby and consultancy was a growth area. He joined NuSys, a medium-sized IT consulting group. The money was good and the work varied, but then Myers was seconded to Sipsco, the drinks giant, when it was installing an entirely new system. So impressed was Sipsco with his work that it made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

But just as he'd settled in as head of IT at Sipsco, the dot.com boom got going. Suddenly, spods were gods and Myers' personal stock hitched a ride on that bandwagon. Pre-boom, he was largely unknown outside the third floor. Then the VC carpetbaggers came calling. In his best week, Myers had no fewer than six job offers, all larded with the rich promise of options beyond his wildest dreams. He still smiles when he remembers an online dog food retailer that (briefly) valued itself at £300 million; the City would later value it at closer to £0.

Though many called him stodgy at the time, Myers resisted the siren calls of all dot.comers. His loyalty to his employer came at a price to the firm, though. Out went the head of IT and, in recognition of IT's new 'core status', in came the IT director. His salary went up from the high five figures to a more senatorial six, with the usual tranche of porky executive slops. Indeed, mild-mannered Myers showed a ruthless streak.

His salary nearly trebled, pipping Marketing for the position of third-highest-paid director - and earning the latter's lasting enmity. It would be nice to think that 10 grand here or there would make no difference in the boardroom; on the contrary, there's a playground pecking order any schoolboy would recognise.

And not only does Myers have it, he apparently doesn't care. While the other directors favour the Olympian air of the 12th floor, Myers remains close to 'his people' in the crepuscular warren that is systems down on the third floor, the lord of the geeks. Also, what does he spend his money on? Certainly not clothes; he takes the car allowance and drives a grubby old VW; he lives in a pleasant but unostentatious area; his holidays are modest. Rumour in the boardroom has it that he's saving up for a Cray supercomputer.

What his fellow directors dislike most is Myers' other unique quality.

In all of Sipsco, with its global footprint, its scattered manufacturing and its Amazonian revenue streams, no-one else understands the underlying network in its entirety. His loss would be a disaster. And there is nothing like indispensability to breed contempt.

MYERS IN A MOMENT

1959: Born Boston, Lincolnshire. Educated Boston Grammar, UCL
1980: Joins ICL as a graduate trainee
1985: Project manager, Acorn Computer
1987: Technology strategist, IBM
1990: Consultant, NuSys IT Solutions
1993: Seconded to Sipsco Plc, new systems implementation programme
1995: Head of IT, Sipsco Plc
1999: IT director, Sipsco Plc

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