I used to be a student here myself and I’m enormously happy to be back again. It has been about 35 years since I graduated so it does feel very different – it’s bigger, far more international and there’s a real buzz about the place. It’s all very positive and exciting. Much of what happens here is really extraordinary; it is a stellar place in many ways.
What do you think makes our University a great place to be a student?
My daughter is a Southampton graduate, but even having seen her come through here in recent years, I’m not sure you can truly answer that question unless you are a student. When I was here in the early 1980s it was the combination of research and teaching that made Southampton very different – as an undergraduate, being able to engage in really cutting-edge research was enormously compelling and fascinating. We are at the forefront of research in so many areas, and if you can bring that into the taught environment the students know that they’re right at the cutting-edge of their field, and that’s an exciting place to be.
What has struck you about the character of our staff community?
The staff community is enormously varied and diverse, which is fabulous. I sense that staff have so many skills and so much willingness to contribute, but there seems to be a feeling that the University doesn’t always support them to achieve their full potential.
Unlocking that potential is partly a leadership role – we can put the supporting mechanisms in place and demonstrate the importance of the collegial behaviours – but it’s also about staff becoming engaged in considering how they want to work and contribute to helping take our University to new levels of performance.
What are your initial thoughts about the biggest opportunities we have as a University?
There are many opportunities, which is very exciting. We do need to be realistic and select those we really want to focus on to make the greatest difference. As I mentioned, helping develop a truly enthused, engaged and empowered workforce right across the University is one such opportunity that can have a hugely positive impact. In the professional services there is also an opportunity to upgrade and integrate our university systems so that we can work more efficiently and effectively, freeing up time for activity that makes a direct contribution to delivering the strategy.
And equally, what are the biggest challenges?
I think previous changes at the University have resulted in real concerns about the consequences of change yet the world is changing around us at an extraordinarily fast rate.
To be a world-class university we have to move beyond a fear of change so that we can embrace it, adapt to it, and indeed be at the forefront of it.
In many research areas we are fundamentally driving change and it is happening right across our faculties and this is expected of us as a research intensive university. We must apply the same test to ourselves.
Can you describe your leadership style and how you like to work with people?
I really enjoy working with people and appreciate the differences they bring to the work environment. People are endlessly varied in terms of what drives them and what they can offer so I consider it important to support an expression of that individuality in the workplace. I also have an expectation of performance delivery in the roles we’re all working in; there is a true ‘contract’ between any organisation and its employees with expectations on both. So, I hope my leadership style is about engaging with people, making expectations clear and working with people to help deliver on those expectations. As change is needed, I really believe it can be undertaken it in a very positive way, however difficult it might seem at the time
What do you see as the role of the professional services in achieving the strategy that Sir Christopher has set out?
First and foremost, the University is here to deliver excellent research and teaching. The role of the professional services is to provide a seamless support mechanism as cost effectively as possible to enable the delivery of our academic vision.
How will you work with colleagues across the University to deliver this?
In line with our strong tenet of collegiality, there will be dialogue and an opportunity for people to express their views right across the board. I’ll be working with colleagues in Professional Services to understand what and how they are delivering and to get a clear picture of where we are performing well and where we need to improve. I’ll also try to be very clear on how I see the responsibilities of colleagues in academia to help us operate, as a University as effectively as possible.
Many colleagues are concerned about restructuring – is this something you think will be necessary to achieve the strategy?
We will be doing a lot of work to look at how best to achieve the strategy, and it may be that restructuring will play a part. If we pause to look around us our lives have been hugely impacted by ‘re-structuring – think of communications, our phones, cheap air travel etc etc. So, restructuring shouldn’t be perceived as something to fear. It doesn’t necessarily mean fewer jobs, for example, or less money to spend, or fewer opportunities – it just means looking at how you focus your resources. If you think about the way we run our lives as individuals, we refocus our resources on a pretty frequent basis – for example if we’re saving up for a honeymoon, holiday or a new car. I see restructuring as part of a positive process of refocusing our resources to deliver our strategy, although I recognise that not everyone sees it that way. Where there is uncertainty and concern we need to work with everybody to address those issues.
What do you see as the first steps you need to take over the next couple of months?
I’ve given myself a few months to make sure that I understand the University as much as I possibly can. So my first steps have been to go out and talk to people. Building on my first weeks, which I spent primarily with colleagues in Professional Services, I’m now finding out more about the academic side of the University.
I want to get to a point where I understand how the University ‘ticks’, what people’s concerns are and the opportunities that lie ahead.
After that I may start to look at how I might want to run things slightly differently in certain areas, in line with Sir Christopher’s articulation of the new strategy.
Looking to your background now, how have your experiences of working overseas and across different sectors made a difference to you personally and professionally?
Personally, I just feel enormously privileged to have worked in so many different cultures and with so many different people. The nature of conversation, how you interact with people, the expectations around work-life balance, the way you tackle problems – all of these can be very different in other cultures, and if you just see this from the outside it can lead to a bit of a ‘them and us’ attitude. But by working within a culture, you see that these different approaches can be just as successful as, or more successful than, some of the ways we work.
Also, we have lived in places where the natural world was just astounding – I’ve been very lucky to be able to spend many months in the Amazon rainforests, for example, experience the harsh beauty of Antarctica, travel throughout the Galapagos. As I have mentioned before I am frankly in awe of the natural and social world around us and this impacts me personally. It is why I am here now in this job – and I am not being glib – because I am convinced we can, here at Southampton, change the world for the better.
Professionally, it has been extremely rewarding to work in international organisations with teams of people from very different backgrounds, and to find ways to get them to gel and become really high-performing teams. This experience I also hope to find a home here.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
I am only commenting on what has gone, not what is ahead! A particular highlight involves a company in Japan. When I joined as President and Chief Executive it was at the point of failure and there was a complete breakdown of trust within the organisation. I was asked to either close the company or turn it around and grow it. The fact that we were able to turn it around and create a thriving company that’s still doing very well today was a great corporate success.
You have also given time to voluntary causes – why has this been important to you?
I’ve been privileged to have had the training and experiences that I have had, so I feel it’s important to give something back. My way of doing that has been to bring my business skills to the running of charities.
I set up an orphanage in Africa, which is still operating today, and I’ve been on the boards of conservation and education based charities.
I’m still actively involved as a trustee of two educational charities.
Moving on to your life outside of your career, what does an ideal Sunday look like in your household?
We have three grown-up children who have all left home, so our Sundays tend to look different depending on whether any of them are back or whether it’s just the two of us. In either case, we like to spend as much time as possible outdoors, so invariably we’ll be out walking or visiting somewhere. We both really enjoy stand-up comedy and theatre, so often on a Friday or Saturday night we’ll go to see a show. I’m a beekeeper, so most weekend in the spring to autumn I’ll be out working with my bees at some point. As far as possible I don’t do anything work-related!
Who would be your ideal dinner party guests?
My ideal guests would be combining new friends with some of our long-term friends. With those you’ve known for many years there is a relationship that is rich, nuanced and great fun; there are many shared reference points and experiences. With new friends there the real pleasure of new company, ideas and conversation. More than anything, a dinner party should be fun and relaxing, and just an opportunity to be with people in a social environment.