CHIEF EXECUTIVES’ CLUB

                         20 SEPTEMBER 2005

Thank you, Peter (McNaney). And may I say at this stage how much we
at Queen’s appreciate your leadership in strengthening that partnership
between Town and Gown – I’m delighted that you will be joining me on
Thursday to welcome our new students to Queen’s and to the City of

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Queen’s places great emphasis on the importance of the productivity of
its staff, and tonight is no exception. I am here in a dual role – host and
guest speaker.

As your host, I have a duty to be considerate and hospitable. As a guest
speaker, I am expected to be controversial and challenging. I’ll not duck
either duty.

So, in a welcoming spirit, I would like to say how much I appreciate your
attendance here tonight. The Chief Executives’ Club at Queen’s is an
important element of our ongoing commitment to the economic
development of Northern Ireland. It is a forum for discussion and debate
about the way ahead; I would like to think it is a powerhouse for new
ideas; It certainly provides an opportunity to build and strengthen
partnerships between the University and business, as well as business to

I will speak later about the new Vision for Queen’s, but it is worth saying
here that one of our key objectives is to ensure the University is part of
dynamic regional and global networks. The Chief Executives’ Club is an
essential part of that gaol.

As far as the second part of my brief tonight is concerned, I value the
opportunity to share my perceptions after a year in Northern Ireland – a
year which has been eye-opening and exhilarating.

Those perceptions suggested the title for my speech this evening: who
dares, wins: risk and opportunity.

A Culture of Risk Aversion?

When people speak about ‘risk’ in Northern Ireland, the ‘traditional route’
is wheel out the notion that the biggest problem facing the Northern
Ireland economy is a culture of risk aversion.         I don’t think that
observation is either correct or fair.

If anything, Northern Ireland business is more creative and willing to
innovate than other regions, and it is undoubtedly tenacious.

People here are prepared to take risks.

It is invidious to name names, but I know from my own research
background in aerospace engineering that Shorts’ work on the world’s
first vertical take-off and landing aircraft was daring, pioneering and
world leading.

A number of other local companies deserve mention for their
demonstration of creativity in practice.

Randox Laboratories is a recent winner of the Royal Academy of
Engineering’s MacRobert Award – the UK’s premier award for innovation
in Enginering.

And Galen, whose business had been built around innovative research in
pharmacy and medicine at Queen’s, became an international force when
it was aquired by Warner Chilcott.

Innovation, a strong work ethic, good industrial relations, and a dynamic
research and development base here are all good for business. And
what is good for business, is good for Northern Ireland.

An Environment to fuel Ambition

So, “where’s the ‘but’?”. After every string of praise, there is usually one
lurking somewhere.

I’ll not disappoint you. Here it is.

As the title suggests, I believe we are held back – not by a lack of ability
– but by lack of ambition, and an unwillingness to create the conditions
where that ambition can flourish.

There needs to be change in business, in government … and here at

To contribute to genuine wealth creation, businesses have to be
prepared to grow – making the leap from ‘family and friends’ to bigger
audiences and markets.

Just yesterday afternoon I was at Andor Technology. As we all know,
this company which originated from Physics at Queens was floated on
the AIM market last December and now has more than 130 sustainable
jobs here in Belfast.

Another Northern Ireland company, BIC Systems, this time emanating
from Electronics and Computer Science at Queen’s, is also playing on a
bigger field after its acquisition by BTNI.

In government, the environment must shift from endless strategies,
untimely decision making and burdensome audit to the active promotion
of entrepreneurialism. We must allow our best businesses to ‘go with the
flow’, and remove self-imposed barriers designed to protect backs and

And for Queen’s, the challenge is to shift to a ‘can do’ environment.
Building on the changes initiated here over the past decade, we are
revitalising our academic community by encouraging innovation and
rewarding excellence. In collaboration with others, we want to extract
the wealth from our intellectual property.

