Calling Bob Skene a technology “expert” would be like calling Garry Kasparpov an “expert” chess player, or Eric Clapton an “expert” guitarist. The 74-year-old Saanich businessman deserves a more venerable title, perhaps “grandmaster” or “virtuoso.”
The Victoria Chamber of Commerce awarded Skene their highest possible accolade, the Lifetime Achievement Award, for his 45 years of service to the community in the field of technology.
“I started in tech in 1969,” says Skene, sipping decaf inside a Saanich coffee shop. “Back then, we used punch cards and wire panels to get the computers to understand what they were supposed to do.”
Skene shakes his head as he recalls the sheer scale of early computer hardware.
“We built a 100,000 square foot computer room in the basement of the BC Systems building down on Cloverdale and Blanshard. It contained the central processing unit, all the memory banks, the disk drives and all the telecommunications.”
To put that in perspective, the 1969 Apollo 11 spacecraft had guidance computer that weighed 32 kilograms, held 4kb of memory and cost $150,000. Today, an iPhone 5s fits in your shirt pocket, holds 64GB of memory and will set you back a couple hundred bucks.
“If airplanes evolved the same way as other technology,” jokes Skene, “a 747 would be five-centimetres tall, and you’d fly around the world in a couple minutes.”
Since becoming a chartered accountant in 1965, Skene served as CEO of several successful companies and was on the board of directors for a half-dozen more organizations like Royal Roads University and the Greater Victoria Airport Authority.
Skene feels the biggest accomplishment of his long career was in founding the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) in Saanich, whose mission was, and continues to be, to help grow the technology sector in Greater Victoria.
“(In the 1990s) some of us saw what was coming,” says Skene. “We recognized the need for an organization that concentrated solely on helping Victoria technology companies. So VIATeC was founded, and they offered me the job as CEO.”
Skene says hungry young entrepreneurs were on every street corner in those early days, but most had no idea how to run a business.
“These were people in university, college and even high school. They needed a lot of help with networking and business advice. So that’s what VIATeC did. It helped companies get started.”
These days, Skene serves as commander-in-chief of his own retirement.
He and his wife of 50 years spend their free time either at their Cowichan Lake cottage with their three grown kids and eight grandchildren, or counting passport stamps as they jet around the globe.
“Judy and I have been to 50 countries now, and by the time this year is over we’ll have been to 60.”