Scor­pio News


January–March 1987 – Volume 1. Issue 1.

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Dealer Profile – Marston Spurrier

[Ed. – This is the first of our Dealer Profiles, which we hope will be a regular feature, this time taking a look at Marston Spurrier.]

Marston Spurrier consists of Nick Spurrier plus occasional contract programmers and, as he says, “half a wife and three eighths of a dog”. So it is one of the smaller Gemini dealerships, is located in sunny Battersea and specialises in the Challenger and 68K-BUS with a particular orientation towards the Mirage Operating System.

How Nick got into the business is interesting because it illustrates a point which we are all trying to put across – that a computer will usually be invaluable in business – and also shows that once the virus which infects anyone who does serious programming takes hold it does not let go.

The time is early 1977. Nick is Chief Executive of Argyle Securities Limited, a public company in property development, investment, retailing, housebuilding, fertiliser manufacturing, and small-time banking, operating through about 132 companies in the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA. And he is going quietly mad, wading monthly through mounds of financial paper in order to keeps grip on precisely what is going on in each company.

Argyle is not a big company being worth just over £20 million (say £80 million in today’s money) but the £20 million is represented by £140 million of assets and £120 million of debt; most of the assets are property and the property crash is by no means over. Nick needs a computer. The problem is that there aren’t many around and there is certainly no software to buy off the peg. So he buys one of the first Apples which as he says “was pretty useless but a stop-gap” and starts writing programs in BASIC to consolidate financial information into an understandable form.

A few months Later on a trip to the USA Nick buys a ‘proper’ micro – a Vector MZ – based on the S100 bus and running CP/M. With some considerable effort, knowing initially nothing about hardware and little about programming, he has a home made database manager and a cash flow analyser up and running. These provide the basic tools for him to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of his operating companies and to embark on a programme of disinvestment to stabilise the business and produce information to keep his bankers as happy a they could be, when similar companies were crashing to the ground at regular intervals. This is a fairy story (but true) because having access to more ‘instant’ information he is able to sell off companies which have inherent dangers for his group and monitor the sale of properties and debt repayment schedules so that by 1979, Argyle is turned into a ‘cash shell’ and sold.

Coming to the Gemini connection, in 1982 Nick (now a director of Allied Suppliers Ltd, then the 4th largest food retailer in the UK) replaces the Vector with one of the first Galaxys. This is in order to implement a project to finalise the rationalisation of the property assets of Allied, which consisted of 1,250 operating stores and over 800 ‘investment properties’, which he had begun in 1980. He wrote the software for this in Pascal language. He began a ‘love affair’ with low-level programming and the Pascal language. He also became a Gemini fan because of the reliability of the hardware (plug. plug) and soon replaced the Galaxy 1 with a Galaxy 3 (Winchester based system). It is a sad reflection on corporate life that his employers would only permit IBM Computers on the premises so he had to buy the Galaxys himself and conceal them as Word Processors. This was also a fairy story (of the Brothers Grimm variety) because Allied was taken over by Argyll Foods, Nick’s project was satisfactorily completed, and there was nowhere for him to go but out with a silver-gilt handshake. So in 1985 he started Marston Spurrier.

With a background in larger business and knowledge of the problems facing organisations wishing to implement Financial Control and Information Systems properly, Nick remained steadfastly unaffected by the lure of IBM XT/AT systems and their wealth of software, believing that the future lay in true multi-user

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