One on every desk

At 10 we run an exercise in our Brandschool® process called ‘What If’ it’s intended to open our clients minds to the possibilities the business holds. It’s very easy to become blinkered in our jobs and just deliver on the day to day stuff and while this is hugely important we do need someone in the business considering what the future will or could be like. When running this exercise I tell a personal anecdote about my Dad and Bill Gates.

In the 1980’s my Dad co-founded a business who created and developed Project Management Software called ‘Hornet’. It was a robust and pretty innovative system, and was used in some high profile corporations – like British Telecom (BT as we know them), GCHQ and many of the FTSE100 at the time. The success of the software in the UK led to a worldwide dealer network, plus it was a time when anyone associated with the ‘chunky boxes of wizardry’ known as computers were more Rock Star than Techie. This got him seats at some fairly high profile conferences all over the world.

It was at one of these events – hosted by Microsoft – that my Dad had a conversation with Bill Gates.


It was 1984 and Bill Gates had just made the front cover of Time Magazine. My Dad – who asks at the end of every holiday or day trip ‘What was the best bit?’ unsurprisingly to people who know him, challenged Bill Gates during their lunch to a similar line of questioning, he asked ‘You’re heading a very successful company so what drives you to do what you do. What is it that makes you get up in the morning?’ Gates had an immediate, and simple, reply: ‘One on every desk!’

Puzzled, and in equal measure satisfyingly intrigued, my Dad probed further and uncovered that Bill’s vision (we can call him Bill at this point as we’re clearly in first name territory now) was for every person in every business and home to have a computer on their desk – and as a result Microsoft would have it’s software running in that machine.

Ok so this may feel like a bit of a ‘deflated’ punchline so allow me to put it in context. This was 1984, a time when if a company had a computer in more than one department it was considered ‘High Tech’! Even in my first job back in 2002 I recall having a shared computer. So this response ‘One on every desk!’ and that vision in the mid 80’s was quite widely considered to be the mutterings of a mad man!

And yet, here I sit, like so many of you reading this, at my desk using a laptop and looking around the room where everyone has the same, in some cases having two or three screens to one individual. Not such a mad man after all!

The lesson to take is this, think beyond the financial goal; have a vision that is relatable to every stakeholder and be as succinct as possible so that they can all get behind it, however outlandish. ‘One on every desk’ was clear in it’s intent, easy to comprehend, it provided a focus and goal that everyone could be part of.

This tale has been told over many a dinner table throughout the years, and not exclusively by my Dad, we all recite it with pride and amusement, by sharing it I’d like to think that it’s now a story for all of you to tell too, part of the Phillipson legacy!


Nikki Phillipson, Account Director.