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Higher learning: A university FD’s take on pleasing stakeholders

Most finance directors understand the importance of keeping their stakeholders happy – be it staff, investors, or customers. The average smart FD can usually negotiate any potentially tricky questions. However, for University of Cambridge FD Andrew Reid, it is not so straightforward.

One of his key audiences is the Regent House: a 4,500 strong collection of some of the world’s leading academics, theorists and all round clever people that make up the faculty of Europe’s biggest and most prestigious university.

“The Regent House votes or has the right to vote on anything of significance so that’s the closest thing we’ve got to a shareholder body or a partnership,” he explains.

All of which means, that as FD Reid has to be pretty sure of his numbers before submitting plans for approval. So just when you thought your stakeholders were demanding, be grateful that you do not have to justify your decisions to Nobel Prize winning economists or mathematicians (incidentally, Cambridge has won 89 Nobel prizes since their inception, more than any other University).

But the Regent House does not set policy governing this sprawling institution of 18,000 students and 6,000 academics. That is the domain of the University board, or Council, which numbers around 20. They are, typically, elected, and serve as the principal executive and policymaking body. Their proposals, with Reid at the helm of the finance function, then go to the Regent House for approval.

“The structure here means you’ve got to be sure if you make a proposal or come up with an idea, it’s a good one,” he says. “You can’t shoot from the hip here, you have to do your research, prepare something that has been properly thought through and make sure it’s well presented.”

This in many ways is no different from the life of a corporate FD, a post Reid held at a number of different companies following his stint in audit at Thomson McLintock, (now a part of KPMG).

“Then I went to Cranfield to do an MBA for a year, after which I went to join a company called Jardine Matheson out in Hong Kong, at group head office.”

Reid left the Far East after seven years, and subsequently joined Cable & Wireless in London as Director of Finance for western Europe, and then eastern Europe as the company expanded. Reid’s last role at Cable & Wireless was as Director of Finance for Global Businesses.

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