Joe McNally, who founded Compaq’s UK subsidiary in 1984 and turned it into one of the UK’s major computing brands, has died at the age of 69 after a three-year battle with cancer. McNally famously founded the UK branch of Compaq, then a fast-growing force in the US computing market, with a modest $40,000 (£25,000).
Joe McNally, who founded Compaq’s UK subsidiary in 1984 and turned it into one of the UK’s major computing brands, has died at the age of 69 after a three-year battle with cancer.
McNally famously founded the UK branch of Compaq, then a fast-growing force in the US computing market, with a modest $40,000 (£25,000). Thirteen years later the subsidiary had crossed the £1bn sales threshhold, the first of Compaq’s subsidiaries to do so, and had become a major challenger to the likes of IBM in the UK.
The road to Compaq
From his beginnings sweeping roads while retook an A-level, McNally later worked as a supply teacher and was sacked from his father’s steel stockholding company.
He entered the IT sector as a programmer with ICL and a salesman with Honeywell, before moving to meat and bacon processing firm FMC Harris for management experience, where he became chief executive of the group.
After being ousted from FMC Harris in the midst of a hostile takeover by Hillsdown Holdings, McNally was approached by Compaq about opening a UK branch of the company. He told PR Week UK in 2001 of his initial reluctance to take on the job.
“They said they’re in the personal computer business,” he said at the time. “I replied, ‘do you mean the microcomputer business?’ and I said, ‘no, I’m a mainframe man, I don’t want to get involved in that rubbish, that’s much below my acumen’.”
A week’s visit to Compaq’s headquarters in Houston changed his mind. The company gave him $40,000 and put him to work.
“They gave me $40,000,” he recalled in 2001. “I had no office, no staff, I had no lawyers, no PR company, no auditors, no advertising company, no company car… The UK now turns over £3.5bn and is still the largest and most profitable subsidiary outside the US. Overall number one in the PC market – taking over from IBM in the late eighties.”
McNally was vice president and managing director at Compaq UK when he retired in 2001, the same year that HP bought Compaq in what was the IT industry’s biggest vendor merger to date.
Last year he was made a Commander of the Victorian Order (CVO) for his work in helping young people to develop through the Duke of Edinburgh Award programme.
Tributes from the channel lauded McNally’s work in building the UK channel.
“Joe McNally supported the developing UK IT channels – a fine, no-nonsense leader who influenced many, including me,” tweeted Ian French, chief executive of channel consultancy Siceo, who worked with McNally during his time as head of Bell Microproducts. “I will miss him.”
* Mike Magee writes: Practically every old timer in the industry knew Joe McNally, and the enormous influence and wisdom he brought to the PC industry in the UK. He always had time for journalists, and furthermore, wasn’t afraid, off the record to criticise mistakes he thought his American masters brought to the UK party. He will be sadly missed.