Jim The Phone

I'm writing this in a bar on a business trip to the USA...how apt, I'm sure Jim would have approved.

Anyway, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

I first met Jim Clarke back at Royal Insurance in Liverpool in the late 1980's. I had recently moved from working on IMS and Cobol in the application support team (yuk!) to the reporting function in the Information Systems (IS) division. As a graduate trainee we got moved around every 6 months, so this was not unusual. Little did I know that this move would shape the next 20 years, and maybe longer, for yours truly.

My new role consisted of support and development of the Householders Information System (HIS). This contained historical data relating to policy holders and claims, and was refreshed every 3 months from the IMS policy, claims and accounts OLTP systems. Forget real-time, daily or even weekly feeds. How about quarterly!?!?!?!

HIS ran on a new-fangled machine called 'Teradata', with the Teradata FastLoad, MultiLoad and BTEQ client software running on the IBM mainframe. No escape from JCL, but at least IMS was consigned to history. Phew.

Royal Insurance were very early Teradata adopters, thanks to Jim and the team in the northern Teradata sales office. The Teradata V1 architecture consisted of the Teradata DBMS running on top of a proprietary OS (Teradata OS or TOS), which crashed a lot, powered by Intel x86 chips which each owned it's own disk. I think we may have had about 40 CPUs at the time.

Little did I realise I had moved onto the world's first commercially available Massively Parallel Processing (MPP) technology. The name made sense – 'Tera' (byte) and 'data' = 'Teradata', and a terabyte seemed like a very, very big database at the time. SQL beat the hell out of Cobol, was all that I cared about.

Due to the 'reassuringly expensive' nature of the Teradata technology (ring any bells?), the biggest issue we seemed to have was a lack of space. No sooner was it made available than the users found more data they just had to have loaded. Some things never change in that respect.

As a consequence of the users insatiable desire for more space, Jim was always on hand to make sure an upgrade was available. He always made sure the Teradata SE team kept finding more data to load, he confided many years later.

After one particular splurge on more space Jim was stood nearby talking to his then wife on his mobile phone. Yes, as mobile phone in about 1989! 'How very flash' thought I, or words to that effect. I seemed to remember Jim being proud of the commission he'd just earned on the upgrade. It would have been like a lottery win to yours truly, so overhearing this smug Teradata salesmen telling his wife via mobile phone within hearing distance was a tad annoying, to say the least.

Frustrated with lack of career opportunities, I left Royal Insurance in '92 and went freelance, initially consulting to Bank of America in San Francisco, on Teradata and Nomad (remember that?). Jim and his team were very successful in the north of England. In addition to Royal Insurance, Teradata sites popped up at Littlewoods, Great Universal Stores (GUS), TSB, Makro, Co-operative Retail, Grattan, JD Williams and Asda, to name a few.

Jim stayed at Teradata, which was acquired by NCR, which in turn was acquired by AT+T. NCR was eventually spun off from NCR, and Teradata was spun off from NCR before going public a few years ago. Before his departure from NCR/Teradata in the mid-1990's, Jim was head of government operations responsible for selling to Her Majesty's finest (cough).

During 2001-02 I was engaged on a Teradata upgrade project at Littlewoods (now ShopDirect) in Liverpool. Jim was working for SAS at the time, and was also engaged on the project. Our paths never crossed, which seems most unlikely in retrospect.

In the summer of 2003 I was riding my bike slowly uphill past the car park of our local pub – The Shrewsbury Arms, aka “The Shrew”. A convertible Jaguar XJS rumbled slowly past, turned into the car park and stopped.

As it was a V12 engined XJS, identified by the badges on the exterior, I pedalled over and asked the driver where he took his car for care and attention. Jim took out a SAS business card and scribbled down the contact details for “RG Bate Engineering” on the back. As the owner of a V12 engined Jaguar E-Type, this was a very welcome bit of information. I said thanks and off I went.

My own E-Type has been entrusted to Bob Bate ever since Jim gave me his contact details. One day I was chatting to Bob and remembered I had been given his contact details by Jim, written on the back of a SAS business card. We were looking to expand our sales capability so I asked Bob if he would pass my details onto Jim and ask him to call me.

Jim phoned the same day and arranged to meet the next afternoon in The Shrew (where else?). As he began to tell me his story I smiled more and more. Eventually it became apparent...this is the man himself sat in front of me...”you're Jim The Phone”!?!?!?!

Some 14 years after out paths first crossed at Royal Insurance, and after both being engaged on the same project at Littlewoods a few years earlier (without knowing it), here we were sat in our local pub, the much-loved Shrew where Jim even had his own dimpled pint pot behind the bar. Jim happened to live in the next road to me, about a 5 minute stroll away. There is more Teradata talent in Oxton Village, but that's another story.

Jim and I became business associates and very good friends from this point onwards. After many sales missions and business trips together I never tired of his company. He seemed to know everyone, especially those that worked in every decent pub up and down the country between home and the south-east.

His self-appointed nickname was “septic knuckles” - a reference to the gusto with which he enjoyed opening a sales opportunity. During the volcanic ash cloud incident last year Jim managed to get himself stranded and unable to get home...from Majorca. Typical!!!

Due to his public school accent, attire, and general demeanour, Jim reminded me of the old-school actor Terry Thomas. As a result I would answer the phone “ding-dong” whenever he called. He got his own back with that iron handshake. God help those who weren't prepared for it. You could lose fingers if you weren't careful.

Although Jim had experienced health problems over the last few years, his career was very much on an upswing again selling software and services to the NHS. His sudden death before Xmas came very much as a shock to very many of us.

Jim, we sent you off in the style you would have appreciated – several beers in West Kirby sailing club and The Shrew. Even Bob Bate turned up. You were a true one-off and it was a pleasure to have known you and enjoyed so many pleasurable times together.