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Martin Gilbert: With honour comes responsibility and challenge

Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management
Martin Gilbert, Aberdeen Asset Management

It is a great privilege to be appointed as Senior Governor by the Court of University of Aberdeen.

As a graduate of Aberdeen (MA in Accountancy and LLB in Law) I have always valued the role the University played in my education and it’s very gratifying that leading its governing body for the next three years will give me an opportunity to help it achieve its strategic aims and global ambition.

This appointment is a huge honour, but more importantly it’s a responsibility and a challenge, a chance to give something back to the University that equipped me and many others to achieve our goals in life. It is one of Scotland’s great institutions and I am keen to contribute to its continuing success and to help it extend its reputation as a university competing with the very best in the world.

It was founded in 1495, making it Scotland’s third oldest university and the fifth oldest in the UK, senior to many Oxford and Cambridge colleges. That’s a proud heritage but the University is also a leading centre of academic excellence today. As a strong advocate of long-termism, I couldn’t ask for a better example of far-sighted investment and hard work over years – in this case, centuries – producing a first-rate outcome.

Aberdeen is consistently rated among the top 1% of the world’s universities. It ranks 55th out of 750 world universities for research performance, 76% of that research being classed as “world leading” or “internationally excellent” by the UK’s Research Excellence Framework (REF14). The University community is cosmopolitan and inclusive, comprising 120 nationalities, and its 14,500 students are composed of 49% men, 51% women. Five Nobel Laureates are associated with Aberdeen.

As a businessman I value the fact that Aberdeen ranks 6th in the UK for success in commercialising research through spinout companies. The university also makes a significant contribution to employment in the north-east and across Scotland. It provides skilled workers for many employers: 96.6% of its students are in employment or further study six months after graduation.

As Senior Governor, in succession to Sir Moir Lockhead who will be a hard act to follow after his 14 years of distinguished service to the university, I’ll face some challenging responsibilities. It will be my duty to ensure the University Court exercises efficient and effective use of resources for the furtherance of charitable purposes, maintaining its long-term financial viability and safeguarding its substantial assets.

It will also be my responsibility to ensure the Court sets the strategic direction of the university. In performing that duty I shall enjoy the advantage of an already existing template: the University of Aberdeen’s Strategic Plan, 2015-2020. This blueprint sets out the university’s vision, mission and values and a plan for implementing them through the remaining years of this decade, with all aspects of an Aberdeen education being interdependent to attain real success as a world-class research university.

“Transforming the world with greater knowledge and learning” is the global ambition of the university. But it’s not a driven, impersonal ambition. In the words of the Principal, Sir Ian Diamond: “People are at the heart of everything we do.” That philosophy is shared by Aberdeen Asset Management, as are the university’s declared values of innovation and sustainable partnerships with stakeholders, so I shall feel very much at home in helping to implement them.

I’ve always believed it is the responsibility of CEOs and their employees at every level to engage as closely as possible with local communities, as we do at Aberdeen on a global basis. That contribution can range from philanthropy, to sport, to culture. This week I’ll be in Davos to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Its theme this year is Responsive and Responsible Leadership.

Shaping the future of education is among the 14 “system initiatives” to be discussed at Davos and, especially in my new role, I shall follow the discussion with keen interest. Responsive and responsible leadership is crucial for the future of education and it is evident, as the outcomes highlighted above show, that the University has been putting this principle into practice for some considerable time.

It’s a practice I have consistently tried to implement in fund management but there is always more to discover. So I shall approach my new duties in a spirit of willingness to learn from my distinguished colleagues as well as contributing the expertise I’ve acquired over 34 years in the demanding discipline of asset management. In both the financial and academic worlds the chief priority must always be the interests of stakeholders. That will be my guiding principle in carrying out my responsibilities as Senior Governor at the University of Aberdeen.