Sir Robin Saxby has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Edge Hill University in recognition of his contribution to business and technology. An extraordinary leader and pioneer of innovation, the 72-year-old and his team at ARM can lay claim to have transformed how we live our lives. Born in Derbyshire and educated at Chesterfield Grammar School, Sir Robin gained a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Electronics from the University of Liverpool in 1968, fulfilling an obsession which saw him, in his early teens, running his own radio and TV repair business. He reflected fondly on his time in the region during his speech, which ignited his love for Liverpool FC and deepened his passion for music – as well as meeting his future wife, Patricia. He said:
“My uncle played left-back for Chesterfield, but I had to follow the Reds! I used to build amplifiers for rock ‘n’ roll bands, Liverpool ‘was’ music for me growing up where I did. “On 26 November 1966 I was here at Edge Hill, at a flower dance with my friend, Phil. He was nervous trying to find a girl to dance with, but it is where I first meet Patricia, whose parents were visiting friends in nearby Old Roan. I soon forgot about him, and in the end, he initially refused to drive us home. But I’m glad, as an engineer, I was able to remember her number. It is so touching that we can go back down memory lane, a lovely surprise. “It’s so amazing for me to be back here again, after so many years – perhaps one day somebody here will follow in my footsteps? “I still keep in touch with eight friends from university, despite life’s ups and downs we meet up, truly it is a place where you’ll make friends for life.”
He worked for Rank Bush Murphy (with whom he learnt about the importance of working closely with his marketing department!), Pye Ltd, Motorola and Henderson Security – with whom he took on his first CEO role – and European Silicon Structures. It was with the latter where he encountered somebody who would prove so influential later in his life.
“I had a bullying boss there in my mid-30s, I felt useless, he was always rating me as a three out of 10 for everything, I had a tough time. But it made me realise I could make the subsequent project at ARM work. If that hadn’t happened, perhaps the success might not have followed.”
He became the first CEO of Cambridge-based ARM in 1991 and was instrumental in it becoming a global giant over the next 15 years, the last five of which he served as Chairman. Upon appointment, he recruited 12 engineers from Acorn Computers into the newly-formed joint venture between Acorn and Apple Inc, transforming them into a formidable management team. The key to the company’s subsequent success was in having the foresight to introduce the licensing model for selling microprocessors. He said:
“I’d learnt that people are key to success, fostering a sense of togetherness and teamwork.”
Having the intellectual property they created through the design and systems on the processors, rather than making their own chips, meaning that any company could incorporate them into their own design needs, an audacious approach in the industry. They would eventually hoover up 95% market share in the mobile phone sector. Similar success in other areas such as car technology, robotics, medical monitors and inhalers made ARM into the world’s most successful processor company, its growth in terms of sales, employees and market share mirrored in its global reach, with offices based around the world and licenses taken by all significant semiconductor companies – unique for a British company, particularly in the electronics sector. Knighted in 2002, since his retirement five years later he has been a tireless promoter and champion of young entrepreneurs and continues to be involved in numerous start-up companies. He also retains an enthusiasm for art and music, recording with his son.
“Age is just a number – I’ve moved on to do so many other things, working with my son is such a real bonding experience. I’m still interested in so many things, it keeps me active.”
His role call of honours includes a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society, a Faraday Medal, several honorary degrees and the Founders Medal awarded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He advised:
“It’s important to live your life to the full, life is your oyster. Remember, life’s about experiencing everything, gaining an all-round education, not just focusing on your studies. Make the most of life – there are enough pressures. Enjoy your friends, enjoy your time. “And don’t worry about making mistakes, it’s part of learning – but make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice!”