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Leo Fantl

August 8, 1924, Teptliz Schoenau, Czechoslovakia
November 11, 2000, Johannesburg, Africa

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LEO FANTL, died Johannesburg November 11th 2000 aged 76. Leo Fantl can be described as a father of business computing. In the LEO team in the nineteen fifties, he was responsible for the successful running of many advanced payroll applications which did much to win confidence for this startling progress in business facilities.


Leo Fantl was born in Teptliz Schoenau in Czechoslovakia in 1924, but had to leave, with his education disrupted, when he was fifteen. He came to Britain on a Jewish 'kinder transport' and found himself work as an agricultural labourer. He was attracted to mathematics and used every opportunity , somehow, to continue his studies. When he was eighteen he enlisted in the Royal Air Force, where he was able to gain a knowledge of electronics. At the end of the war, Fantl obtained a job at J. Lyons in the Planning Department, which organised new developments in the Company's factories and used work-study techniques to calculate the standard times for manual operations. During a trawl of the Company's resources for possible computing talent, he admitted some electronics knowledge and was soon recruited as an early member of the very small LEO programming team Fantl's first major assignment was to prepare the test program for the LEO computer that was under construction. This involved close collaboration with the engineers. At this stage of technological development it had to be accepted that there was an intrinsic unreliability. The aim of the test programmers was to identify in advance any potential weaknesses in the components and circuitry and to enable these to be corrected before live runs started. Success in this area meant that LEO was able to embark on long, time-sensitive runs with confidence. There followed a period acting as the programming interface with the many scientific customers who came to LEO for service work before the system was ready for full-scale integrated business computing. Fantl was involved with everything from ballistic calculations to weather forecasting and missile calculations. Among other tasks he was responsible for the calculation of the first PAYE tax tables for the Inland Revenue to be produced on an electronic computer. Leo Fantl's very special contribution to business computing started when he was given responsibility for payroll programming. In those days, because of the small store that was available, every payroll suite had to be specially tailored to the requirements of the particular company. The first of these, Fantl produced for the Ford Motor Company's very large workforce in Dagenham, Essex. With his team, who came to him with no more than basic training, Fantl completed this in a remarkably short time. Machine time for trials was extremely scarce and the discipline in pre-trial checking that Fantl imposed made it possible to overcome what might have been an insuperable impediment. Later, payrolls were produced, among others, for the camera and film works of Kodak, the sugar refineries of Tate and Lyle, the steel works of Stewarts and Lloyds ( later British Steel ) and the Department of Social Security's administrative complex outside Newcastle. In the cases of the companies based in the United States, it was Fantl's accomplishment to install payroll applications altogether more advanced than those achieved by the parent companies. Many of those who joined LEO later remember the debt they owed him for the care he took in training them and for the example of good practice he provided. When Rand Mines in South Africa decided to take the lead in a joint venture to build a LEO service business in Johannesburg, Fantl, who had prepared the specification for a mining application, was the natural choice as manager. With resources mostly gathered from existing mining staffs, and selected and trained by him, Fantl built a thoroughly successful operation , which lit a torch for business computing in South Africa. After the Johannesburg operation was firmly established, Fantl returned for a period to take charge of Product Planning for English Electric LEO, but he finished his business life in South Africa, first as Chairman of the LEO service business, of which Rand Mines had taken full control, and finally as Managing Director of Sage Computers He is survived by his wife Pat, herself a member of the LEO team, his daughter, step children and grandchildren.



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