A New Kind of Chancellor for the Univeristy of Reading's Second Century
This blog was first publsihed by the Univeristy of Reading on 18th May 2022: Here
In May 2022 I was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Reading, the ceremonial head of the University. I am the ninth person to hold the position in Reading’s 96 years as a University, taking over from the current Chancellor, William Waldegrave, Baron Waldegrave of North Hill, who has held the post since 2016. I wrote this blog to set in context of a reflection on what kind of Chancellor I hope to become.......
Universities are strange beasts. They are bundles of contradictions.
On one hand, they are the incubators of new ideas. They are where novel discoveries are made, from tiny forces between microscopic particles, to giant concepts about justice and truth. They are where young people gather to hone their knowledge and understanding before going out into the world.
And at the same time, they are ancient institutions, maintaining medieval traditions and Enlightenment concepts. Only in Harry Potter books, and on university campuses, do you see people calling themselves Professor and wearing long robes. Committee structures, honorary titles and an alphabet of post-nominals can feel out of place in 2022.
I tend to think of myself as more comfortable in the former category. I am a businessman, an entrepreneur who thrives on finding winning ideas to improve lives and working on them until the world catches on. I founded the baby food company Ella’s Kitchen in 2004 in my own kitchen in Reading, naming it after my daughter. My idea was to put the wellbeing of children and their diet at the centre of a food business. It is now the biggest baby food company in the UK and exports products to more than 35 countries.
I’ve worked extensively with the University of Reading over the years, in the early days collaborating with marketing, nutrition and supply chain experts in Henley Business School and the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences. In more recent years, I’ve partnered with the University to help others develop their innovative ideas for the common good, through my ‘Just Imagine If…’ competition.
And now, here I am, accepting the role of Chancellor of the University of Reading - the ceremonial head of the University. This is squarely in the latter category. I have been measured up for the gilt-edged robes. I have seen the serious-looking oil paintings of some of my eight predecessors - nearly all of them a Sir or a Lord or a former Cabinet minister. Or all three.
I have also seen how the University has developed, honing its mission to something that closely matches my own personal ethos. The way you put people first, your care for the environment, and your deep-rooted understanding of the links between sustainability, health and security are all issues I care passionately about. And that is why I am honoured and excited to be your Chancellor.
While I will not play an active role in the management of the University, this does not mean I will not be an active Chancellor. I do not intend to restrict my role to giving speeches and handing out certificates - much as I’m looking forward to that. I hope to work as an ambassador for you all, upholding your values, and listening to the perspectives of students, staff and alumni. I hope to be able to listen to your ideas, opportunities, concerns or challenges; especially those that can sometimes be un- or mis-heard and be a kind of bridge to link different parts of the community. In that way, as the University approaches its new century, I hope I can be a new kind of Chancellor.
Indeed, I am pleased to be the figurehead of a university that has its community as its number one priority, and which is positively working towards equality and diversity. I am delighted that the University has recently appointed Helen Gordon as President of University Council, effectively the chair of its governing body. I did not allow my name to be considered until her appointment was confirmed, nor would I have accepted the role if I thought a ninth white, male Chancellor in the University’s history was indicative of a wider institutional equity problem. Now, I look forward to hearing how the University can be a force for social change and, as a founder and chair of a human rights organisation, help deepen such change where I can be helpful.
As the University of Reading approaches its centenary in 2026, I look forward to helping you to reflect on your purpose and celebrate your achievements. I can’t wait to help share in the joy of hundreds of students as they achieve their academic goals. I want to praise the innovations of researchers and experts as you develop more world-changing ideas. And I shall do everything I can to help the institution to shape the world around us for the good of the next generation and those who will follow us. I can’t wait to serve you, and together contribute to ensuring this great institution and community cements its place as a leading global university in the years ahead.