VLDB - We've Moved! Returning To Our Founder's Roots

Myself and the rest of the Liverpool-based members of VLDB recently moved offices. This move represents a 30-year journey back to where I started. Allow me to explain…

‘Back in the day’ there were two main employers in Old Hall St, the centre of Liverpool’s CBD: Royal Insurance (‘The Royal’) and Littlewoods.

The Royal was founded in 1845 and had its headquarters in New Hall Place, aka ‘The Sandcastle’. It was also the only FTSE 100 company with an HQ in Liverpool. This is where yours truly started his IT career as a graduate trainee in 1988. At the time there were 400 or so IT staff and about 2,000 Royal staff in total in The Sandcastle.

Directly over the road on the other side of the street was the HQ for Littlewoods, named the JM Centre after John Moores who founded Littlewoods in 1923. The Littlewoods empire covered retail and football pools. During the 1980s Littlewoods was the largest private company in Europe.Somewhat bizarrely, the two large employers on opposite sides of Old Hall St were both very early adopters of Teradata. That’s right, Liverpool was a hotbed of ‘Big Data’ early adoption – dating right back to the mid-1980s, before most bearded hipsters were even born. Imagine that!

A lot of credit for the early adoption of Teradata in Liverpool, Manchester and further afield in the north of England was due to the efforts of my good friend Jim ‘The Phone’ Clarke (RIP) and his Teradata colleagues. Well done chaps.

After leaving The Royal in ’92 I spent the next 10 years as a freelance Teradata contractor. Following ‘a year of grunge’ at Bank of America in San Francisco, I rocked up at TSB in Manchester. After 6 years I eventually left what had become Lloyds-TSB-C&G-Scottish Widows.

I didn’t leave Lloyds lightly, but the role on offer was simply too tempting: I was hired as the technical lead to work on ‘project Zeus’ for Littlewoods. The project was based in Littlewoods HQ: the JM Centre in Old Hall St, Liverpool. No more hundred-mile-a-day round-trip commuting to ‘Sunny Wyth’, as the LTSB folks called Wythenshawe. I was finally based back in Old Hall St after leaving The Royal eight years previously.

Project Zeus represented a £multi-million investment in Teradata’s database and newly acquired CRM application, SAS for analytics, and MicroStrategy for BI. Although Littlewoods had been Teradata users for over a decade at this point, project Zeus represented a major platform upgrade to enable more advanced CRM, analytics, and BI.

During the start of the first quarter of 2001, the Littlewoods Zeus team was extended with Teradata application developers. This included VLDB’s very own Dave Agnew and Stu Pemberton, both fledgling freelancers and both ex-Great Universal Stores (GUS) in Manchester. Like The Royal and Littlewoods, GUS was also a very early Teradata adopter.

Throughout 2001-02 the team toiled away to build the Zeus platform. The views from the 9th floor on the JM Centre over Liverpool, the River Mersey and of North Wales were enjoyed by all. Myself, Dave and Stu also took the required exams to become amongst the first Teradata Certified Masters during this period.

The Shop Direct Group (‘SD’) was founded in 2005 as the merger between Littlewoods and GUS. Dave and Stu were central to the development efforts to merge GUS onto the ex-Littlewoods Zeus platform. SD headquarters moved from the JM Centre to the old Liverpool airport at Speke.

VLDB has occupied various offices in Liverpool. During 2018 we took the decision to look for something nearer the CBD. The ‘funky’ end of town had become a bit tired for our liking.

After a bit of digging around, we got in touch with Bruntwood, who seemed to have a large presence in the CBD. Of particular interest was the fact they owned The Plaza, which is none other than the old Littlewoods HQ – the JM Centre. In fact, The Plaza is their flagship office building in Liverpool.

As a testament to Richard Jackson’s power of negotiation, we managed to secure new offices in none other than The Plaza. Not only that, we’re on the 12th floor facing the ‘Royal Blue Mersey’.

So, after starting out as an IT trainee on the other side of Old Hall St, I’m sat here with my river view writing this blog from VLDB’s shiny new offices, three floors above where VLDB’s senior team met while developing the Zeus platform that still runs at Shop Direct nearly two decades later.

It’s good to be ‘back home’