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Robert Barrow MBE

Robert Barrow MBE DL was the CEO and Chairman of SurfControl, a pioneering software development company he founded during the formation of the internet.

Robert’s career in computing began at North Staffordshire Polytechnic in 1968, when he undertook a four-year degree in computer science having previously been to Warwick University to read Maths. The third year was spent in industry at the British Railway Board, who later offered him a full-time position. At the start of the 70s, the Railway Board was at the cutting edge of computing and Robert cut his teeth programming the latest technology. In 1977, he joined ICL as a consultant programming operating systems and, five years later, left to launch his own company at the same time as microcomputers had started to become available.

SurfControl initially began as JSB Ltd in 1982 and grew over the following five years to around 30 to 40 staff. Robert and his partners decided to open an office in California and, in 1987, the company got involved in the early days of the internet, switching their name to SurfControl after developing eponymous cutting-edge software that major corporations used to regulate staff access to the fast-growing online world. SurfControl quickly grew to over 600 staff worldwide in the following five years, including an R&D facility of 120 employees in Congleton, Cheshire, employing a number of Staffordshire University graduates. In 1998, the company went public on the London Stock Exchange and grew to a valuation of more than £1bn and entered the FTSE-250.

Robert was CEO before becoming Non-Executive Chairman at SurfControl. He also took up non-executive roles at several other companies, including Vistorm Ltd, Friends Ivory and Sime, Questor and Revera Asset Management. He retired in 2003, at the age of 53, and returned from California to Cheshire to start his second career, in philanthropy.

He became a trustee and Chair of East Cheshire Hospice, helping to fundraise their annual budget of £4.5m that the NHS do not fund, Vice President of the Cheshire Community Foundation, President of Congleton4Congleton and trustee of his own family charitable foundation. He is also a Patron for the National Trust and the Arthritis UK 2020 Society. He was awarded an MBE for services to charity in 2019, having become a Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire in 2015.

In 2017, Robert had been given a terminal oesophageal cancer diagnosis. He underwent major surgery and chemotherapy but, in January 2018, was told the cancer had spread to the liver and kungs. After seeking specialist help he was told an immunotherapy clinical trial treatment was his only option. He spent six months as an inpatient at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester, battling various side-effects from the treatment, but in January 2019 the cancer had disappeared – 18 months after being told he had 12 months to live.

The Award of Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University is bestowed upon Robert in recognition of his role as a pioneer in the formation of the internet. Through the establishment of SurfControl and the development of innovative software solutions, he provided major corporations worldwide with cutting-edge internet connectivity tools that helped drive long-term growth.

Photo of Robert Barrow MBE

Robert Barrow MBE was bestowed the award in 2020

The award from Staffordshire University came as a total surprise and I am hugely grateful and humbled. It is a great honour for anyone to be recognised in this way.

Robert Barrow MBE DL