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Impact interviews GSK CEO Sir Andrew Witty

Impact caught up with the University’s Chancellor, Sir Andrew Witty, to discuss his appointment, being CEO of GlaxoSmithKline and the £12m donation made to the University.

I don’t doth my hat very often in the day job!

Witty accepted his position as UoN’s seventh Chancellor at the official inauguration ceremony on 12th March. Witty said he enjoyed the ceremony, although he was glad when it was finished. “It’s not something that I am particularly used to but it was very enjoyable. It’s important for institutions like this to have some history and tradition.”

“It was great having to learn how to put these robes on and doth hats. I don’t doth my hat very often in the day job!”

When asked about his new position and how he intended to use his links in industry to benefit Nottingham students, Witty said: “Firstly, I think I could help through my international connections and the global perspective I can bring to challenge and help provoke more discussion at the University about how we should plot its course in the new world [of massive change and globalisation]”.

Witty replaces Professor Yang Fujia, former Chancellor of 12 years, who as a Chinese physicist maintained a close relationship with Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. When asked how he would maintain close links with international campuses, Witty said that he spends the majority of his time travelling. He visited the Malaysian campus within ten days of his inauguration.

GlaxoSmithKline donated £12m to the University, raising questions about whether this was partly responsible for his appointment.

He added that he visits China at least twice a year, and says whenever he is in the country he will make sure to “visit the campus [or] meet with alumni or faculty [to] keep up that frequency of contact.”

Witty has maintained close ties with the University since graduating with a BA in Economics in 1985. In 2012 GlaxoSmithKline, of which Witty is CEO, donated £12,000,000 towards the construction of new research laboratories at the University, raising questions about whether the donation was, in part, responsible for his appointment.

When asked about these concerns, Witty said “there was no link”:

“We talked about the donation in 2010 and I was asked last year whether I would do this [role]. There’s quite a long time difference. I did ask if anyone would be concerned because obviously as a company we have this strong relationship with the University. But the answer was: “We’re asking you to do more work, it’s not like we’re giving you some amazing gift.  It is a lovely honour but what comes with it is an obligation to do quite a bit of work.”

“I also think it’s really important that individuals, companies and institutions can have multi-layered relationships. It would be a sad state of affairs if just because I came to the University I shouldn’t think about how my company might collaborate with [it], and just because my company collaborated with the University nobody from my company could be involved in things like this.”

As a company we have a deep commitment to socially responsible operations.

Witty also addressed concerns that the ethical scandals in which GSK have been implicated in recent years, including last year’s £1.9 billion fraud case, would compromise the emphasis that Vice-Chancellor David Greenaway places on ‘social responsibility’.

Listing some of the accolades that GSK hold Witty said: “I think you can see that as a company we’ve got a very strong deep commitment to socially responsible operations.

“In the last few months, for the third time in a row [GSK] were awarded the number one in the Access to Medicine Index which is a measure of the efforts to which companies go to improve access to medicines, particularly in the developing world. That review is done every two years and has only been done three times, and GSK has won it three times.”

Witty 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. He will serve an initial term of four years.

Antonia Paget

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