Fifteen years ago, Sir Robin Saxby brought “wisdom and experience from the outside world to a bunch of Cambridge engineers”.
This is the view of Warren East, who succeeded Sir Robin as chief executive of ARM and who is now looking to steer ARM forwards without the day-to-day assistance of his chairman and friend.
During his tenure at ARM, the company has gone from being the spin-off of a collaboration between Acorn and Apple Computer to the dominant operator in intellectual property involved in the manufacture of microchips.
It now supplies the biggest chipmakers in the world with new product designs.
Sir Robin only made the formal announcement that he was stepping aside to colleagues on Tuesday night.
However, he has always sought to exert a great deal of control and foresight over his career, carefully planning his succession.
He co-founded the company in 1990 and stepped aside as chief executive in 2001.
A modest man, Sir Robin told staff yesterday that “we’re not having a party for my leaving”. Instead, he plans to become “primarily an evangelist for ARM”.
With his time freed up, Sir Robin will take up a new role as president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and devote more time to his position as visiting lecturer at Liverpool University.
Sir Robin studied engineering at the university in the 1960s where he found time to feed his passion for new technology amid the musical explosion in the city and visit Anfield to see his beloved Liverpool FC.
But his love of technology goes back further. At the age of 13, Sir Alan established his own television and radio repair business.
“I wasn’t born with much money in my pocket,” he says.
Working more closely with the IET, he feels, is an opportunity to engender a similar drive for technological discovery and entrepreneurship.
“If [children] happen to want a career in football, it’s up to them but what we have to do is better educate and better present the possibilities,” he says.
With fewer opportunities made available at US companies, he believed that it was up to the UK technology companies based in Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh such as ARM, Cambridge Silicon Radio and Wolfson Microelectronics to support the next generation of engineers.
He also says the UK must not give up on manufacturing when faced with the rising challenge from India and China but instead focus on emerging technology niches that it can exploit well. Sir Robin, who has personally invested in technology start-ups through venture capital funds, says: “There’s a much more positive venture capital [and] wealth creation buzz around the industry but we need to take it to the next level.
“Some of the people I lectured are turning over more than £8m and are profitable and they are in Liverpool – it’s especially pleasing to see young people [setting up businesses].”
Sir Robin, whose remaining ambitions include enjoying an extra day’s skiing each year, says: “I’ve just filled my life doing my hobby.”