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Peter Bonfield

Challenge!” That’s why British-born Peter Bonfield says he shed the cozy security blanket of Texas Instruments in 1981 and stepped into a maelstrom of losses and declining credibility at International Computers Ltd., the second largest systems company in Britain after IBM.Despite ICL’s low profile in the U.S., Bonfield, 49, has orchestrated moves that have marked …

Challenge!” That’s why British-born Peter Bonfield says he shed the cozy security blanket of Texas Instruments in 1981 and stepped into a maelstrom of losses and declining credibility at International Computers Ltd., the second largest systems company in Britain after IBM.

Despite ICL’s low profile in the U.S., Bonfield, 49, has orchestrated moves that have marked the company as a European pathfinder during his term as chairman and CEO. Long before U.S. computer captains were touting client-server technology, open systems, and industry alliances, ICL was investing money in open standards, solutions, and services, and collaborating with anyone willing to share R&D costs.

Seeking to make inroads outside the continent, ICL joined forces in 1990 with Japan‘s Fujitsu, the world’s second largest information technology supplier. In so doing, Bonfield says, it secured a cash injection and established a beachhead in Asia. The terms of the deal were more than acceptable, he notes, lounging in his leather-bound chair, overlooking the River Thames from the 18th floor of his luxurious London headquarters building. “When someone offers you $1.3 billion for an 80 percent share of your company and says you can still run it-you don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.”

Particularly not while margins on open standards products are plunging with frightening velocity. Year-on-year, ICL revenues grew 31 percent in 1992 to a record $4.35 billion, but operating profit dropped 22.3 percent to $106 million.

Furthermore, ICL is facing investigation by the Ministry of Defense in Britain for alleged overcharging on certain ministry contracts. Bonfield is predictably testy on the subject and sputters, “It’s all bull. There’s no evidence, and they know it!”

But while storms rage at ICL headquarters on Putney High Street, Bonfield is poring  over more global issues, including ways to maintain 30 percent annual growth in Eastern Europe amid stiff competition. Strangely, the U.S. isn’t high on ICL’s list of priorities.

“We are No. 3 in retail systems in America, but we won’t be extending beyond that specialization,” says Bonfield, who was divisional director in the U.S. for Texas Instruments between 1966 and 1981. “Think about it. Most of the disasters encountered by European companies in the U.S. occur when they try to get into the general purpose computing market. Not us.” 

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