Institute for Animal Health
The Institute for Animal Health – now known as the Pirbright Institute – is a highly specialised research organisation in the front line of the UK’s defence against animal disease and the growing threat of the spread of animal diseases, such as bird flu, to humans. In 2004 I carried out a strategic review of it’s administration highlighting a deteriorating financial position. Following this review I developed and led a ‘recovery plan’ which involved reducing staff numbers, restructuring the organisation, introducing new financial systems and benchmarking administration costs with other similar organisations. Robin Weiss, chair of the institute’s governing body, summarised the dramatic events in the following way:
“I wish to thank you on behalf of the Governing Body – and personally – for all the wonderful hard work you have done for the IAH since coming on board as Administrator last year. Your incisiveness and freshness of approach as well as calm analytical work on our dire financial situation have been crucial, along with help from the BBSRC, in rescuing the Institute. It was only after your arrival that we began to discern the depth of the financial and organisational crisis. Even your own review conducted during August 2004 had not revealed the true situation. The restructuring has, of course, been painful for many staff, but you leave us at a time when one can detect growing signs of optimism above the cynicism of a bruised IAH staff. Together with Brian Jamieson you have helped to set the IAH on a sound path for the future. I know that the Acting Director, Martin Shirley, shares my appreciation of your efforts on behalf of IAH, as do all members of the governing Body.” Robin A. Weiss, FRS Professor of Viral Oncology,
In common with many of the UK’s top research organisations, the Institute for Animal Health has enormous potential for generating commercial value. It is one thing to recognise the potential and quite another to work out how to exploit it if, strategically, the organisation is pointing in a different direction. (This is a problem for all research, whether in the public or private sectors). In collaboration with colleagues from Bolt Partners (www.boltpartners.com) I ran a ‘Dragon’s Den’- style pilot to discover and fast track business ideas through a ‘hot house’ process to pitch the most promising opportunities to panel of early stage investors. (See Corporate Venturing training post). This was in 2005 after the finances of the organisation had been brought under control and the new Director wished to bring some positive energy back to the organisation after the recent restructuring. The pilot identified three exciting opportunities, one quite large, which the local business development team were pleased to take forward to the next stage.
Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust
In 2006 The Surrey and Sussex NHS Trust had one of the largest financial deficits in the country. At the time, turnaround teams were being parachuted into several trusts in similar circumstances. The complexity of NHS finances and operations meant that, too often, large and expensive recovery plans were prepared but not enough change was occurring on the ground. It was a recipe for damaging reputations but, although this was the least enjoyable of all my consulting engagements, it’s also the occasion of my proudest piece of feedback from a client.
I was part of a consulting team led by healthcare turnaround specialist Bolt Partners (www.boltpartners.com). My remit was to look for savings in the Estates operations. In the course of the engagement we investigated forming a strategic partnership with a large London Trust but opted instead to carry out a moderate restructuring ourselves.
Reflecting on that job, I think it was my least enjoyable because my relationship with the senior executives was at a distance, having been brought in by the consulting team as additional resource. Nevertheless, I did build good relationships with the general management team and, during the course of preparing a business case for the refurbishment of one of the wards, the general manager for that service said ‘You’ve changed my view of consultants!’ I was pleased because the prevailing view of management consultants in the hospital at that time was fairly toxic. This quote became my unofficial motto from then on.
John Innes Centre and Institute of Food Research
Shared service centres are great for processing high volumes of transactions very cost-effectively. They are less good when it comes to the sort of personalised service that people value most, and tend to want delivered locally. The shared service centre established between the John Innes Centre and the Institute of Food Research attempted to create the best of both worlds.
The unique advantage of these two research institutes was that, although separate and independent, they were both very similar and physically faced each other across a busy road in Norwich. What pushed them together however was a shared desire to reduce costs.
Until recently, cost sharing between separate charitable organisations (who typically can’t fully recover VAT) was a bit of a minefield. It’s easier now after the UK enacted some EU legislation in this area but it’s still not straightforward. In 2006, the mitigation of VAT turned out to be almost as challenging as the restructuring of the back-office functions of these two organisations.
For this engagement I was part of a three-person consulting team assembled to achieve an ambitious savings target from the combined administrative costs of the two organisations. It was effectively a joint venture and, like all joint ventures, a great deal of the focus for the engagement was on building and maintaining the relationship between the partners. The ‘heavy lifting’ of the project involved defining a new organisation structure with 20% fewer staff.
The Roslin Institute
By necessity a merger can never be a completely equal endeavour: one organisation’s culture has to prevail. This is tough on the employees of the company being taken over, but the alternative is worse.
The merger of The Roslin Institute with The University of Edinburgh was a really well-conceived deal. Academics in the university looked at their colleagues in the research institute and envied their long-term financial stability, while researchers in the institute were jealous of the academic freedom their colleagues in the university enjoyed. Embedding the research institute into the university offered everyone the best of both worlds.
It never quite feels like that at the time, of course. While the theory of change management encourages the idea of keeping people focused on the big ‘prize’ at the end of the process, I’ve found this doesn’t happen until you can answer the ‘What does it mean for me?’ question.
