Software engineer and co-founder of Sage Group plc
Graham Wylie is best known as co-founder with David Goldman of the Sage Group plc which, in 2017, had operating revenues of £1,696 million and an operating profit of £475 million. Sage provides accounting and accounting-related business systems for three million customers, small and medium-sized enterprises, in 23 countries around the world, clustered in Europe and North America. The company still has a large operation in Newcastle, although it is now headquartered in Wokingham, Surrey.
Graham has the distinction of writing the original code for the Sage accounting package. His partnership with David Goldman, owner of a local printing firm, began while he was an undergraduate studying computer science at Newcastle University. He was not a typical undergraduate, more drawn to practical affairs that academic studies and partying, and on the lookout for opportunities for paid employment. Goldman meanwhile was on the lookout for bright business ideas and the two clicked. In 1981, with the American computer scientist Paul Muller, they established the Sage business, initially with two products, an estimating package for printing firms and the accountancy package developed by Wylie during his undergraduate days. The former was soon sold to finance the development and marketing of the latter. Through a combination of simple but clever marketing and dogged persistence, they began to build a loyal customer base and refine the Sage business model, which relies not only on new sales but the provision of support to customers and supply of sundries. The business really took off following the introduction by Alan Sugar in 1984 of the Amstrad personal computer for which Sage quickly produced a low-cost version of its software. Orders flooded in, new platforms were developed, new modules added and new markets developed overseas. The company was successfully launched on the London Stock Exchange in 1989, making its founders wealthy at a stroke.
This was a remarkable journey for Graham Wylie. He was born into a working-class family and brought up in Whitley Bay, his father a miner, his mother a seamstress. He was academically gifted and, after passing the 11+ examination, he attended Whitley Bay Grammar School before moving on to Newcastle University. He continued to live at home because his father was then living with Parkinson’s disease and his mother needed support. It was through working part-time so that he could help out at home that he met Goldman and Muller, which proved a most fortunate turning point in his life. The business went in double-quick time from being small, high energy business, which made things up as it went along, to a larger, corporate enterprise involved in mergers and acquisitions across the world. David Goldman stepped down as chief executive in 1994 and was replaced by Paul Walker who had served as finance director since 1983, and who is widely credited as the business brain behind the international expansion of Sage. Graham retained oversight of software development as head of the UK business before he left the company in 2003 to pursue other ventures. Of these, one of the most notable has been the development of Close House in Northumbria as a Golf Resort with the courses and facilities needed to host professional tournaments like the British Masters in 2017.
Alongside his business interests, Graham Wylie has come to play a special role in North East philanthropy, not least in supporting others to realise their philanthropic ambitions, for example, by playing host to the Golf Day organized by Alan Shearer in support of his foundation. His personal philanthropic journey began when his daughter Kiera was found to have a serious heart defect. She underwent surgery numerous times at the Children’s Heart Unit at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. Seeing her plight and the wonderful, life-saving care she received was a source of inspiration, another turning point in Graham’s life. He has since made many large donations amounting to more than a million pounds to the Heart Unit to ensure it has the best equipment and facilities available to help as many children as possible.
Since then, Graham Wylie’s philanthropy has grown in its scale, scope and ambition with the establishment in 2016 of the Graham Wylie Foundation. The goal of the foundation is “to help educate and inspire children in the North East” to realise their full potential:
“I was brought up in the North East. It’s where I set up business, it’s where I live and it’s where I’m bringing up my own children, so it’s incredibly important to me to launch this Foundation, enabling me to give back to the region in a very significant way.”
To achieve this, the foundation will invest selectively in projects that can be proven to make a big difference to the lives of people in need of support. A good example is the creation of a music therapy centre in Jesmond (Newcastle) for children with autism or who may have experienced some sort of trauma and who through learning to play a musical instrument might become more confident. This is modelled on the tried and tested Nordoff Robbins approach known as creative music therapy. It is the first centre of its kind outside London and was opened by North East music superstar Sting in March 2018.
The Graham Wylie Foundation is not intended as an exclusively family affair, but rather as an organisation to which others might make contributions, large and small. In 2016, for example, it raised almost £100,000 by organising a 'Run, Rock 'n Raise' concert at Metro Radio Area, which was held on the day of the Great North Run. The event was headlined by rock band, the Kaiser Chiefs.
Graham Wylie’s contribution to the North East has been recognised in the form of a CBE in 2003 and honorary doctorates from Northumbria (2000) and Newcastle (2004) Universities. He holds the Freedom of the City of Newcastle, the highest honour the city can bestow on a citizen.
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Wikipedia. (2018). Wylie, Graham, Available here (Accessed 04/09/2018).