Canada’s pioneer consultant preached simplicity

Dr. Harvey Gellman, who died last year at the age of 79, was one of Canada’s computer pioneers and most distinguished consultants.

His career spanned most of Canada’s computing history. He was involved in purchasing the country’s first computer, made by Ferranti in England circa 1950 for Atomic Energy of Canada, he wrote the first software program run in Canada (on punch-paper tape to help users print from the Ferranti), and he obtained the first doctorate in Canada using theoretical calculations that depended on a computer.

He later founded one of the country’s first computer consulting firms – H.S. Gellman And Co. Ltd. – in Toronto in 1955, helping a great many companies with their computing operations. Subsequent to the sale of H.S. Gellman to De Havilland in 1964, Harvey teamed with Jim Hayward to form yet another prominent consulting firm, Gellman Hayward & Partners, which was eventually acquired by the CGI Group in 1992. Dr. Gellman held the post of senior VP at CGI until retiring in 1998.

According to Robert Fabian, a Toronto based consultant and ComputerWorld Canada contributor, “Harvey didn’t quit, and didn’t let his colleagues quit until they had gone through complexity to reach the simplicity that lies beyond.”

The power of simplicity works on multiple levels. In consulting, the dual challenge is to discover the basis for change (by actively listening) and then to lay out a simple path forward – one that is compelling and unambiguous. An effective consultant must do both. Gellman excelled at this, and his “simple” filter dramatically improved a number of weak designs, Fabian noted.

Gellman was a founding member of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), and served as its president in 1965. He also helped found the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario, holding the post of president in 1968.

Among his many honours, he was named International Systems Man of the Year in 1967 by The Association for Systems Management.

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