AGT email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-05-10 published
Programmer was a 'people person'
Computer consultant advised clients not only on technology, but on the psychology that made the technology work for the company
Harvey GELLMAN was the first person in Canada to get a PhD based in computer studies.
By Marina STRAUSS Saturday, May 10, 2003 - Page F11
He broke new ground in the computer field long before most Canadians even knew what a software program was, or that computers would so profoundly change their way of communicating and doing business.
Known as the dean of computer consulting, Harvey GELLMAN had a hand in purchasing the first computer in this country in 1952 he ran one of the first software programs and was the first to get a PhD based on computer studies. Last month, Dr. GELLMAN died suddenly in Florida at the age of 78.
He made his name as a consultant who advised clients not only on technology, but on the psychology that made the technology work for a company -- with a knack for matching people's skills to the job at hand, colleagues say.
Most important, Dr. GELLMAN put the clients first, always looking out for their best interests rather than simply the consultant's bottom line, says Jim HAYWARD, his partner at Toronto-based Gellman Hayward and Partners for 18 years until it was sold to Montreal-based CGI Group in 1992.
What particularly distinguished Dr. GELLMAN as a consultant was his departure from others in refusing just to analyze a problem and deliver a report to the client, Mr. HAYWARD says.
Instead, Dr. GELLMAN would find out exactly how far the client was ready to go in implementing any change recommended in a report and then guide the client through the change process.
This fundamental shift took root in the mid-1970s, when Dr. GELLMAN became frustrated that too many consultants simply handed over a report and then walked away from the problem, Mr. HAYWARD says.
"The trick is to work beside the client and walk with them, but don't take the problem away from them, " he says. "It's like therapy."
Together, they applied this form of business therapy at Gellman Hayward, which grew from four partners to about 100 employees before it was sold, boasting a client list that read like a Who's Who of corporate Canada.
Indeed, the firm at one time or another advised all the big banks, Bell Canada, Imperial Oil, Labatt Breweries, Eaton's, Hudson's Bay, Spar Aerospace, TransCanada PipeLines, Noranda, Falconbridge, Inco, Atomic Energy of Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
"It was all the big names, says CGI president Serge GODIN, who worked closely with Dr. GELLMAN after the 1992 acquisition and credits him with helping to manage its huge surge in staff mostly through acquisitions -- by integrating and streamlining the various systems.
"Harvey GELLMAN is a brand name, Mr. GODIN says. "He was quite something, very strong, brilliant -- with a big heart."
He was a man of few words, with a deep-seated respect for and interest in people, colleagues and family.
"He would say, 'The janitor and the president are the same, ' recalls Paul GELLMAN, the younger of his two sons, who also is a computer consultant. "He believed it and he lived it."
From the security officers at Dr. GELLMAN's apartment building in Florida, where he lived half the year in his retirement, to the secretary in his doctor's office -- all were touched by him and upset by his death, Paul says.
Born in 1924, Dr. GELLMAN was the middle of five children of Polish parents who immigrated to Toronto in 1928. His youngest brother Albert says nobody in the household ever quarrelled: a calm reigned in the family and reverberated in the future computer guru.
Still, Dr. GELLMAN's life threatened to take an entirely different course early on, when he dropped out of high school to work in an electrical manufacturing plant and help the family make ends meet.
The factory had an electrical test set that only Dr. GELLMAN was able to figure out, Mr. HAYWARD says. The budding tech whiz realized that he wasn't so dumb, went back to school -- and the rest is history.
He attended the University of Toronto, graduating with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics in 1947. The following year, the university's newly established Computation Centre, headed by Professor Calvin (Kelly) GOTLIEB, invited him to join and study electro-mechanical devices.
Dr. GELLMAN subsequently was involved in purchasing a huge Ferranti computer from England for $250,000. It was the first computer bought in Canada, sponsored in part by one of the centre's clients Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
"The machine would fail every five minutes, Dr. GELLMAN was quoted as saying years later when he was inducted in the industry-sponsored Canadian Information Productivity Awards hall of fame. "We would sit at the monitor and watch the diagonal array of dots, and when a dot dropped, we would stop the machine, reset it and carry on."
He wrote a small program on punch paper tape to help users print efficiently from the computer, one of the first software programs to be run in Canada, and soon he produced the first printout for a computational problem, according to information supplied to Canadian Information Productivity Awards.
In 1951, he obtained his PhD in applied mathematics, the first doctorate in Canada for which the theoretical calculations depended on a computer.
That same year, he became head of computing at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and, by 1955, he founded H. S. Gellman and Co. Ltd. in Toronto to advise the growing number of companies seeking his help.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was his first client and remained one throughout his consulting career.
"He was doing a lot of pioneering work on operating systems, and operating systems that deal with controlling nuclear-power plants, says Bob BANTING, manager of information technology security at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. "He understood the programming and the technical stuff, but he also knew how to manage people.... He was very good at assessing skills."
He hired top talent, sizing up job candidates in minutes, and was able to move seamlesslessly from being a good programmer to a good "people person, Mr. BANTING says.
Dr. GELLMAN's early work was computing based on mathematical equations, but the firm quickly moved into what became known as information technology.
His busy consulting firm was swallowed in 1964 by a subsidiary of de Havilland and subsequently by AGT Data Systems before he left with Mr. HAYWARD to form Gellman Hayward.
But by the early 1990s, the firm was "stuck" and started to seek a buyer, Mr. HAYWARD says. "We didn't know how to get to the next level."
When CGI acquired it in 1992, Dr. GELLMAN stayed on as a senior vice-president until he retired six years later.
In 1997, he co-wrote Riding the Tiger, a book that helps business managers use information technology effectively. He was often quoted in the media on managing information systems, and wrote articles on the topic for The Globe and Mail.
In addition, he received many honours during his career, including being named International Systems Man of the Year in 1967. He was a founding member of the Canadian Information Processing Society, among other professional bodies.
In his personal life, he was a private man and a steadfast father and grandfather nine times over. He was devoted to Lily, his wife of 57 years. They were teenage sweethearts, best of Friends and "a model of how we all should live, " says his son Paul.
When Paul's older brother, Steven, decided to pursue a career as a composer and musician, Dr. GELLMAN had some reservations, aware of the risks of such an unconventional and insecure profession.
"Before I left home to study at Juilliard, he said to me, 'I understand you wanting to become a musician. Become the best musician you can be; but I am concerned that you don't become just a musician, ' " Steven says.
"Dad was reminding me to become a full human being, to develop many facets of my life, just as he did."
Dr. GELLMAN and his wife spent a lot of time in Israel, where they had family. In the mid-1970s, he took a six-month sabbatical from work for an extended stay.
He was also part of a small discussion group called the Senge Circle, started more than a decade ago among business colleagues to discuss Peter Senge's management book, The Fifth Discipline. It evolved into regular breakfast meetings to chew over different business tomes.
The last meeting was in October before he went to Florida when the group delved into the Peter DRUCKER classic, The Practice of Management. Dr. GELLMAN was struck by how relevant the book was almost 50 years after he first read it.
Dr. GELLMAN, who died on April 23, leaves his wife Lily, sons Steven and Paul, and siblings Dorothy, Albert and Esther.
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