Sir Alan Thomas was a businessman and entrepreneur with a varied career that spanned engineering, information technology, higher education and government.
From Dynevor Grammar School in Swansea he went to Nottingham University to read mechanical engineering with a scholarship from Richard Thomas and Baldwins, a predecessor firm of British Steel. His involvement in the early development of its technology operations encouraged him to progress into the then-new arena of software and hardware technology, subsequently becoming involved with a fledgling computer business called Data Logic in the late 1960s. Having moved from South Wales to London, he ran the business from his living room, until he opened an office in Richmond. Money was tight in the early days and he and his wife would frequently put up colleagues for a night or two, as they came from other parts of the country to work in and around London. In the evenings he studied for management accountancy exams which he passed as a prizewinner. Under his leadership Data Logic grew rapidly into a cutting-edge developer of business systems, and designed and installed, for JP Morgan’s London office, Europe’s first ever electronic dealing-room system. In 1977 Thomas sold Data Logic to Raytheon, the US industrial group, and continued to run the business until 1985 when he was promoted to run all of Raytheon’s European operations.
In 1989 Thomas was seconded to the Ministry of Defence as head of the Defence Export Services Organisation where his role was to promote Britain’s defence industry, and he was knighted in 1993. During his secondment, the UK overtook France to become the world’s second-biggest defence exporter. When he left DESO he became involved in a listed cash shell into which he later reversed Hyder Consulting, an engineering consulting company. He became Chairman of Hyder Consulting, orchestrating its acquisition by Arcadis in 2014.
He was involved in range of other fields, including higher education, serving as the Chairman of the Court of Governors at the University of Westminster for six years, and the water and energy industries; he was a senior industrial adviser to OFWAT, Chairman of Three Valleys Water and a nonexecutive director of Powergen. He was a past president of the Computer Services Association, a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and an elected Member of the Engineering Council, where he strove to move the perception of engineering in Britain from one of low-technology process to high-technology development and invention worthy of the best and brightest minds in the country.
His love of sport, especially rugby, led to his involvement in London Welsh RFC where he was a director until 2008. Thomas had a deep knowledge and love of music, opera in particular, and was an accomplished pianist and guitarist; as a young man he played the piano in pubs and clubs all over South Wales. Whenever he saw a piano he found it hard to resist playing it, including at his interview for his first job in the computer industry. He came out of the interview with the job, the piano and a good friend. In later years Thomas and his two sons played as a home-grown jazz trio of which he was immensely proud. He is survived by his wife Angela and sons Andrew and Alexander.
Born in Swansea on 4 January 1943, died on 29 August 2017.