By directing the efforts of government, business and the University along
a clear economic direction, we will ensure that talk about becoming a
wealth creating knowledge-led economy becomes a reality. Above all
we must practice what we preach!!!

Path to success

So what are the obstacles standing in the way of future success?

Firstly we need to lose our sense of insularity – an acceptance that we
can’t compete in the Super League.         Just 3 weeks ago tonight, our
footballers showed us that we can. There was a telling banner among
the Northern Ireland spectators at Windsor Park – “KEEP BELIEVING”.
We are increasingly working in a global market. We need to believe we
can compete, and compete as equals.

In that regard, Queen’s is putting in place an ambitious plan to
internationalise its activity – in research, education and the recruitment of
staff and students. We are a global player. In Ireland, only Queen’s and
Trinity College are in the Top 200 list of world universities.

Last month the CBI, IBEC and Universities Ireland met to discuss the
context for business-university collaboration across these islands. The
meeting was addressed by Sir Digby Jones and Turlough O’Sullivan,
Director-Generals respectively of CBI and IBEC.

The state of business-university collaboration is better than the folklore
would suggest… but it is clear that we can all do better.

In this area, Queen’s has much to be proud of. We were one of the first
universities in the UK and Ireland to set up a unit dedicated to
commercialising research. Through QUBIS, Queen’s stands alongside
Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial College and University College London in
the top five UK universities most active in spin-out activity.

And company start-ups are underpinned by a raft of initiatives including
entrepreneurship education through the Northern Ireland Centre for
Entrepreneurship and extensive engagement in Knowledge Transfer

With support from Invest Northern Ireland we have established Queen’s
Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology,
and realised a dream of John McCanny to bring together under one roof
multidisciplinary research teams and commercial development engineers
to promote the exploitation of knowledge.

And we are working too to expose staff and students to business. Earlier
this month we launched the Lecturers into Industry scheme here;
researchers are being encouraged to take time out to gain industrial
experience and we want to look at new ways of encouraging student
engagement with business – the Scottish Fresh Talent Scheme may
offer some insights here.

In addition to this gathering, tangible expression of our links with
business can be seen in the recent appointment of entrepreneur Dr Brian
Keating as the chair of QUBIS and Ronnie Kells as chair of its
Investment Committee. Sir David Fell has just taken up the post of Pro-
Chancellor alongside Brenda McLaughlin and Chris Gibson.

Investment in the Science Base

In the CBI-IBEC debate, it became clear that there were two important
planks in the Republic’s dramatic economic turn-around:
          • the development of business-friendly taxation; and
          • long-term strategic investment in education and the science

This demonstrates the importance of taking a long-term view to promote
economic growth.

I’d like to pick up especially on the development of a strong science
base. This is an area where I believe Northern Ireland is uniquely placed
to compete internationally – if we invest in it.

Unlike Great Britain, science in many schools here is still taught by
specialists, and Queen’s has bucked the national trend by developing a
healthy demand for pure sciences such as Chemistry.          The recent
opening of our International Research Centre for Experimental Physics
coincided with our annual conference for school physics teachers.

We have high quality and a critical mass of students in pure and applied
sciences and this sets Queen’s apart from many strong regional

Seagate’s presence in Northern Ireland is hugely significant. Its chief
executive told me that apart from his passion for golf, one of the
attractions to invest here is the supply of high-quality physics graduates
from Queen’s.

The same is the case in pharmaceuticals; Alan McClay’s Almac
Sciences is populated with our PhD students from Chemistry and

Chemistry departments are closing in England and Wales, but at
Queen’s – with hard work and by building close links with industry –
chemistry is thriving – not least the area of medicinal chemistry.

Enhancing our science base, and using it for competitive advantage is an
essential step if we are to provide an environment which fosters inward
investment to fuel a knowledge-led economy. But protection comes with
a price tag.

Ireland’s ongoing investment in science amounts to €646 million over five
years. Part of the national development plan, this money supports the
generation of new knowledge, and the development of leading edge
technologies in fields underpinning biotechnology, and information and
communications technology.

