The robots are coming

Oundle alumni Sir Howard Stringer visits school to deliver lecture on technology

Former Oundle pupil, Sir Howard Stringer returned recently to deliver the 2015 Oundle Lecture entitled, ‘The Robots are Coming’.

The focus of Sir Howard’s talk, much of which was directed to the sixth form pupils in the audience, was about embracing an entrepreneurial drive to take risks and innovate. He spoke about the pace of change that has seen more technological shifts in the last five years than in the previous fifty years.

Sir Howard reflected on his time at Sony and urged pupils to not protect what they have too jealously, but to collaborate with others: “If you think that someone else’s idea is better, join them.”

Sir Howard also encouraged pupils to take risks, and was honest about his own past failures. Alluding to the title of his talk, he admitted that during his time at Sony he had ‘killed a robot’, the famous Aibo robo-doggie. At the time, the robotics unit was too expensive, and not ’sexy’. Now, he predicted, the potential of robotics is vast, and is developing so quickly, it will change the nature of work forever.

In a fast-changing world where new opportunities are accelerating and the status quo is being turned upside down, he told the pupils: “The only way to make sense of it, is to stand on your head’. ‘Work together and invent the future. It is a very exciting time to be you.”

Event organiser, Chemistry teacher and Sanderson Fellow, Dr James Bessent commented: “Sir Howard’s talk on the quickening of technological advance struck a chord with the assembled pupils. Intelligent questions were raised and he was quick to praise pupils for their insight.

The proceeds, £1750, from the charity dinner that followed the lecture were donated to the School’s Life-Changing Bursary Scheme, which aims to provide fully-funded opportunities for promising children to attend Oundle.”

From Wales to Oundle and onwards from Oxford, Sir Howard sailed to the US in the 1960s and charmed his way into a menial job answering phones behind the scenes at the Ed Sullivan show. With youthful naivety, he joined the Vietnam War so that he could keep his Green Card, and returned to the US to work for thirty years at CBS where he hired David Letterman, produced Dan Rather’s news programme, and individually won nine Emmy awards for writing, producing and directing documentaries. As President he was responsible for all broadcast activities across television and radio, and had a major impact on US entertainment and news. After a failed venture to set up a new platform for television called Tele-TV, he joined Sony Corps where he rose to CEO and later Chair until 2013, overseeing the entire business from film to electronics.

Over the years, the Stringer family has maintained strong ties to Oundle. Sir Howard has been a major supporter of ongoing projects, and in 1998 co-financed the creation of OSCAR  – the School’s radio station which broadcasts twice a year. Lady Stringer is a governor and their son was also a pupil in Laundimer House.