Aston alumnus, Paul Golby, Chief Executive of E.ON UK, was appointed Pro-Chancellor and Chair of the University’s Council at the end of 2008.
Paul gained both a first class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD at Aston. He was awarded an honorary degree by the University in 2007.
I chatted to Paul to find out more about the man who has led E.ON UK through two multi-billion pound acquisitions and to hear his ideas for guiding Aston’s future.
How do you feel your external role at E.ON and your career history to date effects your suitability for the role?
Personally I had a great time at Aston and I really wanted to give something back. When I came here as an undergraduate student I never imagined that I would get the job that I have got. It just demonstrates that if you get a good degree, have imagination and determination, you can do whatever you want to do.
How does my external role equip me for the job? Well, I run a large organisation with 18,000 staff in the UK so I know the complexities of running a large organisation. I also chair the board at E.ON so I know how the dynamics of a board of directors works. I’m also quite actively engaged in the political and external arena so one of the biggest things I can bring to the council in addition to chairmanship and organisational skills is external help with representation - making connections, talking to people and raising the profile of Aston as a really exciting place to be.
Did your experiences at Aston help your career?
Firstly, I came from a working class family and frankly I had never been away from home until I came to university, so the pure social environment was a fantastic experience. The quality of the teaching while I was here was really good and there were numerous inspiring lecturers. Aston equipped me well, so like Aston students today, I had lots of opportunities for employment. It really kick started my career.
Is there a particular memory that sticks out for you?
Too many - with numerous involving the bar in the Students’ Guild! The scary thing is that when I was here I just missed out on getting a place in the new halls of residences – Dalton, Stafford and Lawrence Towers – because they weren’t finished. So to come back and be told that the towers were old and were being demolished really made me think about how long it had been since I was here!
How do you think links with industry impact on the work of universities?
The relationship is absolutely critical. Industry has two roles to play. Firstly, it can be a great source of funding and of opportunity. Businesses can also be the recipients of excellent research as well as the people of course. In a sense universities are the feedstock for industry in providing high calibre staff so I think that industry can also be the vehicle through which research is turned in to reality. That for me is a key component of the relationship. Great research on its own is fine but great research that is turned in to a tangible benefit whether it is economic or social - that’s the real test.
What do you see as the biggest challenge universities face in the next few years?
Government funding for universities is going to be quite tough. The universities that succeed will need to work very hard on research, research excellence and building an external reputation. One thing Aston does have is gems - as you go round the university you will see lots of exciting things happening. Aston has lots going for it and we need to keep building a reputation for research excellence in order to obtain critical funding. We also need to preserve our reputation for employability and as a great place for students to study. If we maintain this, we’ll continue attracting great students.
Do you have any advice for our graduates in 2009 in the current economic climate?
Stay flexible. Think big and be determined. The best people will still get good jobs. It’s a matter of being out there, not losing confidence and taking the knock backs. The more determined you are, the more you’ll succeed.