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Pioneer behind IT systems design dies

Peter Hermon’s career spanned IT and management, including deploying LEO computers in industry and the integration of IT systems when BA was formed

LEO pioneer Peter Hermon, who oversaw the technology integration of airlines BEA and BOAC to form BA in the 1970s, has died, aged 93.

Hermon’s career in IT began when he joined J Lyons & Co in 1954. There, he cut his computer teeth as one of a remarkable group of British computer pioneers who developed the world’s first business computer and the applications to run on it.

He was responsible for the installation of the first of the second-generation LEO 2 computers for the Imperial Tobacco Company in Bristol. The complexity of the tobacco company’s pricing and credit terms led to the largest and most complex suite of programs yet attempted at the time.

This was followed, in 1959, with the installation of an integrated sales accounting system, a concept years ahead of its time, running on the first of third-generation LEO 3 computers for Dunlop Rubber at Fort Dunlop, where he worked until 1965.

Hermon then joined the airline BOAC, where he developed a computer system that covered every aspect of the airline’s business activity, including reservations, departure control, message switching, flight planning, crew rostering, engineering and financial control. This evolved into the Boadicea project, a network of computers linking cities around the globe from the US to New Zealand, from Finland to South Africa, to a central computer complex in London. 

When BOAC merged with BEA in 1972 to form British Airways, Hermon was tasked with integrating two separate computer installations based on IBM and Univac equipment. He produced a report for the secretary of state for trade and industry that led to the full integration of both airlines to create British Airways in 1976.

Much of the later computer successes at British Airways was credited by Hermon to his time with LEO. The team he built up at BA contained no fewer than nine managers from LEO Computers, with many other ex-LEO people further down the line

His last appointment at BA was as managing director of the airline’s European division. After BA, Hermon joined Tandem Computers as UK managing director. This was followed by a short stint at Lloyds of London.

He then moved on to Harris Queensway as a freelance management consultant to handle assignments for, among others, Saatchi and Saatchi, Argos and Credit Lyonnais. In 1970, he was appointed a part-time adviser to the civil service on computer strategy and later served on the government’s Central Computer Agency.

After retiring, Hermon contributed to a book on the development of the LEO computer, entitled in the UK User-driven innovation and authored a two-volume Hill-walking in Wales, as well as Lifting the veil, a plain-language guide to the Bible.

Hermon married Norma Stuart Brealey in January 1954, the marriage lasting 57 years until her death in 2011. They had four children: David, who predeceased him in 1976, Juliet, Robert and Caroline. Six grandchildren and five great grandchildren also survive him. He was married for a second time in December 2016 to Patricia Cheek.

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