The challenge in this particular merger centred around employment and pension status, legacy liabilities, and preserving a measure of financial and operational independence for the newly ‘embedded’ institute. My role was to manage the programme of separate projects that enabled the merger to proceed. Like a lot of mergers and joint ventures I’ve been involved with, what the role meant in practice was an extended period of shuttle diplomacy to establish trust, empathy and, ultimately, good working relationships between all parties; also, keeping all the stakeholders informed and holding feet to the fire when the timetable was in danger of slipping.
University of Edinburgh
For an accountant, I’ve an unusually deep knowledge of the property sector, to the point I’ve been mistaken for an architect by one of my clients! While Finance Director at Unilever’s corporate R&D headquarters, I led a joint venture project with a property developer to turn our research campus into a commercial science park. I’ve managed engineering maintenance departments, and benchmarked estates functions for several clients. Leading the design, construction and occupation of a new £60.6m research building for The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh extended this knowledge even further.
This project was a joint venture with five separate stakeholders, each believing they were in charge of the project. In truth it was a shared endeavour. As Programme Director I was responsible for managing the delivery team and reporting to stakeholders. In practice, I had only one task: to make sure that if the delivery team needed a decision, it got made in good time. What’s enjoyable about a project like this in a multi-partner environment is that, for the most part, there’s no time to consult on every decision. You have to make decisions on your own authority. So the trick is to build good relationships with the senior stakeholders so that you understand clearly where the boundaries of your decision-making authority lie. Get the judgement wrong and you lose their trust and the project risks slowing down to a halt. From the testimonials below I’m relieved to say I mostly got that judgement correct!
“I wanted to say a personal “thank you” for all the excellent work that you did to bring the project in on time and on budget.” Sir John Savill, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh; and Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council
‘The building is really excellent. We are delighted with the end result, and that has been in no small part due to the diplomatic and effective way in which you have handled matters over the last 3 years. Many congratulations and many thanks.” Prof W A C McKelvey FRSE, Chief Executive & Principal, Scotland’s Rural College
Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
The ‘strategic review’ is a common starting point for many consulting engagements. Easily mocked as ‘looking at your watch and telling you the time’, if the witticism is true it’s likely there’s something misfiring within the management team.
At the beginning of my consulting career I recall an older hand explaining his theory for businesses in trouble: peel back enough layers and you’ll find the root cause has something to do with people and how they work with each other.
The strategic review of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine began as an exploration of the strategic options available for commercial joint ventures for its animal hospital and veterinary referral practice. As the project developed, it revealed interesting layers of complexity involving fundamental questions about how to run a vet school: its priorities and how clinical / academic staff time should be organised.
Norwich Biosciences Institutes
Interim Finance Director
Interim work is exciting. I enjoy it because it frequently involves ‘accelerated’ decision-making compared to the normal course of business life. The emphasis is on results more than process. However, these levels of intensity shouldn’t last more than the short timescales it takes to recruit a permanent position; beware the ‘interim’ appointment that last more than 12 months.
Interim work is challenging because of the lack of familiarity you have with how things normally get done (although this can be an advantage). At the Norwich Biosciences Institutes however, I already had some background knowledge having earlier been involved in establishing a shared administrative service for the institutes.
I took over as Finance Director for the Norwich Biosciences Institutes during a period of financial and organisational restructuring. After nine months I’m pleased to say an excellent appointment was made to the permanent position. The Director of the John Innes Centre, the largest among the consortium, summed up the outcome as follows:
“And a very big Thank You to you too for moving us on so far during the course of this project. I’m confident that we now have an excellent base for the future, and we are a million miles from where we were this time last year. It’s been fun working with you.” Prof. Dale Sanders FRS, Director, John Innes Centre
Virtual Technology Centre
Rarely is a piece of financial analysis alone decisive in decision-making but it is common for a lack of financial clarity to slow down the decision-making process. And sometimes it leads in all kinds of unexpected directions.
The Norwich Research Park Virtual Technology Centre is a collaboration between the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and four independent research institutes. Each has specialist research facilities that for years they shared on an ad hoc basis. The purpose of this project was to remove the barriers that prevented sharing taking place on a more ambitious scale.
A surprisingly number of hurdles were financial in nature. The project turned out to have a wide variety of workstreams from specialist areas of VAT, through product costing, to building a new website. I’m proud to say the website is ahead of its time and creates a real ‘wow’ factor, credit to the site’s designers, HMA.
Take a look www.norwichresearchpark.com/researchfacilities
A proposed new Food & Health research centre at the Norwich Research Park
The partners in the centre (Institute of Food Research, University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital) are committed to developing the concept and investing in a new building that will provide a step change for Food and Health research and the translational of benefit to the UK economy and society.
The ambition is to create a new world-leading Centre in the UK bringing together the partners in the building as well as the John Innes Centre and The Genome Analysis Centre to uniquely integrate multidisciplinary bioscience and clinical excellence to deliver new understanding of the interactions between food and the gastro-intestinal tract and the implications for health, production of safe and nutritionally enhanced crop-based food and accelerated innovation and commercial exploitation by UK industry.
The integrative research of the Centre, positioned at the heart of the Norwich Research Park, will be a magnet for world-class bio-scientists, research clinicians and industry which will become a world leading innovation hub for food and health research.