Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mario de Pace 1943 - 2015

Mario de Pace

Mark Holford has sent in a piece on the influential former IT partner of Thomas Miller who died after Christmas at the age of 72 in St Agnes, Cornwall:-

Mario de Pace was born and grew up in South Africa, coming to the UK as a young man. He joined Thomas Miller in 1975 in their Cockfosters office and throughout his 25 year career was Head of IT. As the importance of IT grew, so did his role and eventually to such an extent he became a partner in 1988.

I knew nothing of Mario when I was appointed by the then Thomas Miller Senior Partner, David Martin-Clark, to work with him in 1990 on an IT strategy. In fact most of the things I had heard were negative. How wrong they were. He was the best colleague to work with. Always wise and supportive. It was a "marriage" made in heaven: we each complemented our strengths and weaknesses. Mario was a past master at ensuring that everyone was on side before a meeting took place, while I was good at presentations, which he did not like doing. In fact the first illustrated presentation ever made to the Thomas Miller Board / Partnership was our 1990 IT Strategy – we used 35mm slides made from a PowerPoint type presentation package; we created it together and I delivered it, heavily rehearsed by Mario!
 Mario, Sam Ignarski and myself turned our IT Strategy into a competition entry on a vision for the London Market. It won the first prize, which included a pair of video conference phones – we never used them!
 Mario was a visionary. We were one of the first London insurance companies to get internal email in the very early 90’s (actually 1987). He then suggested that I look at a product called Lotus Notes (eventually taken over by IBM). It took me 6 months to grasp why it was so powerful, but he had seen it immediately. Only now is Thomas Miller ceasing to use it. 
Arising out of the IT Strategy Mario and I created some very big projects, including “Guide”, a complex underwriting system, that had its challenges. Yet he always was clear-sighted, encouraging and helped me through some difficult times to a satisfactory outcome. “Oasis”, our largest project, was designed to make Thomas Miller’s claims paperless and to control the entire claims documentation process. This was radical in 1995 and the size of the project was ambitious. Mario was taken to Peterborough by IBM, our project partner, to see how the Sun Alliance handled 2m motor claims. When he commented that we only had 85,000, the IBM executive said”… but you have more documents than they do!” Despite its size and complexity, the project was a great success and won a number of awards. My colleague Kim Vernau (now the CEO of a major Thomas Miller subsidiary, BLP Insurance,) ran the project and remembers “how supportive Mario was during the project, both in terms of advice and in managing the Budget!”. Mario always had money squirrelled away and would find the funds – sometimes large sums – to do things. We never knew how he hid them from the Finance Director, Bruce Kesterton (now the Thomas Miller CEO). Despite, or probably because of, this, his projects were always on or below budget.
 A young Swedish lawyer, Åke Nilson, joined Thomas Miller in the late 80’s and left in 1992 to start a business in shipping EDI using technology to connect businesses. Mario had the foresight to stay in touch with Åke, who was developing a project to create paperless electronic bills of lading. In 1996 he said to me that Åke needed help to fund the business, christened Bolero. Between us we managed to persuade SWIFT (the banks’ payment network) and the TT Club (Thomas Miller’s second biggest mutual) to invest $5m each. Bolero still exists today.
 The last thing we did together was Transactio. In 2000, the middle of the dotcom bubble, Mario and I, along with two other Thomas Miller executives, decided that we should try to use Thomas Miller’s connections to create Transactio, a shipping portal dotcom. As always Mario was a core part of the vision. The deal was that if we got funded the four of us would leave Thomas Miller. We drew up a pragmatic and modest plan and set out to raise money but we could not find funding. I always said that we failed was because we were not prepared to lie and say we would get £50m of shipping advertising - everybody else did. Had we got funded, there is no doubt that we would have been the oldest “dotcommers”; all the rest even in shipping were in their 20’s. It is interesting there were over 200 shipping dotcoms by the end of 2000 and only about 5 survive today. Following our failure to find funding, Thomas Miller decided to invest in one of these survivors, ShipServ, a shipping ecommerce business.
At this point Mario took the wise decision to hang up his IT / Thomas Miller boots and retire to Cornwall. Despite illness, he took up another challenge, driving the renovation and conversion of the St Agnes Miners’ & Mechanics Institute into a successful community centre. In this as in all his projects he showed great drive and determination, despite failing health.
 Finally the other thing I remember was his vicious one fingered typing; he would destroy a keyboard a year. He wrote 7 IT help books this way. I am pleased to see that they are still available on Amazon. Like many of his achievements he was very quiet and modest about his writing career.
Thomas Miller owes him an enormous debt of gratitude; all the systems we put in place in the 90’s are still there and only just now being replaced. It is a testimony to their quality and inspiration that they have been difficult to supplant. To me he was a wonderful colleague and friend. Our careers were inextricably linked for 10 years and I owe him a huge amount. All my retirement activities are involved with IT and without Mario I would not be doing any of them. I know that you will be watching over us and ensuring that we apply your wisdom. R.I.P.

[Your editor is also highly indebted to MdP for his wise guidance over many years, not to mention his friendship]

[nb Mark Holford is the Chairman of]

Reprinted from The Maritime Advocate 12th January 2016

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