Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

My Digital Hero: Chris Mellish, CEO of TMW Unlimited and President of BIMA

Chris Mellish is the CEO of TMW Unlimited and has recently become the president of BIMA. In a stellar career, he’s also held posts at Blackbook London, Razorfish and Blast Radius. We asked Chris to nominate his Digital Hero.

Who is your Digital Hero?

I’m not going to pretend that this is someone who has inspired me throughout my career, in fact, if I’m honest, it was only around 3 years ago that I was first exposed to her story. But writing this the week of International Women’s Day, having been involved in some inspiring discussions and heard some eye-opening perspectives from women I work with, I felt compelled to say that Dame Stephanie Shirley is my Digital Hero.

What have they done to win hero status in your eyes?

If you aren’t aware of her story then I recommend you take some time to find out more, it’s truly awe-inspiring.  There are I believe plans afoot for a Hollywood movie of her life.

Dame Shirley escaped the holocaust and arrived in the UK as a child refuge at the age of just 5.  Following university and just after the war, she went on to fight her way into the male-dominated computer programming industry.  

She then went on to found her own computer programming business in the 1960s and due to the sexism she had faced during her career, decided to build a business that provided opportunities for women to work in the industry, particularly those who had dependents and struggled to find work that could fit around their commitments.  Of her first 300 employees only 3 were male and to successfully grow her business, she famously used to sign her business development letters as Steve Shirly to ensure they weren’t rejected simply due to her gender.  Her team went on to develop numerous breakthrough solutions including the software for the BlackBox on Concorde.

Following the sale of her business and flotation on the stock market she has since donated most of her wealth to charitable causes.  Hard to do her life justice in a few short sentences, but a truly heroic list of achievements. 

How has their heroism helped drive digital?

We are all aware of the proven benefits of diverse workforces, so breaking down gender barriers in such a male-dominated industry back in the 1960s was an incredible achievement, one that has since paved the way for many women to enter the industry.  There is so much we can take from her boldness at what was a very different time, and much we could apply to our digital industry today.

What are the biggest challenges in digital we need another hero to solve?

Our industry still very much has its own diversity and inclusion challenges, and we need more heroes to help us take the transformational leaps that will really progress this agenda.

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in digital?

In context of the above nothing I’ve achieved really feels appropriate.  However recently taking on the BIMA Presidency does offer me a chance to help drive the Digital talent agenda here in the UK.  I hope to be able to sit here in a few years and say that in some small way I have contributed to fostering and nurturing a more diverse and inclusive talent base for the UK digital industry.