Doctor of Laws
Tuesday 10 February 2015 at 11.15 am - Orator: Mr Andy Nield
The role of a university treasurer may, as with many of our formally termed positions, be somewhat opaque to our students – and perhaps, indeed to some of our staff. Universities are, surely, made up of academics that do teaching and research and professional services staff who support them – all of them paid. In fact, universities have long been reliant as well on a small number of unpaid, expert members, who work diligently, advise wisely and provide another level of accountability to the institution.
James Wadsworth is such an individual.
I have known James for many years, not only during his time as Treasurer of the University of Bristol, but also in his previous lives.
James’ formative years were both varied and high achieving. He was born in Ghana in West Africa, and then educated at St Georges, Weybridge, Surrey.
Whilst at St Georges he confesses that his eyes were almost exclusively on the sports field rather than on the blackboard and studying. He was captain of the Rugby XV but, despite his modesty and sporting prowess, also became Head Boy.
After school, he spent six months in Marbella taking people water skiing and sailing, clearly a rather unexciting choice for an eighteen year old. He then decided he wanted something much more glamorous and exciting and concluded that the obvious answer was to become a chartered accountant.
James then joined Price Waterhouse in London in 1978, quickly qualified as a chartered accountant and - more importantly - met and married Jo, who also worked for Price Waterhouse. He then spent two years with Price Waterhouse in Melbourne Australia, which, apart from doing some professional work, gave him the opportunity to play first division rugby.
Then back to reality; in 1971 he returned to the UK to Price Waterhouse’s Bristol office and became a partner in 1983 at the tender age (in both Price Waterhouse and the professional world more generally) of 32.
Throughout his time with Price Waterhouse up to retirement in 2006, James advised many public and private companies. He became Price Waterhouse’s Head of Audit and Business Advisory Services South West and South Wales. He was particularly proud of establishing Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Finance Practice in the region.
Outside of his Price Waterhouse life, James has played a very active role in both local and more widely-based organisations. I will mention three of these:
James was a founding trustee of the Bristol Community Housing Foundation. This was a major innovative project in Bristol through the building of 450 new affordable homes. He was on the governing body of the Foundation from inception through to completion of fundraising and the building of the first homes.
Post-retirement from Price Waterhouse, for a period James was a trustee of the Brandon Trust. This is a major charity focused on housing and supporting those with learning difficulties.
James also became Treasurer of the International National Trusts Organisation which was created to help developing countries establish their own national trust organisations to recognise and support key areas of cultural heritage.
We now turn to the very significant contribution that James has made to the University of Bristol.
James became a member of the University’s Council in 2006 and served as a Council member up until December 2012. For the majority of that period he held the role of Treasurer and Chair of the Audit Committee.
This combined role is non-executive in nature, but represents a vital part of the governance and advisory structure of the University.
I joined the University in late 2008 and immediately found James incredibly supportive and a great sounding board as we worked our way forward.
During this period from 2008 the University successfully navigated an unpredicted level of financial change and challenge including:
- Fundamental changes to the financing and regulation of home undergraduate students
- Major funding cuts
- Global economic crisis
- Debt refinancing
- Commitment to a major capital programme
- Major pension scheme changes
These challenges meant that the University had to make very tough decisions, whilst at the same time holding its nerve and continuing to implement a major capital investment programme including flagship projects such as the new Life Sciences Building.
James’ advice and input to Council during this time was crucial.
I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank James for all his guidance and support to me, as Finance Director, through this period.
James has also somehow managed to find the time to take an Honours degree in History at the Open University. He successfully completed this last year.
Since stepping down from his role at the University, James has been spending time with wife Jo supporting their children in their various business and sporting activities and, of course, taking a very close interest in supporting an increasing number of grandchildren.
We are delighted to welcome Jo and sons Andrew and Graham here today. Daughter Clare recently added to the number of grandchildren two weeks ago and so is understandably otherwise occupied!
It is entirely appropriate that, on occasion, the University should honour someone who has contributed specifically and significantly to its own mission and governance. We are proud to be able to do that today.
Mr Vice-Chancellor, I present to you James Graham Hilton Wadsworth as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.