James Stewart Foulds

Doctor of Laws

16 February 2010 - Orator: Professor Eric Thomas

Madame Chancellor, Jim Foulds

This great university has over 6,000 staff and over 22,000 students of one sort or another, £400 million a year turnover and assets in excess of £650 million. It is a massive and complex organisation. Yet I would hazard a guess that if you asked those students and staff what Council of the University is, the overwhelming majority would not be able to even start an answer. In fact, the first time I understood what a University Council did was when I attended my first meeting as an academic member at the age of 45 after seven years of being a Professor in Southampton. Yet Council is probably our single most important committee. Universities are not in the public sector, they are independent, autonomous, self-governing bodies and it is that autonomy which gives them the freedom to take risk, to withstand assault and to ensure their academics and students can fly as high as possible. Society will only continue to allow us such freedom whilst voting us substantial public funding if they are reassured that we are running ourselves responsibly, that we have responsible governance. That task is vested in our Council, our governing body, which combines 16 lay members from outside the university and 16 members from within the University. It goes without saying, therefore, that the Chair of that Council has a very important and accountable role both inside and outside the University. Jim Foulds, whom we are honouring today, has been a member of Council from 1997 to 2009, and for the last three of those years he has been the Chair. Both roles he has filled with exemplary distinction.

So how does a Glaswegian whose professional life was in human resources and general management get to be Chair of Council of the University of Bristol? Well, the first important action is to be born in Scotland as Jim was in 1936, the youngest by quite some time of three children. He was brought up in Glasgow and educated from five to 17 at one school, Paisley Grammar School, whose motto was roughly translated by Jim as “Work boy or get out” and that has clearly informed the rest of his life. This was during the Second World War and he describes how much independence he was given from a very young age – taking the sort of journeys on his own to school that would be unthinkable today. Such independence and self-reliance would also be a very strong part of Jim’s life.

After school he briefly studied Chemistry at Paisley College of Technology but decided to become a regular soldier at the age of 18. After his basic training he joined the Royal Army Education Corps and taught junior soldiers. Education is very prized north of the border and the combination of this cultural background and his experience in the army meant that he decided he needed more qualifications. He went to Strathclyde University and took a qualification in personnel management which turned into an advanced diploma which was the equivalent of an MBA today. This was full-time study and included a thesis but he also combined it with full time employment as a Personnel Manager at British Steel. Definitely “work hard boy or get out”.

He believes that he went into Personnel because it was in the blood. His father had been the first Industrial Relations Officer in the UK and was the architect for the structure of German industrial relations after the war. From the age of ten he remembers discussing industrial relations and personnel issues with his father. In fact he had lived in Berlin after the war and this gave Jim his love of travel and different places. As part of his study at Strathclyde he was awarded a Turnbull Travelling Scholarship and he went to Europe to research the training and apprenticeships in the Iron and Steel Community, which was the forerunner of the European Union. This work took him to Paris and it was there that he renewed an old acquaintance.

At the age of 13, Jim’s family had holidayed in the Vendee where they met a French family with a daughter, Nicole, then aged seven. Two years later, the families met in Carnac in Brittany. The parents kept in touch, but Jim next met the family when he decided to look them up in Paris during his travelling scholarship. Nicole was no longer seven and before he knew it Jim was a married man living with his new French wife in Scotland. Needless to say this was not with the overt approval of Nicole’s maman who had expected her daughter to live in the same street. However such difficulties were soon overcome and two young sons arrived relatively quickly. It is a great pleasure to welcome both your sons and your daughter-in-law with you here today. Jim would be the first to acknowledge that Nicole was a huge support for all he went on to achieve in his life.

Of course, a young family needs feeding and Jim became Personnel Director of John Laird and as he says himself, he must have “caught someone’s eye” because he was asked to come to Bristol at the age of 33 to be a Divisional Personnel Manager of E G & A Robinson, and thus the connection with this great city was established. Over the years Jim was promoted within the company which had become DRG, a worldwide corporation operating in 22 countries with 167 businesses and 30,000 employees. Jim became Personnel Director Global for this huge company, a job which took him out of the UK for up to 17 weeks a year. He says he had three main tasks:

He felt a particular responsibility to be someone that the local Chief Executives could talk to, remarking what lonely jobs these were. These were skills that he would use later at the University of Bristol.

One very important person at DRG for Jim was Moger Woolley, one of our pro-Chancellors, whom he first met in the company in 1970. Moger rose to become Chief Executive of the company and Jim not only worked closely with him, but reported directly to him as a senior member of the company for nearly seven years. Jim says that Moger and he were like twins. DRG was famously subject to a highly leveraged buy-out in 1989 and Jim was briefly a director of the company after that, but his role was to spend six months dismantling the business and he finally left in May 1990. However, that would not be the end of his professional relationship with Moger Woolley – of which more later.

Jim was rapidly employed as Senior Director for the Chemical Industries Association, which was an employers’ association for the Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Petrochemical Industries. Here he was responsible for national bargaining for 450,000 employees. He also was responsible for Government and Media affairs and rapidly became acquainted with the Westminster and Whitehall villages. Outside of his work he was the Chair of the CBI’s Social Affairs Committee, which covered 60 industries, and a Board member of the Chemical Industry Education Centre at York University. Finally in 1997, after a very successful career as a teacher, a personnel director and a very senior general manager, Jim retired.

So what to do next? This is where his old mate Moger Woolley swung back into view. Moger, an alumnus of Bristol, was by then a senior member of our Council and about to become its Chair. Council adjudged that it needed additional expertise in human resources and Moger knew just the person – Jim Foulds. He joined in 1997 and became a member and then Chair of the Staff Committee. He was then asked to be Vice-Chair and a Pro-Chancellor and finally became Chairman in 2006 and stepped down from that position last December.

Such a bald description of Jim’s time on Council does not begin to describe his contribution. His advice to the Council and Executive on personnel matters was experienced, wise and frequent, as we faced many new challenges in that area. His most vital input was during the changes to our pay and grading structure and also at times of tension in our industrial relations. He was also very willing to enter the debate about the more general strategic challenges facing the university.

When he became Chairman, he was devoting over 100 days a year to the task. He wanted Council to be as helpful as possible to the University by concentrating on the big strategic decisions. This he successfully did. He was very helpful to all sorts of staff on all sorts of matters and was held in genuine affection by them. He also was very influential nationally with the Committee of University Chairs and our employers association. Finally for me he was an unwavering personal support, the source of much wise advice combined with a keen sense of what to leave up to the Executive, and when Council and he really added value.

None of our Council members are paid – this is done for altruism, so we were benefiting from all this advice and work for free. Jim is not an alumnus and I asked why he gave so much to our University. He replied that as a family they were very interested in education and this was something he could share with Nicole, that education and training had woven in and out of his career and that he had both lectured at and been associated with universities in his career. Universities were a natural place for him to end up. He went on to say that the real reward was that it presented an opportunity for him to meet extremely interesting and usually very nice people, that he could experience the fantastic things that were happening at the very edge of knowledge, that it was all about looking forward and finally, and best, he got to meet the young students who are our future and who are so stimulating. He summed it up by saying that his answer when someone asked him why he did so much for us for “nothing” was that he didn’t get nothing, he actually got a huge amount out of it – it was what “made him alive”.

Madame Chancellor, this University is a community and it relies on the support of many friends which is always generously given. I present to you Jim Foulds as one of the very best of those friends and almost the personification of our values as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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