This far-sighted initiative has energised world-class research, leveraged
substantial US funding, and exploited the re-location of international
research teams to universities and businesses.

Northern Ireland too has invested in research infrastructure with the
support of Atlantic Philanthropies. Initial results are impressive and, in
some cases, immediate.

In cancer for example through Queen’s link to the National Cancer
Institute in the States, the treatments and therapies for Northern Ireland
patients are designed by a team of internationally renowned clinicians
and scientists here and in USA.

We must continue to invest in the science base if we are to maintain any
competitive advantage, but the omens are not good.

We are facing the possibility that the small £12 million budget,
administered by the Research and Development Office, might be
slashed in half – one of a series of cuts aimed at easing financial
pressure today, but which will have a direct and adverse impact on
patient care in Northern Ireland tomorrow. Surely a streamlining of the
39 healthcare agencies should be the priority.

I welcome too the current debate led by Strategic Investment Board.
Investment in immediate “front line” services and utilities is needed and
there will be an immediate return in some areas. And we must also
underpin our long-term economic development through sustained
investment in the science-base.

Government Control

But that on its own is not enough. In looking for reasons why Northern
Ireland has not experienced its own ‘Celtic Tiger moment’ we have to
examine non-economic factors – and here I am not talking specifically
about the Troubles which had a well documented negative impact on the
Republic too.

As well as increasing investment in science, we must loosen the grip of
the ‘nanny state’.    In Northern Ireland, we work within a system of
government which is obsessed by control and audit to avoid exposure or
the perception of failure. Let me be parochial to illustrate the point.

At Queen’s we have one of the most robust frameworks for financial
governance within the UK higher education sector. We ensure through
our internal and external auditors (Deloittes and PWC respectively), that
our business meets the highest standards.

Last year, we were given the highest level of commendation possible in
an independent national review of institutional governance.         We also
secured the strongest possible endorsement for our academic standards
under institutional audit.

With a turnover of some £250 million a year, we are rightly accountable
to our stakeholders, and I am proud that Queen’s has demonstrated
such levels of excellence.

And yet this can count for nothing within our regional framework of
governance.    Despite that turnover of £250 million, and the level of
excellence against national and international standards, Queen’s has to
provide a full auditors’ certificate for every expenditure over £10,000
against some budgets here in Northern Ireland.          This represents an
enormous opportunity cost and runs completely counter to the
environment we say we are trying to create.

I use this to illustrate that it is not our people who are risk averse. It is
the environment within which we work. Placing too much emphasis on
control and audit reduces competitiveness and stifles enterprise.

To win we have to be daring, we have to seize opportunities, and this
cannot be without risk of exposure or failure.

There is a dilemma here for Northern Ireland, and it must be addressed if
we are to be able to realise our creative potential and ensure that we
provide an attractive environment for inward investment.

In building the future, we must slim down bureaucracy and give
individuals the authority, responsibility and accountability for their
decisions. We should promote an environment that respects risk, and
learns from failure.

Queen’s Vision – articulated in three key words: leading, inspiring,
delivering – is designed to do that here.

We are putting our words into actions by empowering academic leaders
to seize new opportunities and assisting them by streamlining our
procedures and removing barriers which stand between the institution
and our core business of research and education.

We have just moved from a three-tier academic management structure
to two tiers, we have reduced the number of schools by almost half, and
we will be giving Heads of School the authority to act on their own
initiative within an agreed planning framework.

Heads of School will no longer blame ‘the centre’ for inaction. They have
a direct access to the University Management Board and will play a full
part in a new integrated planning process.


In returning to my title: ‘Who Dares Wins,’ I want Northern Ireland to
dare and Northern Ireland to win.        Opportunities abound – are we
prepared to take the risk?

I don’t intend to leave that question hanging. There is only one answer.

As Robert Kennedy said: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever
achieve greatly.”


To top