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Sir Andrew Witty takes over as Chancellor

Sir Andrew Witty, chief executive of pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline, has taken over as the new Chancellor of the University of Nottingham.

Witty, who graduated from the University in 1985 with a joint honours BA in Economics, succeeded renowned Chinese physicist Professor Yang Fujia on 1st January, after Fujia’s twelve year tenure as Chancellor.

“The Chancellor is a key figurehead. It is therefore essential to appoint someone who is manifestly successful in their field of endeavour, and who commands widespread respect.” Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Greenaway told Impact.

“In Sir Andrew Witty, we have one of the most highly regarded business leaders in the United Kingdom, with immense experience internationally. He is also someone with a great sense of social responsibility and has personally driven transformational GSK initiatives in developing countries. And of course, he is a graduate of the University of Nottingham. As a former student, Sir Andrew will be a wonderful role model for current and future students. I look forward to working with him to further enrich and develop our University.”

He will play a formal part in graduation ceremonies, act as a national and global ambassador for the University and offer advice on strategy and development.

Witty was knighted in last year’s New Year Honours list for services to the economy and UK pharmaceutical industry.

He has been a keen advocate of affordable medicines for less economically developed countries and supported research into an experimental malaria vaccine. He has also acted as a government advisor.

Witty has maintained connections with the University since he graduated. In spring last year, GlaxoSmithKline made a £12 million donation toward the construction of new research laboratories at the University, the largest single donation since Jesse Boot donated land for University Park campus.

The centre, named the GlaxoSmithKline Carbon Neutral Centre for Sustainable Chemistry, will help to foster relations between UK academics, postgraduate researchers and GlaxoSmithKline chemists.

The investment signals a move towards enhanced collaboration between industry leaders and educational institutions.

The company already runs a number of schemes at the University of Nottingham, including postgraduate chemistry studentships, a medicinal chemistry module for undergraduate chemists and opportunities for fourth year MSc project students to participate in live GSK research programmes.

In recent years, GlaxoSmithKline has been mired in various controversies. Most recently the company was fined $3bn, for healthcare fraud in the United States, in July 2012.

The payment, the largest in United States history, was settled after the company admitted to bribing doctors, failing to report safety data and encouraging the prescription of unsuitable medicines.

Among many instances of illegality, the company were found to have made unsupported safety claims about antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin.

The mis-selling scandal developed in the US in the 1990s and 2000s, while Witty held various unrelated roles in Asia, South Africa and Europe.

Since then, GlaxoSmithKline have been widely praised for announcing that they would start to openly publish data from their clinical trials.

Witty’s appointment was approved by the University Council on October 23rd and he will serve an initial term of four years.

Rob Moher
Senior News Reporter

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14 Comments on this post.
  • Joe
    8 January 2013 at 16:28
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    Ah, a “good role model” indeed. We should all inspire to run companies that bribe doctors, illegally promote prescription drugs and, of course, runs its tax affairs through Luxemberg avoiding much corporation tax.

    A choice 2011 quote from Witty himself –

    “one of the reasons we’ve seen an erosion of trust, broadly, in big companies is they’ve allowed themselves to be seen as being detached from society and they will float in and out of societies according to what the tax regime is. I think that’s completely wrong.”

    Pot kettle and all that. But of course, a university chancellorship for the CEO of a tax avoiding mulit-national in the midst of a three fold fee rise and falling numbers of undergraduate applicants is just swell. Ahem.

  • Joe
    8 January 2013 at 16:28
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    *aspire, obv

  • James
    8 January 2013 at 21:06
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    So GSK donates £12m to the university and three months later their CEO is Chancellor? Wow.

  • Joe
    9 January 2013 at 01:20
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    @James – he has made a contribution I suppose…

  • Mike
    9 January 2013 at 12:09
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    AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRHHHHHHHHHH CORPORATIONS ARE EVIL, VOTE GREEN, READ CHOMSKY ETC. Get a f*****g life guys. We need a smart businessman running a university. Otherwise, we’d just be like Trent.

  • Drew
    10 January 2013 at 11:26
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    @Mike This is mostly a ceremonial position, the Chancellor does not run the university.

    I can imagine the £12m investment had something to do with his appointment, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. Investment is always good and hopefully with a high profile/well connected Chancellor the university can attract even more.
    I hope he is invited to speak at the university soon, I would be interested to hear his insight especially as an alumni.

  • Alumnus
    10 January 2013 at 13:23
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  • Joe Todd
    11 January 2013 at 16:52
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    @Mike – If, for you, “smart businessmen” encapsulates all the unethical things he has/is presided over – and you see this as acceptable – then I suspect we’re reading from different pages as it were. Still – do you not see the irony having a CEO of a tax avoiding company as the chancellor of a university that just tripled its fees?

  • Joe Todd
    11 January 2013 at 16:54
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    Also i’m not sure our chancellor is the only thing separating us from trent or other universities…

  • Matthew Styles
    23 January 2013 at 21:31
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    Let’s be fair to Andrew Witty here, the controversy around bribery, false advertising, lack of health warnings; were before Witty began in his role as CEO of GSK. They all came to light 1990-2007, and Andrew took over as CEO in 2008, so he’s had to bear the brunt of a lot of controversy.

    Nonetheless, Andrew has been appointed as an individual. Chancellors have historically been figureheads for organisations, and I feel it’s important to have somebody respected in the business community, not only from a PR perspective, but also in terms of our links with industry, which ultimately benefit our research and our students.

    Joe, Nottingham is one of the most attractive universities in the whole of the UK. Barr Manchester, which has around 5k more students, we received the largest share of applications and students this year. Tripling of fees was dreadful, but then the government withdrew 80% of HEFCE teaching grants, and UoN made a net loss on home/EU students financially as a result. I don’t agree with £9k fees, but you can understand UoN taking the decision to charge £9k in the circumstances.

    Personally, I feel Andrew Witty will be a fantastic Chancellor – it’s not just his links with industry, reputation, and success that set him apart; but his aspiration to get involved in the University, not just hold a ceremonial position, and make positive change for the academic community here in Nottingham.

  • Bob Fiddaman
    25 February 2013 at 01:58
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    “Let’s be fair to Andrew Witty here, the controversy around bribery, false advertising, lack of health warnings; were before Witty began in his role as CEO of GSK.”

    That’s actually not quite true.

    Witty was Vice President of marketing at Glaxo during 1997-2000.

    One of the drugs mentioned in the lawsuit was Wellbutrin, whom Witty was in charge of at the time.

    Wellbutrin is an antidepressant and was rebadged as Zyban, a smoking cessation drug. It was Witty who led the promotion of Zyban.

    People taking Zyban were not told it was an antidepressant.

    I wrote about his involvement here – http://fiddaman.blogspot.co.nz/2012/07/glaxosmithkline-andrew-witty-era.html

  • Oran
    8 March 2013 at 16:10
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    Does this mean he will be picking up a salary from Nottingham as well as GSK now? If so thats ridiculous. Gives him a base salary of £1.5 million a year excluding bonuses and sponsorship’s etc…

  • Joe
    8 March 2013 at 19:19
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    @Matt No qualms with nottingham upping their fees, as you say government funding was cut. My point is that government funding was cut because, in part, government coffers are lacking because corporations (such as GSK) don’t pay their fair share of tax.

  • Matthew Styles
    10 March 2013 at 18:37
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    @Joe, I do agree, but then companies are acting within the law; if someone is appointed as a financial advisor in a large corporation, it makes a lot of sense for them to reduce their tax bill as much as the law will let them.

    I mean, the Students’ Union doesn’t separate its trading activity from its charity activity for no reason. The only difference is that any profits are re-invested in charitable activity, rather than increasing salaries.

    The focus in tax avoidance needs to be on the government for having such lax rules and laws.

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